Being a novel, all characters, events, dialogue and representations are fictional ... and in no way are meant to represent any real or living persons or events... except the few annual events that are used to move me through time. The opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of my author. And the story is copyrighted, by my author of course. Oh, and from time to time I may include some real time events to keep the blog more authentic. Comments and suggestions will be appreciated and seriously considered as the story moves along.

If you are just joining us, start with the Prologue and Chapter One on March 1, 2011, in the Archives.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April 4, 2011 Chapters 9, 10 & 11

Chapter 9
   Sharon and Doug’s elegant two-story home, the Nest, as they laughingly called it, is two miles west of campus on 19th Street. I have easily settled into the large guest cottage at the back of the two-acre estate. With my quarters already completely furnished, the majority of my belongings were put in a nearby storage facility, ready for whenever I find my own home, which I hope will be soon. 
   Not that the arrangement isn’t both comfortable and comforting. I am alone, but within throwing distance of one of my two best friends in the world. And Sharon’s significant other, Tech music professor Douglas Pucci, agreed with Sharon on the need for me to have as much privacy as I desire and as much company as I need. 
It reminds me of my first experience in Lubbock — I was alone, but help from my parents back in Dallas was just a phone call away. Now I’m alone and my friends are just a few steps away.

     At first, I shared dinners with them in the main kitchen, previously only faintly aware of, and now delighted by, Doug’s gourmet culinary skills. Italian food seems to be his specialty, probably due in part to the annual summer trips the two make to Tuscany visiting his family “in the old country.” I’m a little worried my extra pounds will be harder to lose as I gain an appreciation for his cooking, especially his lasagna. 
   Now that I’ve begun my work in earnest though, and realize I will have little or no direction from Boyle, my supervisor, I’ve been spending long hours at the office, passing through the kitchen only late at night either looking for leftovers to take for reheating in my own kitchenette, or to see if anyone is still up to discuss the day.  
   Sharon and Doug have individually mentioned, casually but not too subtly, that they expect me to be with them at least six months, if not a full year.  However, I know the arrangement is only short-term. Looking for a house of my own needs to be a priority if I am to get a complete start on my new life. I’ve promised to stay at least through the end of July, though, to watch the big house while they make their annual trip to Italy. And besides, finding a house of my own is harder than I’d imagined.
  Just south of campus, in the the area of older homes I loved as a student, houses of brick and stucco from the 1930s and ’40s are in various conditions. Many are still their original size and shape, owned by older occupants, some who rent out a bedroom or garage apartment to students. Others have been restored and enlarged, with beautifully manicured lawns and decades-old oak or elm trees gracing the lawns. 

A few of the graceful old houses had been torn down completely and replaced by McMansions gigantic two- or three-story brick cookie-cutter monstrosities that take up almost all of the green space, forever changing the appearance of a street. There should be an ordinance against those tear-downs, I think, every time I tour the area.

I definitely favor the older homes with character, if not closet space, imagining myself in the middle of the landscape, happily tending an iris bed or two. I’ve actually brought some of the irises from my gardens in Dallas, not being able to bear parting with them since they had been my mother’s. They are currently planted temporarily next to Sharon and Doug’s guest cottage.
   Discovering only a few homes for sale to meet my criteria, quick calls to the real estate agent’s listing find I’m always too late. “Just sold this morning” has been a common refrain. But I’m resigned to wait patiently for the right house and enjoy Sharon and Doug’s hospitality as long as necessary.
Chapter 10
   Every third day or so, I dutifully attend either early morning or Sunday Mass.  The constancy of the universal Catholic liturgy gives me a comfortable link to my old life. It makes my radical upheaval seem not quite so radical. There are several different Catholic churches in the area and I thought I needed to try them on to see which one fit best. 
   As a student at Tech, I attended Protestant services because I’d grown up Lutheran. Only after Jim and I were married did I become Catholic. Wanting to be a participating member before our first child was conceived — I’d conceded to Jim before the wedding that our children could be raised Catholic — I had attended a class for potential converts. 
   Jim jokingly told our friends that the first time it “didn’t take.” Truth was the priest who ran the classes couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer my many questions. A year later I’d tried again with a different, younger priest, Father Joseph Turner. Extremely patient and interested in my intellectual, but probably naive points, he not only satisfied my curiosity but was also convincing enough about the validity of the teachings that I joined the church wholeheartedly, much to Jim’s surprise and his mother’s relief. 
   I was obliged to admit there really wasn’t that much difference in the two religions. While Martin Luther had made some valid points a few centuries back, they were not valid enough to make a huge difference for me in this century. Being strong in my faith since childhood, I felt comfortable enough with what I’d learned in class to make the change, or I wouldn’t have made it. It certainly would be easier if we worshiped as a family.
   It was praying to the saints and the Virgin Mary that baffled me at first. “Why in the world,” I had argued, “do you need to pray to statues when you can go directly to God?”

Father Joseph’s simple explanation was that Catholics don’t actually pray to statues, as most Protestants mistakenly believe. Rather the likenesses are there to keep the saint in mind while conversing with them, much as you look at someone’s picture when reminiscing. 
   He made his point by asking me,  “In times of trouble, don’t you ask your friends to pray for you?” I had, in fact, often asked others to intercede for me. I felt the more prayers the better. I continue to ask my parents to watch over my family, even though both died in a plane crash shortly after my college graduation. There was a certain comfort in asking and then in believing they were on duty along with my guardian angel.  
“So, Mrs. Grant,” continued Father Joseph, “we are merely asking the saints for the same. Intercession and prayers.”
  It made sense to me, and so it was added to the list of things I took on faith. Confession was another hurdle, however. Telling your sins to a priest instead of to God? Again, why not talk directly to Him, I asked. “Surely He’s not too busy to hear me?”
   Once again, Father Joseph, now Monsignor Joseph, listened to my concerns and then explained enough to allow me to try it. I must admit, after my first confession and absolution, I was astonished by the genuine relief I felt. It is true, then, confession is good for the soul. I became a believer in the sacrament, and Father Joseph became a good friend to us as well as our spiritual guide throughout our marriage. 
Chapter 11
   Two miles southwest of the loop in Lubbock, a huge gold-domed sanctuary had recently been built on several acres of treeless grasslands, surrounded by freshly constructed starter homes. Most of the worshipers are young families. It’s an incredibly beautiful building, but the make-up of the congregation seemed a tad young for me. 
  Saint Barnabas, the 1960s-built church inside the loop, is architecturally interesting and the greeters were always friendly and welcoming, but the middle-aged pastor’s voice was such a monotone the few times I attended that I, along with several others, had a hard time stifling yawns and staying awake. 
   Yesterday, I headed for St. Elizabeth’s University Parish, the huge Spanish mission-styled “campus” church, a few blocks east of Texas Tech on Broadway, and across the street from the Christian church Sharon and Doug attend. The services and Masses scheduled at the two sanctuaries are conveniently staggered, either by accident or design, so traffic isn’t too bad at either church. I thought I would get out about 20 minutes before Sharon and Doug. I promised to rush to Café J on 19th Street to secure a table for brunch. My mouth was already watering in anticipation of their famous seafood crepes.     
  Parking in the rear church parking lot, I studied the tan brick building. It could have easily been a part of the Tech campus architecture with its red clay-tiled roof, carved stone columns set into the walls, and deep-cut ornate stone window frames. Entering a massive double oak door, I made my way through the three-story, 30-foot wide vestibule, passing through additional massive oak doors above which a wall of clear glass allowed light to stream between the entry foyer and the sanctuary. 

   I settled into a back pew, the perfect place to observe other churchgoers as well as the entire service. I was a little early, so I took a moment to study the architecture. The open, light-filled sanctuary has a massive vaulted oak ceiling contrasting sharply with the thick, whitewashed adobe walls. The simple oak altar and ambo, or pulpit, stands up on a raised hardwood platform. Directly behind and above the altar is a large wooden crucifix, nearly 12 feet tall but dwarfed by the massive walls. Further above, a Spanish-style stained glass window with points and curves is set back from the wall into the outer brick, as in a niche, showing the walls to be about four feet thick. A white dove soars in the middle of the window’s brilliant blues and reds.
  To the left of the altar is an open iron gate leading to a much smaller chapel, no bigger than 12 feet by 12 feet, lined with stained glass windows from floor to ceiling. The dazzling colors draw the eye to the center of a smaller altar holding an ornate gold tabernacle where the sacred host is kept. 
   Along the two side walls of the main sanctuary, flanking the pews, 20-foot-tall stained glass stories of Christ’s life are set up high and deep. The brightness of the church, I was surprised to notice, was not from the daylight, but achieved through the stark white walls and strategically placed lighting, both hanging and recessed. A well-designed sanctuary to reflect the light of the Lord.
   I knelt to give thanks for my new adventure, my boys and their families, my friends and my health. I then asked for guidance — not for anything in particular this time, but just for general guidance in all decisions. I crossed myself and sat back as the music signaled the beginning of the Mass. 
  Subconsciously noting all ages, ethnicities and levels of wealth and poverty, including the expected large number of college-aged students, made up the congregation of St. Elizabeth’s, I felt comfortable there. A young Hispanic family sat next to me, obviously close to the back door to make a quick exit if either of their offspring, the preschooler or the newborn, began to participate too loudly. Directly in front of them was another family, a couple in their late thirties with four, no, five children. They ranged in age from fifteen down to about three, all tow-headed and ruddy freckle-faced like their father, with the exception of the middle girl who had dark silken hair like the mother. 
Next to them, an elderly woman who looked to be about 95 hobbled into her pew with the help of an older well-dressed gentleman. Maybe her son? She was elegantly dressed in a dark yellow spring suit, an understated fashionable hat framing her small weather-worn face.
A bell rang and the congregation rose. Because I was so far back and to the left, my line of sight to the procession was blocked by others until the priest, deacon and acolytes stepped onto the higher level of the altar. One of the two young altar servers was a girl — not all churches complied with the Vatican dictate that servers could be of either gender, just as not all churches interpreted the rules the same way. I knew the young girl’s presence means at least the pastor here is a little forward thinking. 
    Squinting and standing on tiptoe, I studied the priest more closely. He was tall, dark-headed and looked to be around my age, comfortably somewhere in his 50s. He moved with an athletic grace much like Jim’s. When he spoke, his deep rich voice was pleasant, but it seemed to me it was his enthusiasm for his faith that flavored his speech to the point of making him charismatic — even from a distance. 
  The gospel reading was familiar — the story of the disciple Thomas, who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Scriptures say Jesus replied, “Blessed are they who have not seen and believe.” 
  My throat constricted and I closed my eyes to force back threatening tears. I could see Jim give me his skeptical look and recite his frequent line, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Lovingly calling him “Doubting Thomas” since the beginning of our marriage, I often reminded him that many things in life just had to be taken on faith. 
  Now I was the “Doubting Thomas,” wondering about my unlikely move to West Texas. Had I really heard both Jim and God tell me to come? Or was it an illusion I created to get away from the relentless grief of being in a house that was no longer a home without the man I’d loved for thirty years? 
   As I was renewing my prayer for guidance, the priest’s soft, yet commanding voice interrupted and then captivated me. His message wasn’t the mundane patronizing normal sermon, but an intellectual query on how this particular scripture was relevant today. My mind had to work to keep up with his ideas and hypotheses. 
  I tried to convince myself it was his words that moved me — uninfluenced by my curiosity of whether he looked as appealing up close as he did high up on the altar. Oooh, get thee behind me, Devil, I thought as I closed my eyes to listen without the visual distraction. I was mesmerized. 
   When he stopped, I thought it was too soon. I wanted more, and looking at my watch, discovered he had already talked for a little more than normally alloted time for sermons. 
I stood with the congregation for the Profession of Faith, then realized this is what I wanted ... what I needed. Intellectual religion, much like Monsignor Joseph provided back in Dallas. Of course it wouldn’t hurt if the celebrant wasn’t hard to look at, either.   
  During communion, I walked up the left aisle to the front, but again was too far away to really see him. I received the sacred host from a much older priest who seemingly appeared out of nowhere, but in reality had stepped out from the small chapel. I smiled as I bowed, thinking he was probably at least as old as the hat lady at the back; then took the host as he said in a high-pitched thick Irish brogue, “Aye, da body o’ Christ.” 
I looked him directly in the eyes and he held my stare, then nodded as if to say, “OK, me darlin’, time to move on.” I shook my head and indeed ‘moved on’ to the lay eucharistic minister who held out the communion cup. 
   All thoughts of the dark-haired priest vanished as I contemplated those ancient, intelligent, all-knowing and obviously Irish eyes. As I returned to my seat, I wondered just how old he really was. Quickly admonishing myself for lack of piety and intense curiosity of things, I followed the remainder of the Mass more reverently.  
   At the end of the last hymn, though, I strained again to catch a closer glimpse of the “younger” priest in the recessional. But once again the view was blocked. Thinking I might see him outside on the porch as he greeted worshipers, I made my way through the vestibule and out the main doors only to find myself at the end of the line leading directly to the older priest. The taller cleric was nearby, but his back was to me. He was surrounded by a crowd of obviously admiring and adoring parishioners, mostly women. I sighed and focused my attention on where I was. 
“Margaret Grant,” I said smiling when it was finally my turn to shake the old priest’s hand. “Newly arrived from Dallas.”

“Well, then, an’ I’m Monsignor Fitzpatrick. From Dallas, is it now? Ya wouldn’t be knowing me good friend Father Joseph Turner, now would ya?” he asked with a wink. 
  “Monsignor Joseph?” I replied with surprise. “From Saint Mary’s parish? Why yes. He’s a dear friend.”

“Well, now, an, didn’t ’e call me up just da other week ta be on da lookout fer ya. And here ya be. Welcome ta Saint Elizabeth’s. I hope ya will be comfortable ’ere.”
  “Why, yes.” I was slightly flustered at this unexpected connection to my past life. “I, um, I  enjoyed the homily very much,” I stammered, remembering too late he wasn’t the one who should receive the compliment.
  “Oh, aye. Father Murphy talks a great lesson on da scriptures, ’e does. Couldn’t do without ’em here a’ tall. Not a’ tall. Been ’ere giving good sermons an’ serving da parish goin’ on ’bout fifteen years now. Good priest, hard worker. Lucky ta have him as me assistant.”
  “Your assistant?” I said, still stammering. Most priests were long retired by the age of 70, and Monsignor Fitzpatrick had to be 90 if he was a day.
  “Oh, yes, meself’s the pastor of Saint Elizabeth’s. Been here since yon cornerstone was laid at da old chapel some 60 odd years back.” He gestured across the courtyard to the small chapel now attached to classrooms.  “This is me home, but da parish, don’t ye know, has gotten so grand, thanks be to God, dat I had to take on a little help. And de Bishop asked me to be kind to young Father Murphy, there.” He inclined his head toward the other priest.  “So I humor ‘em by letting ’em do much of da legwork— and da homilies. He doesn’ like ta be idle, as day say. So, I pretty much let ’em run da place, but ’tis meself who’s really da boss.”  He winked conspiratorially as he gave me a direct look. “E’er seen da movie Going My Way?”
   Delighted, I looked again at Father Murphy’s back, noticing the crowd around him had dispersed and he was making his way back into the church.
   “There now,” said Monsignor Fitzpatrick. I quickly turned my attention back to him. “I hope ta be seein’ ya again soon, Mrs. Margaret Grant?” 
  “Thank you, Father. You will, you will.” I glanced once more at the church, looked at my watch and hurried to my car, thinking I probably might not be the first to arrive for brunch after all.

Next blog, Monday, April 11

No comments:

Post a Comment