When I left home in 1978, my mom gave me the rosary that I still use to this very day. For non-Catholics, the term “rosary” comes from the Latin word rosarium, meaning “garland of roses.” In the Catholic faith, a rosary is a devotion to prayers that commemorate Jesus and the events of His life. When saying a rosary, Catholics keep track of those prayers by moving their fingers around a circular, beaded chain.
That rosary from Mom originally belonged to her father. With black, wooden beads the size of peas, and a chain that looked like it belonged on a bicycle, that rosary was built to last. They don’t make rosaries like that anymore.
Mom told me that Grandpa would come home every night, exhausted from another day of physical labor. After supper, he would sit at the kitchen table in the dark and pray the rosary. I could just picture his lips barely moving, creasing the wrinkled skin on a worn face that looked like a catcher’s mitt. They don’t make men like that anymore either.
I left home to become a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, where I was an aviator in the backseat of fighter-attack aircraft, specifically the F-4S Phantom II and later the F-18D Hornet. During those years, I kept Grandpa’s rosary in a tiny, black leather pouch that looked like a coin purse, and I used to fly with it placed down in the left shin pocket of my flight suit. There, my suit flattened the pouch against my lower left leg, and the leg harness, which attached me to the ejection seat, buckled snugly around my left ankle, just beneath the rosary.
Upon our jet taking the runway, Tower would grant us clearance to take off. It was then that I would reach down and touch Grandpa’s rosary through my suit. Then 36,000 pounds of thrust would kick me in the behind, propelling our jet into the sky, as I said the following prayer:
“Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this flight be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule, and guide.”
I repeated that ritual, day after day, for the 16 years I flew in the Marine Corps.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Read more heirloom stories in Keepsakes Passed Down Through Generations.