Call of the Vatican

Taken with my “new” used cell phone. Do forgive the quality.

BEING IN A Mexican family occasionally entails social obligations, mostly regarding the Catholic Church or, as my mama would have said, the Catlick Church.

I’ve been asked numerous times over the years to be a godfather to babies. I’ve always dodged that duty, mostly due to not being Catholic, an easy out.

No matter. Occasionally, I have to make an appearance on the Vatican Trail, and recently I did that when a nephew passed some sort of Catholic threshold.

They have names like First Communion, Confirmation, Confession, Holy Blessing from On High, Walking on Knees. I confess they’re a jumble in my noggin’. They all entail indirectly coughing up some pesos for the Pope through his priestly minions who dress like medieval womenfolk.

Well, anyway, there I was, sitting in one of those Catholic pews with the little kneeling rail at my feet, which creates problems for my long legs, plus I do not kneel.

As the two priests droned on and on, the recorded music rose and fell, the incense burned — I liked that part — the people prayed, we stood, we sat, more droning, I took the photo above of the girl and her parents, sitting dead ahead.

Sitting to my left was my lovely child bride, to her left was her sister, to her left was the poor guy who’d been suckered into Godfatherhood, and then finally, abutting the aisle, was our kid decked out in farcical white, head to heel.

The little angel that he isn’t.

After an hour and 10 minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I stood and left. I was hungry. I bought a couple of street cookies, sat on a steel bench outside the church door and waited.

Not long after, the priests ran out of ideas and ended the hoopla. My people came out. The kid looked the same.

But I did enjoy the incense.

Grace died

THE LETTER from the probate court in Maine landed in my post office box this week. Grace had died back in June. Grace was the second part of Marty & Grace, my two lesbian aunts.

Grace was not really my aunt. Marty was, my father’s sole sister. Grace was Marty’s “partner” of countless decades. I was probably around 10 when they found each other, so Grace was a part of my life almost from the beginning, though we did not see each other much, Marty & Grace, because they were Yankees.

booksMarty was an adopted Yankee. She fled the Confederacy in her 20s and only returned to visit. She and Grace lived in Philadelphia for many years. Then they retired and moved to Deer Isle, Maine, which really is an island. They bought a small, white, clapboard home and never left.

My second ex-wife and I vacationed in Montreal once in the 1980s. While there, we rented a car and drove to visit Marty & Grace in the white, clapboard house. It was my first and last time in Deer Isle. We ate lobsters.

They were a very interesting pair, though I can tell you that I never really liked Grace. There was something defiant about her, not a rare quality in lesbians. I far preferred Marty, who was always upbeat. Of all my relatives, and there have never been many, Marty was most like me, or perhaps the other way around.

She was adventuresome. She took flying lessons but never got the license. I did. She worked in universities and for the American Friends Service Committee, chaperoning young people, exchange students, to and from Europe. Grace worked at the Philadelphia Library until she retired. She was also a noted Emily Dickinson scholar.

Her — apparently quite valuable — collection of Emily Dickinson books is being donated to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Longtime readers of this website and its predecessors will have noticed the quote of Emily Dickinson in the right-side column. Grace had nothing to do with this. Pure coincidence.

Grace was in her late 80s when she died. About a decade ago, she began losing her mind. I don’t recall ever hearing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Perhaps it was a garden-variety dementia. When she became too much for Marty to care for alone in the white, clapboard house, she was moved into a nursing home.

She ceased to even recognize Marty.

On Christmas eve of last year, Marty died in bed in the white, clapboard house. During the earlier years of her “retirement,” she had been a professional binder of rare books.

Grace has now met Emily Dickinson in person, and Marty is binding books for the angels.