In 1960 when I was nine/almost ten years old and in the 4th grade, two things that had absolutely nothing to do with each other got incredulously and inexplicably linked.
The first was that during one of our daily catechism classes, Mother Rose introduced us to our guardian angels. Oh, not literally; we already knew that angels were invisible. But when we opened our catechisms, there illustrated on the page we were to study that day was a beautiful angel standing protectively beside a child. Now, of course, we were already familiar with angels, those heavenly spirit messengers from God. Like the other angels that we’d seen depicted in paintings and books, this angel was extraordinarily beautiful with flawless white skin (Well, of course, it was white. How many black or brown angels have you ever seen depicted in Renaissance paintings, stained-glass windows or on those little holy cards the nuns and priests handed out if you were good? But it would be another eight or nine years before I would ever wonder about that.) On top of being beautiful what really lifted these heavenly creatures above the rest of us were their glorious bird-like wings and brilliant halos that literally sparkled with light. We didn’t have wings and we certainly didn’t have halos. In fact, on more than one occasion our third grade teacher, Mother Timothy, had yelled at Tommy Johnson (as she chased him about the room) that she could see his ‘devil horns growing right out of his head.’
Mother Rose explained that guardian angels were special. They were angels that God specifically chose to watch over each one of us. Our very own guardian angel! From the moment we were born, Mother Rose explained, our guardian angel was beside us day and night, always encouraging us to do good and make the right choices while nudging us away from those people and things that might lead us into temptation or harm. Sort of like having our very own Jiminy Cricket sitting on our shoulder! She said we should pray to our guardian angel to help us to be good and because they were so special, we should give our guardian angel a name. Mother Rose passed out a sheet with the picture of a guardian angel to take home and color and at the bottom it said: My Guardian Angel’s Name Is ___________. It was due back the next day.
I was excited at first. Coloring was a great homework assignment for religion class, way better than answering questions at the end of the chapter. But a name? The more I thought about it, the more I struggled with just the right name for my angel. All through dinner and drying the dishes afterwards, I went over name after name after name. Well, naming someone for life is a pretty heavy responsibility. If you give someone a name that they don’t like, they might never forgive you. And if that someone is your guardian angel, well, no matter how good they’re supposed to be, some of God’s angels did disobey Him and fall into Hell. This was definitely a serious matter. You didn’t want to make your guardian angel mad.
Now we come to the second thing which occurred in 1960.
The manufacturer of the ‘breath’ mint called Certs (or is it a ‘candy’ mint? Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s both) which had been introduced in 1956, began a huge advertising campaign on television with a new slogan. Wanting to push Certs as more than just a breath mint to attract more customers, it showed two good-looking young people, cutely debating whether Certs was a breath mint or a candy mint. Thank goodness the unseen narrator’s voice would resolve this exasperating dilemma by excitedly announcing that Certs was “Two, two, two mints in one!” Ahh, what a relief: it was a breath mint and a candy mint! And the reason it was two mints in one is that it contained two ingredients, chlorophyll and Retsyn (a trademarked name, by the way, for a special mixture of copper gluconate, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and flavoring – thank you, Wikipedia).
Well, sometime during the evening that I was sweating over naming my guardian angel, I must have seen that commercial and couldn’t get the damn thing out of my head. Over and over, “chlorophyll and Retsyn, two mints in one” repeated itself like a never-ending tape recording. Chlorophyll and Retsyn, chlorophyll and Retsyn. And by the time I went to bed, my guardian angel’s name was Retsyn. Yep, Retsyn. Well, could have been worse, I guess. I could have named my angel Chlorophyll and then I would have had to color him green.
But believe me, it wasn’t because I wanted to name my guardian angel Retsyn. I didn’t even know what Retsyn was other than something that made Certs taste good. But because I couldn’t get the word out of my head, I thought that maybe my angel was putting it there and trying to tell me that he wanted that to be his name. My lord, what tricks the mind can play on you! On the other hand, if I’d named him Michael or Joseph or anything else, his name and the whole guardian angel incident might have long since been forgotten.
I don’t pray to angels anymore. But every so often, I’ll have the feeling that someone else is up here with me in my room while I’m writing and Retsyn will come to mind. And maybe that was the whole idea. Maybe Retsyn is a reminder for me to always look to the ‘better angels of my nature‘ and try to choose the good and righteous path.
Or maybe it’s just a reminder to pop a Certs in my mouth!