I’m on a plane. I paid for the WiFi. I’m taking advantage of it and writing another installment. I think we left off with a priest showing up through a priest hole in my closet, like Narnia but in reverse. And without the goat-man.
We emerged into the dining room to find a folding table set up against the front window of the house. Our house faces north of that means anything. I never did tell you Fr.‘s name. And I cannot remember it now. We’ll call him Fr. Chad. Upon Fr.’s request my wife produced alter linens ala table cloths. But linens alone do not an altar make. “Fr.,” I asked, “I’m no expert but I sort of am but don’t you need like a chalice or some other things for mass?” At this moment Sister walked past me with a crate of “mass supplies”, set them down, and silently returned to a chair at the back of the room.
“I gotch-u, baby,” said Fr. with all the air and confidence of a 1970’s street pimp.
Yes, it was at this precise moment that I gave up and decided simply to go along with all that almighty God had planned for me. Clearly I have no clue.
“Introibo ad altare Dei.” *”I will go unto the altar of God.”
With these words, Fr. began the holy sacrifice of the mass. As he continued on through the Confiteor, I glanced beyond him and out the large picture window over the “altar”. The snow was now coming down heavily. It really was a beautiful sight. Reminded me so much of my childhood growing up in New Jersey. the only difference here is that elm and split leaf maples are swapped with crepe myrtles. But the fresh-fallen powder on the barren branches is still magnificent.I
I have always loved the snow. I think it has something to do with the peacefulness of it all. Even the noises of the atmosphere are dampened by a blanket of snow. Everything is almost silent when it falls. People can’t venture far past their streets. Families “huddle” together. And then there’s the child-like sense of wonder in me. As a kid, I loved seeing something fall from the sky that was so beautiful. As a man, I can’t help but think back to my boyhood and the true happiness I felt when we’d get a significant snowfall. Imagine if you will the combination of a picturesque scene out the window and the eternal, super-beautiful reality taking place just below it.
“Ite, missa est.” *”Go, the mass is over.”
We prayed the Leonine prayers, took a few moments to offer our thanks to God, and headed to the kitchen for lunch. Even Sister looked pious while kneeling to pray.
By now (after our meal) it was getting to be later in the afternoon. I stepped onto the porch to see how much had fallen. It was 12 degrees. I know this is Texas and the weather is schizophrenic but this is truly crazy. I noticed about six inches on the ground. The little kid in me got real giddy. I can’t help it. I’ve been in Texas almost a decade. We never see this. I went back inside to find that Fr. had vanished. I asked him to use the door but I think he went back through the priest hole. In fact I know he did due to the presence of a draft in my house. The re-pointing of hose bricks won’t be cheap. But Sister was at least still with us. And she had set up a board game at our kitchen counter.
We rounded out our afternoon in the typical fashion. We played Yahtzee and I shotgunned a gin and tonic. Sister played the oboe (did I neglect that detail?) and the children danced. It was “Flight of the Bumblebees”. Stupendous.
We all drifted off to sleep this peaceful night with no clue of what lie/lay/lain ahead of us. Yeah, I couldn’t figure the correct form. Whatevs, shuge.
In our next installment we enter the darkness. Hope you’re ready.
I have far too much respect for the men and women of our armed forces to make this post comical (too much). Instead, I’ll keep it short and to the point.
At the school where I work we have an army of sorts. You may have heard the term “prayer warrior”. It seems to me I hear that term quite often, especially here in Texas where every cashier at every convenience store finishes your sale by wishing you a “blessed day”. Basically a prayer warrior is one who is frequently called upon (usually as part of a larger group of such warriors) to pray for the specific needs of others in the group. Even my parish – a Catholic church that only offers the traditional Latin mass – routinely sends texts to my phone beginning with the phrase “Prayer Warriors, please pray for…” I myself have used the phrase in other places on this blog when requesting specific prayers from you my readers. Note how I did not say “both of you” at the end of that sentence.
This school-based army of which I speak is committed to one thing, namely praying for the success of our school. We call it the “Memorare Army” because we ask that each “soldier” pray three Memorares daily for one year with this intention in mind. My mother taught me this beautiful prayer when I was young. As I got older – by the way, I noticed I’m not keeping this short – as I got older and went through some particularly trying times; she asked me to pray the Memorare every day. “The Blessed Mother will protect you,” she told me, “if you honor her daily.” I have kept that promise. In fact, I’ve added to it. A few years ago I had occasion to be in the presence of a group of Missionaries of Charity. Apparently not interested in my stellar conversation skills, they began to pray. “Sister, did you hear about that new express lane they’re building on 183?” Sister (looking at me with a stare somewhere between wishing death upon me and mild befuddlement): “We pray now. Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary…” This prayer they repeated for a total of ten times. I am told Mother Teresa herself taught them to pray ten Memorares whenever they had free time. Nine of these are in petition (like a novena) and the tenth is in thanksgiving. Mother was always certain that God would grant her requests.
So I started praying ten Memorares.
Then my boss asked if I would join the Memorare Army. So I tacked on three more. I reached out to family and friends to ask them to join as well.
My enterprising youngest sister – a homeschooling mom of six – agreed to my three (for a total of 24 daily Memorares from her, her husband, and the kids) with a catch.
“You will, of course, prayer FOUR Memorares daily for my school.”
So yours truly is up to seventeen Memorares daily.
I don’t write all of this to proudly proclaim my prayer habits. That would be the opposite of humility which, as we know, is something I must work on (see yesterday’s post). I write this to tell you that 1) it’s pretty easy to find short periods of time throughout your day to pray, 2) it’s never a bad idea to honor the Blessed Mother, 3) my sister is a conniving trickster, and 4) I want you, as J. M. Flagg’s famous poster proclaims, to join us. I’ll even go one further and throw in three more for the intentions of all my readers. Seventeen is such a boring number anyway. Why not make it twenty?
So friends, you’ve got your marching orders. The enemy is legion (literally). We can surely rely on the prayers of each of our brothers in arms. My sister will always get what she wants.
Well I’ll tell you what I didn’t do. I didn’t write much at all. I have my reasons. Lots going on this summer; and usually that’s a recipe for more writing. But this summer was different.
I could say that a lot of what was going on was travel. If you read my last few posts a couple of months ago you know that we were well on our way to another amazing family road trip. And one day I promise to write all about that from the spot right where I left off. The Big Apple, the Garden State, my time at “Relaxation House and Spa” (AKA: my sister’s house in central PA), the rolling Blue Ridge foothills of Northern Virginia, a wedding, a long return drive through a place that is nowhere along the route home (Peoria, IL?), a journey down old Route 66, home again… And that was just us getting started with an incredible time for me and the kids (and my wife when she wasn’t buried in work). A few days later my wife and I set out for Southern California for another wedding, a major earthquake, some Hollywood sightseeing, and another trip home. A few days later my wife set out back to Virginia for a funeral and more work. Then a week and a half later and she returned to California for a vacation with some old friends while I entertained one of my nephews with his cousins (my kids). And like that, summer’s over. But I won’t say it was any of that.
I could say it was the near 1,000 degree heat and high humidity to which I have NEVER become accustomed. The stickiness of this literal hot mess slows down every molecule in the deep south to where typing out a few sentences is a major undertaking. It’s why we sit on our porches and drink gin. I did a decent amount of that this summer which also contributed to my bronzed appearance. I saw an old friend yesterday. We seem to lay eyes on each other about once a year despite living 4 miles apart. He noticed the tan. Some might say skipping sunblock is probably bad but it’s how I get my Vitamin D. And I’ve soaked in about as much as nature will allow. And like that, summer’s over. But I won’t say it was any of that.
I could say it was physical in nature; that I spent hours each day jumping rope shirtless (see tan above) outside, sweating bullets, hoping to see the slightest reduction in body fat percentage For the benefit of my fused spine. I also lifted weights, did a bunch of HIIT cardio, and a few other things just for fun. You’re probably wondering why I mentioned my lack of upper body clothing. Well, it’s funny you should ask. I have really come to rise above my self and my natural laziness and aversion to hard, physical work over the past few years. And something about stepping outside into the hot Texas sun and sweating everything I’ve got is incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately I still hate wearing sweat-soaked clothes. Since I can’t workout in public without shorts I opt to ditch the shirt. I promise it’s not a vanity thing. There’s not much to be vain about. But I mention this fact in particular because while entertaining that nephew I mentioned I traveled with him to stay at a friend’s house in Austin for the weekend. He wanted to workout with me so we bought a jumprope and some gym shorts at Walmart, stepped out onto our friend’s patio, and I trained him – a strapping young fireman – in the finer points of jumping rope. He was learning how to master the classic boxer skip; I was racing through double and triple-unders. My friend in who’s house we were staying texted and asked what we were doing. Her next door neighbor, unaware that we were houseguests or who we even were, texted my friend (the homeowner) to ask why two studly shirtless dudes were jumping rope on her patio while she was in Napa with my wife. Did I mention that I only had one rope and so my nephew and I took turns with it, and that while one of us had the rope the other simply jumped in place? It must have been a strange sight indeed. So I worked out like a beast all summer. And like that, summer’s over. But I won’t say it was any of that.
In fact it might have been a combination of ALL of that and it might have been NONE of that at all. Part of it is that I’ve been living life with my kids, knowing I could continue to chronicle this life of ours a little later. True I don’t like to wait too much longer lest I start to forget details or the stories don’t sound as incredible. But there’s something to actually living it and then writing it down. Not everything needs to be documented in the moment. And we’re still here and still fine. My wife has been beyond occupied by her job, traveling a full quarter of every month away from us and the kids and I have had to learn to adjust to that. It’s not ideal but we’re managing to have fun together even though we miss her terribly. We’re kind of developing our own groove in our communication and our interactions. I went back and read old posts from when the kids were babies. It’s funny that now we have inside jokes with each other, we sneak in “Dad-treats” to get ice cream, and play games. And Dad tries to keep them on track with their chores, hopefully inspiring them to help keep our house a home. And when Mommmy gets home we all breathe a sigh of relief because everything is back to normal. So it was some of that.
But perhaps the biggest reason I haven’t written in a while is that I’ve been on a quest of late to re-tool my digital footprint. One way to do this is to step away from blogging for a bit, trying to rediscover why I started writing in the first place. Toward that end I’ve spent months re-reading the old stuff and getting a good laugh. I’m happy to say my style hasn’t changed much. I think I’ve become a better writer but the old stuff was still good – and some of it even still makes me laugh very hard. There was the dark summer last year where I wrote so many memories of my time in McCarrick’s seminary; stories I eventually took down so I could organize them into a book, a book that will come eventually. Mentally recovering from that mess was some of it too. I spent about a year reading every single article, watching every Youtube clip, searching out news, caught up in one of the darkest scandals in Church history. After a while, it’s time to just stop and reflect. And I did. I’ll still write about it, the truth; but I need to write about my blessings too. And speaking of social media, I deleted my Facebook after 12 years. Now that’s another story for another day. I’ll say that a friend of mine commented right before I pulled the plug that “I’d be back”. He’s probably right but when I am back it will be right for me, on my terms, as a platform to stay in touch with family and people with whom I am actually friends in real life. I think I know how to do it to. So was that any of it?
What did I do this summer? Man alive, what didn’t I do this summer? School’s starting next week. I’m so ready to have my kiddos back. I’m a teacher. If they didn’t return to me every year around this time I’d be talking to an empty room for an hour at a clip because I kind of have to teach. Say a prayer for all of us.
I’m thankful for this summer, thankful God gave me this time with my kids, this time truly to miss my wife, thankful for gainful employment (hers and mine), thankful for returning students, for travel, strange roadside attractions and the St. Louis Arch, thankful for a gift of writing, and thankful for all of you who read.
The year was 2006. I had only one week earlier proposed to my wife (well, she wasn’t yet my wife; that’s why I proposed). She had been in the habit along with a handful of friends from college and their ever-growing families of traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year around the end of summer. They would all rent a house and enjoy a week of fun at the beach. Now that I was entering into this fray I, too, would be invited along. It was lots of fun for about two days. And then… a tropical storm struck the Carolina coast. One of the group, heeding the weather reports early, decided to pack his family and bailed. He’s Canadian, though, so I think tropical storm warnings are especially traumatic. I had been assured that “these things happen all the time” and that there was “no need to worry” and that I should “stop being such an amazingly good-looking but dreadfully cautious killjoy”.
The storm came. The
roads flooded. After one day of looking
out the window and NOT seeing water recede I decided I should probably try to
make a break for it. I got in my car and
headed south on the beach road for exactly one-half mile. Attempting to drive through standing water
that didn’t look that deep my car – a brand new Dodge Magnum – shorted out
and died. Long story short: I walked
back to the beach house, a friend of my wife helped me push the car to a local
supermarket parking lot, and I borrowed my new fiance’s pickup to drive back to
New Jersey. The insurance company sent
an adjuster who deemed a new engine was in order. Turns out it just needed spark plugs. A few weeks later I had reclaimed my vehicle
and life went on. The following summer,
as a newly married man I returned to the beach with my wife. We were already expecting our first child
(though we had not yet told anyone) and we enjoyed a few days of sun and
sand. The summer after that, with a six
week-old boy in tow we ventured on the first of many family cross-country road
trips and I began documenting them in writing.
Which brings us to today – Monday or Day 5 if you like.
The thing is that even though nothing much happened yesterday, even less happened today (hence the long and winding intro). We played on the beach During the day and in the pool when the sun went down. My wife and I prepared dinner and drinks for 50 people. You know, typical stuff. But one thing that did happen struck me as ironic considering how this all began…
I always have a hard time sleeping on vacation. I don’t know if it’s the change in bed or the
change in atmosphere. Something just
seems to prevent me getting a good night’s sleep. Today was no exception. I woke up around 5:45 because of the sunlight
pouring into the room “like butterscotch” as Joni Mitchell would say. I was excited because at least I would see
the sunrise over the Atlantic. Look, it’s
not like I go looking for these things but when they happen in my presence I try
to make the most of them. I’ve seen the
sunrise before but there is something really awe-inspiring watching it come up
over the ocean. It truly gives one a
sense of the majesty of God. I stepped
outside onto the balcony. And I
immediately realized that Mr. Golden Sun was already over Mr. Horizon by a few
degrees. Damn. I missed it.
No worries though. I opened my
laptop, went to Youtube, and entered “sunrise ocean corolla nc”. Within moments I was watching what I had just
missed – time-lapsed, no less! Saved me
the trouble of waiting through the whole boring thing. Then I went upstairs to the kitchen for my
black coffee, then downstairs to the driveway to jump rope for a half-hour.
In 2006 there was no going to Youtube to watch a
sunrise. I mean, I think there was a
Youtube then but it wasn’t a part of everyday life as it is now and there wasn’t
nearly as much content. There also was
no “black” coffee. Until four years ago
I used to give my dad a coronary every morning when I’d pour cream and sugar
into my morning Joe. “Why not drink it
like a man?” he’d ask me. “Dad, I’m 37
years-old. You shut up because I am a MAN!” I likely never said those words but if I did
I likely said them like the guy from that episode of Law & Order
called “American Jihad”. Yeah, you’d
have to have seen it I guess. In 2006 there
certainly was no jumping rope for this guy.
I think at the time I fancied myself being “in shape”. I also fancied myself having great
flexibility despite already having had my spine fused five years earlier. I did not care what I ate (which included
nothing that wasn’t meat). If you had
asked me to pick up a rope and jump over it for 30 minutes I would have
accepted the challenge and then promptly died.
Times change. People change. The sun still comes up. Man always desires to better himself. And Dad will always be right. I still can’t imagine why I ever put anything
into my coffee.
One more thing that wasn’t a thing in 2006 was you,
son. And yet, this morning after I did
all of my ridiculousness I walked into your room, shook you from your sleep as
only a dad of an 11 year-old young man can, and said loudly “WAKE UP!!! It’s time for fun!” See the thing is I didn’t care if you
slept. I wanted your company. I love hanging out with you and my
waking hours are kind of boring if you’re not a part of them. You grumbled.
I jumped on the bed. You muttered
something about hating life. I pulled
the covers off. It was great fun. And where did we go from there? Well, since you share my DNA I’ve often planned
our time together based on what I want to do. The thought is that if I enjoy it, you will
too. And if you don’t we’ll blame your
mom. In short order you were dressed and
we were off on a morning walk. The
Dunkin’ Donuts is only a mile away and I was craving something more than black
coffee. Figured you’d like a donut and
we could enjoy some father-son time together.
What I didn’t count on was your determination to be even
less physical at that hour of the morning and on vacation than I was at any
hour of the day when I was in my 30’s.
Three blocks from the beach house and you dropped this gem on me: “Dad, when
we get there do you think we can Uber back?”
Yes, I did just hear that correctly.
Uber wasn’t a thing in 2006.
And it wasn’t going to be a thing today either. We got to DD, grabbed our breakfast, and
WALKED back to the house. And you know
you’re happy we did because along the way we passed something really neat. We took a slightly different route and
encountered the rather sizable fire/rescue station. Since the Outer Banks are kind of isolated
one might figure that a rescue station would have to be well-equipped to handle
any kind of life-threatening emergency.
What neither of us figured was that they would have “it” right out
front. “It” was a concrete pad – but not
just any concrete pad. “It” was a
concrete pad with a giant letter “H” painted in an even gianter circle smack in
the middle of the pad.
“Look!” we both said in unison. “A helicopter landing pad!!!” Like two little boys excited over the dumbest
thing we both squeeled with delight at the prospect that a helicopter might
swoop in at any point during the day. We
walked a little further. “Of course, son,”
I said, “that would require someone to have to kind of die or something.” We paused in sadness for a moment. And then you looked up at me.
“But it would be kind of awesome.”
It would indeed my boy. It would indeed.
For moments of clarity when God allows me grace to compare
my life today with my life before kids and to know that it’s so much better
now; I am most thankful.
*You already know that I started out Day 3 by writing about Day 2. Now I am starting out Day 5 (in a manner of speaking) by writing about Days 3 and 4.
We did make it past Asheville last night (or
rather, early this morning) and checked ourselves into a hotel on the side of
I-40. Charles Kuralt once said upon the
completion of Interstate 40 – which runs from coastal North Carolina all the
way to the Central Valley of California – that it was now possible to drive
from one coast to the other without seeing a thing. I fear he was right. That’s not entirely true. Why, late last night I saw stars. No, my wife did not beat me over the head for
blasting the original cast recording of Evita while she was
sleeping. My son, in a way only 11
year-old boys can do, announced confidently that he had to relieve
himself. He did this about ten miles
after I had driven past the last exit with any services for a considerable stretch
of road. Oh well, I’m a guy. I get it.
You don’t really need a bathroom proper in order to take care of that kind
of business. It’s just how God made
us. The only problem was that this
stretch of I-40 wends and winds its way through the Great Smokey
Mountains. It was cut as judiciously as
possible through rocky cliffs. Owing to
that fact the highway engineers “forgot” to install a shoulder. I drove as far as I (and his bladder) could
travel before, mercifully, finding a runaway truck ramp. Out we hopped. I walked him around the back of the vehicle
to afford a tiny bit of privacy (not like he cared) and for some reason I
looked up. The night sky was blanketed
with thousands of stars. We live in the
Dallas area. On a typical night we’re
lucky to see about five stars and one of those is the moon. I also saw a sign that proclaimed bears would
be crossing the road in some kind of pack formation. I feel sorry for the bears, really I do. According to the sign, they cross like this:
a she-bear followed by three cubs. Where’s
the dad? Not doing as good a job as I
am, I should imagine, shepherding my wife and kids across the continent.
Upon leaving the
hotel I did something I promised I would not do on this trip (or anytime if I
can avoid it). I asked my wife to
drive. She’s a fine driver and I
appreciate the help. It’s just that this
is something I can do for her. When I
was growing up I never once saw my dad NOT walk around the car to get the door
for my mom. It’s a car door. Of course she can open it by herself. But he did it for her because he could. And he could because she allowed him the
privilege. Until the last time I saw him
drive anywhere with her, he held her door.
I liked that. But, I needed time
to write so I accepted her invitation to take the wheel. She drove us all of an hour and a half until
reaching the city of Greensboro. That’s
where my niece and her family live.
Right before getting out of the car my wife pointed out that Facebook had notified her of a “memory”. On this exact date three years ago we had also visited my niece on a cross-country drive. Her son was a couple of months old. We had taken a picture of my daughter holding her first cousin once removed. This meant that we would have to re-create the picture. My niece prepared a lovely breakfast for us. Sadly we couldn’t stay long – just long enough to enjoy a meal and catch up. And one of the best parts for me was getting to play with her dog – a lab mix named Leo. I love dogs and I especially love labs. They’re so friendly and seek attention. They also want to be loved and so they go out of their way to please every person they meet. Sound like anyone we know?…
Perhaps the funniest thing of our trip so far happened at this time. I almost didn’t want to write about it but my wife insisted I should. My great-nephew is potty training. It happens. As we were getting ready to head out the door my niece walked past the bathroom door on her way back into the kitchen. As only a parent who’s potty training a child can, she said “Did someone poop?” And before anyone could comprehend her question a certain member of our party who happens to be my mother-in-law replied quick as lightning: “Me.”
Sometimes in life there are pauses. Sometimes these pauses are dramatic like when the Twin Towers fell and we all held our breath for 40 seconds. Time seemed not to exist. Sometimes these pauses are ironic like when we await the punchline of a joke. In either case there is anticipation in these pauses. We know something is coming, we just don’t know what. This was not one of those moments. In fact there was no pause. Her answer was immediate. The pause came after her “Me”. The pause was me and my wife wondering how to process what we had just heard. For a moment we just stared at each other. And then we figured it out. We were to laugh. Look, I’ve never thought bodily processes a good subject for humor. It’s lowbrow and cheap. But her innocence in answering so quickly and something about the moment just made us laugh. Seems she didn’t want my niece to think it had been her potty-training son. I admire such honesty. And I laugh at it.
After breakfast we were back on the road. Remember when I said a trip with us is like trench warfare? So… a half-hour later we stopped. This time our stop was an outlet mall. Unlike the depressing shell of a mall we had seen two days earlier, this one was vibrant. I hit all the shops I wanted to, got some new shorts and shirts. The lady behind the counter at the Old Navy even gave us a 20% discount because she liked the Nintendo-themed shirt my son was wearing. It seems his love of classic video games has indeed paid off. Back on that road. Another hour, another stop. We had promised my daughter we would hit a craft store so she could get a few items to keep her entertained at the beach. I thought the ocean and stuff would have been enough; but it appears not. Ten minutes after entering they emerged with even more crap stuff to stuff into the car.
Finally, we were on our way again. Fits and starts, kids, fits and starts. By the way, did you like my use of the word “wend” up above? Thought so. From the craft store we actually raced to get to our next destination. See, we’re Catholic, if you couldn’t tell, and this being Saturday evening and not wanting to attend the “beach mass” at the Outer Banks On Sunday morning we decided to take our chances on a church in the city of Rocky Mount. We got there with one minute to spare. I ALWAYS wear my best suit to Sunday mass. This time, however, that option was not available to me, arriving with no time to change. The church was interesting. For those in the know, it looked like a typical 60’s parish that had recently been assigned a more tradition-minded pastor. The mass was ad orientem and we knelt at the rail for Communion. This might offend some but I realized over the past five years that I need to go out of my way to exemplify the virtue of reverence in the face of so many Eucharistic abuses. Kneeing for Communion, for me, is the best way to do that. Not a fan? Sorry. But the building itself was quite distinct in that it featured the most bizarre stained glass windows. At one point I looked up to see a purple man-baby looking down upon me. If that doesn’t put the fear of God into one, I don’t know what will.
And now for the “Top Reason to become a Libertarian” section of the post. We drove on from Rocky Mount headed for the Outer Banks. Normally, this is a three-hour drive. Not with us. And not because we took a ton of stops either. I use the Waze traffic app. About fifteen minutes out from mass Waze informed me “Police reported ahead.” My wife and I looked at each other and, noticing two county police cars in the median, remarked in unison: “Police right there.” Lucky for me I was not speeding. Had the cruise control set at the actual speed limit. But that didn’t stop our friends from Edgecombe County, North Carolina’s Sherriff’s Office from pulling out in tandem and trailing me for five minutes. In my mind I went over any possible violations I could have made. Nothing. Why were they doing this to me? We were about to find out because they put their lights on. Being the dutiful citizen I am (and always obeying my federal overlords) I quickly pulled to the shoulder. An officer approached my vehicle. Without ever identifying himself he said simply “Got your license?” I already had it out so I handed it to him (careful to make sure it was my driver license and not my gun license because this isn’t Texas and he has no right to know) and asked “What’s the problem?” “We ran a check of your plates and it came back ‘no record’,” he said. Stop and think for a minute. If I haven’t done anything wrong, why on earth would you run a check of my plates? None of this made any sense. After five minutes he returned to my window and handed me back my license. “You’re good,” he said. “I know that,” I replied. He turned on his heel to walk away and I decided to be a wiseguy.
“Just one thing,
officer,” I said. “Why do they call them
Officer Skippy shot me a look as if I had just asked him to explain quantum physics. “Um, I think… You know? I’m not… Hey Buck!” Here he called to the other officer who had never approached the car. “Buck! Why are they Tar Heels?” Buck mumbled something inaudible. Skippy stuttered a bit and then said “I think Tar Heel was an Indian or something. Yeah, I think he had black feet.” Then he scurried away. The thing is that my wife and I had just had this conversation moments before being pulled over. Thanks to Google we knew the answer and it did NOT have a thing to do with a Native American. I’m not even sure these two clowns were actual police officers or if they were. perhaps they were doing some kind of on-the-job training. Look, folks, be on guard when you drive through North Carolina. The very first speeding ticket I ever got was in the Tar Heel State and the trooper admitted it was because the county needed the money
Another stop. This one at a Walmart for supplies and the world’s smallest liquor store for liquor supplies. Then, with the cruise locked to the speed limit the rest of the trip we drove on toward the beach. And finally, at 11:35 PM we reached our destination. Having seen stars, family, a shopkeep with human decency, an inflatable unicorn raft from a craft store, Jesus, two Andy Griffith wannabes, and a whole lot of coastal flats we could settle into bed. And this dad could give thanks for his wife, children, mother-in-law, friends, health, and safety… and a whole lot of memories.
PS: I need to mention here that my niece and her husband started up a neat company a couple of years ago and I would love to drive business their way. The company is called Soledier Socks. Check them out here and, if you, like me, wear socks consider them for your next purchase.
This morning I woke up in Alabama. There’s nothing terribly spectacular about
that fact I think. Just a man and his
wife, their two kids, and his mother-in-law struggling to gain consciousness in
a hotel room in the Deep South… I did
what I do every morning upon waking up.
I hit the ground and said my morning prayers. Praised be God! I’m alive.
I got out of bed unassisted. I
required no help in getting dressed.
From the looks of things through the room-darkening drapes, the sun was
out. My watch told me that the
temperature hadn’t crept too high. This
was going to be a beautiful day and my heart is full of joy. I have a lot of prayers that I pray every morning. It’s structured. I’m not saying I pray like Rainman or
anything but if you mess with my routine I will cut you. I continued praying silently as I left the
room and headed to the lobby for coffee.
The trip downstairs took a little longer than it should have. I could not board the first two elevators due
to overcrowding. Hoop skirts and
parasols take up a lot of space. I told
you there was nothing strange about waking up in Birmingham.
We’ve traveled like this many, many times to where we have the unpack/pack thing down. The lady at the front desk marveled at how quickly we managed to get everything back into the car so efficiently. “Y’all must have done this a time or two befo-ah, I should declaaayah.” I nodded politely. My daughter and her grandmother came past the front desk. “Ya’ll fav-uh; but I reckon yal’l get that a lot,” said the lady behind the counter, now staring at my daughter and me. I whispered to my wife: “If we pay her no heed perhaps she will ignore us.” We went back to packing the car while the attendant busily replaced the carafes of coffee with bottles of gin and a bowl of sloes mixed with sprigs of mint. If I hadn’t been so scared I might have been tempted to stay and check this party out. As she placed the bottles down I heard her softly singing something about the land of cotton and old time days, silently moving apostrophes as she did so. I walked around the vehicle shoving each member of my family inside, slamming doors behind them. Then I locked the doors, rolled down my window, shouted “We won the wo-ah!” and sped away.
Absolutely none of that may have happened in reality. I just needed some kind of device to get my
story going. You see, it’s actually the
morning of day 3 as I write this. When
we reach the end of this dispatch you might see why I am writing this then or
now or whenever it actually is. Let’s
pick up from the only part of that tale that was true. That would be the part where I woke up and
We packed the car and headed to mass. My son and I were both wearing long pants
despite the increasing heat. That’s
because we would be heading to a place that required a certain dress code. My wife had chosen the church from a list
online. It was about a half-hour
away. She had to remain in the car to
get on a business call so Wilma, the kids, and I all headed into the tiny,
almost mission looking church building.
The sign out front declared that “All are welcome here!” And what a strange way they had of showing
welcome. We encountered a Catholic mass
in Spanish with heavy doses of Latin – as in, the priest seemed not to be able
to make up his mind. For instance (and I
don’t know much Spanish) the priest prayed the Our Father in Spanish, said
something rapidly in Spanish directed toward the congregation, and then chanted
the Pater Noster. We approached for
Communion. For such a “progressive”
looking church building we all knelt at the rail to receive Communion on the
tongue. Again, I prefer to receive
Communion kneeling and on the tongue but all of this seemed so disjointed. Regardless, we had been blessed to stand at
the foot of Calvary and I can’t ever complain about that.
We drove a little further down the road and stopped in at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Yeah, we’re those kind of people. And this is where the pants come in. Some shrines like their visitors‘ legs more covered than others. I don’t mind. It’s not like it’s 1800 degrees out today or anything. We’ll offer it up. This shrine was built under the direction of one of my heroes, Mother Angelica. Here was a woman who didn’t take any nonsense. A beautiful place it was, too. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere was a large church with an enormous plaza, visitors center, and the requisite gift shop. In fact it was both the best shrine gift shop I ever saw and one of the most beautiful churches too. I had to force myself to leave the gift shop before I spent a small fortune. We stopped at the crypt-level church to pray at Mother’s tomb and then it was on our way again. A quick lunch (at five different restaurants to accommodate five people who suddenly remembered it’s Friday and we’re not eating meat; a quick change for father and son into shorts; and we’re on our way.
Still further up the same road (and keep in mind at this point we’re only about 30 miles from where we left this morning) we stopped at another shrine. I have a former student who is currently walking the Camino in Spain, mocking me every few minutes on Facebook with her pictures of beautiful places along the way. It is as if she is saying “Ha! You will never make it to Spain but I am here!” Yeah, toots? I’m doing the Northern Alabama Catholic tour. You don’t even know… OK, so it doesn’t quite work the same. This shrine is more of a grotto than a specific place of pilgrimage. It’s another spot that I had visited years earlier with my brother (see yesterday’s post). It’s called the Ave Maria Grotto. Here’s the story… About a hundred years ago, give or take, a young Benedictine monk arrived at St. Bernard’s Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. Possessing an artistic streak, he began making “models” of buildings he remembered from his native Bavaria. He constructed these out of rocks, twigs, broken dishes, basically anything he could get his hands on. He began making more and more “buildings”, placing them on the grounds of the abbey. Eventually his creations were arranged around a long and winding pathway and people come from all around to see what one monk could do with the other monks’ garbage. At one point Wilma, making note of the literature that said “friends would bring Brother Jozef old pottery, dishes, and knick-knacks, asking him to fashion them into his miniature displays of cities like Jerusalem or Rome.” Said my mother-in-law while staring at a crucifix made out of dozens of seashells “He must have had a lot of beach friends.” Oh, and the gift shop strikes again. “Look, kids, it’s all the same at all of these shrine gift shops. Holy cards, books, and statues of saints. Don’t get too excited,” I said as my gaze turned toward a holy card of a Fulton Sheen statue holding a stack of his books. They’re getting clever, these shopkeeps.
Packing the family back into the car I drove across the
northern reaches of Alabama as I cut a diagonal path toward the northeast
corner of that fair state. We had
planned to stop at a place I had not been to yet but that my wife had visited
once as a child. There is a mountain
lookout near the convergence of Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia appropriately named
Lookout Mountain. From the summit, a
piece of private property known as the very touristy “Rock City”, one can see
seven states. After paying damn near a
hundred bucks to enter I wondered aloud whether those states were frustration,
anger, seething rage, depression, etc.
However, after wandering the grounds – following the paths laid out by
the owners – we reached the lookout point and it was well worth the money. Not only was the view spectacular (you couldn’t
really see seven states, or at least I couldn’t) but experiencing the excitement
of exploring new places and seeing things most people never get to see and doing
this with my wife and children brought a great joy to my heart. Additionally, the grounds feature lots of story-book
themed motifs. I’m still not sure why
there were hundreds of garden gnomes placed throughout the park and we may have
in fact been paced under some kind of Wiccan hex by signing the credit card
slip. Time will tell. To be safe we may return to Mother Angelica’s
grave for protection.
Finally we headed out toward a nighttime stopping point. “Feel like driving past Asheville?” asked my beautiful wife. Asheville, NC lies a couple of hundred miles from Lookout Mountain. I felt like stopping right then and there, finding a cocktail, and getting into bed. But I knew we had to go on. And if she thought I could get us past Asheville then I could get us past Asheville. Along the last few hours of our drive my wife lovingly mocked me for my multiple stops. Look, my back can’t handle that many straight hours in the driver’s seat AND I need coffee. Thinking my passengers were all asleep I turned on some music from my phone. Came across an old album I used to listen to with my sister when we were young and used to go to Broadway matinees on the regular just because we could. After a while my wife opened her eyes, looked over at me, and said “You’re so strange…” “What?” I said. “Just rehearsing for my new production: Evita, a one-man show.”
And just as Mandy Patinkin was cryptically shrieking about Eva Peron’s missing body we arrived at our hotel. The time was 1:37 AM (hence the next day posting). A more thankful dad I really don’t think you could find – at least not in any of the states one can view from a mountaintop that might be in Georgia or perhaps in Tennessee. No matter, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
I have been in the Fatherland going on a week now. I am here to visit and spend time with my mom who is in the hospital.
It is also now the Sacred Paschal Triduum. I have been able to slip out of the room to make my way to a piecemeal collection of beautiful Catholic churches in order to observe the liturgy of the Church during these holiest of days.
Yesterday – Holy Thursday – I started out the day looking for a place to confess my sins. I mean, I could confess them anywhere and to anyone but I kind of wanted to do it to an ordained priest. Something about actual absolution and all… Here’s the thing. I am in the habit of going roughly once a week. But as we enter into these three days, surprisingly, confessions are rather limited. I don’t know if it’s that the priests are all of a sudden really, really busy or what. But I was able to find a scheduled round of confessions at St. Michael’s, a church tucked away at the lower end of Broadway near Bloomfield Ave. in the North Ward. Those familiar with the area will know exactly what this looks like. I can’t adequately describe it. OK, I could adequately describe it and I will one day but it would take pages. For now, I would like the artwork of the church tell the story. You see, most churches in this part of the world look like this one. Old, traditional, built on the donations of the mostly poor immigrant Catholics who brought to these shores their Old World style and peculiarities.
The thing is that in the art I was reminded of the story. The story here is the love of a mother for her Son and the love of the Son for the whole human race including you and me. Let’s start…
Now let’s look at the Woman and her Son.
Not quite what you were expecting? I know, it’s Easter-time, not Christmas. But take a look at what was hanging on the wall just next to this particular window.
From His infancy to His death He was always close to His mother. It was in her arms that He rested in life and in death. Imagine her joy and her sorrow. I want that when my children read this in years to come they recognize something my parents taught me – that devotion to Our Lord comes through devotion to His mother. As He was pleased to rest in her arms we must turn to her in prayer and always be devoted to the Mother He gave us from the cross.
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