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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nunsense!

I held Rory's hand as we walked along the path to my parents' place. Another two hours before we had to pick Desmond up from pre-school.  Brother and I were checking on our old folks.

"Remember to say 'Happy Birthday' to Grandma when you see her."
"She is Grandma," my youngest boy informed me.  He was two and a half at the time and right on top of his facts.

As we climbed the front steps to their apartment, I could see Big Mare through the kitchen window.  She was changing her nitroglycerine patch in the morning sun and talking on the phone.

"I have to go, Nonna.  The kids are here," she told her sister.
"Hi, Aunt Joan!" I called from the porch, as if she could hear me back in the Bronx.
"Mary says 'Hi,'" my mother spoke into the receiver.  "Aunt Joan says she loves you."
"I love her, too."

"There's my precious pumpkin!" Mom exclaimed, pulling up the blind so Rory could see where all the commotion was coming from.
"Here, I am," she called to him, waving a feather duster in his direction.

Big Mare loved my boys - the way a pirate loves gold.  She treasured them.  These children played such a big part in mending our tattered relationship.  I thank God for them.  And her, as well.

"Shit!  What time is it?" my mother asked.
I checked my watch.  "Eleven."
"Quick.  Get your bottoms in here."
I jiggled the handle unsuccessfully.
"I can't, Mom.  The door's locked."

"Hang on, love.  I'll send your father."
She hollered into the bedroom.  "Gene!"
The tone of her voice changed abruptly from loving to… well, not so loving.
"For Chrissake, Gene.  Hurry up!  Little Mary's at the door."

"What's going on?" I inquired through the speakeasy opening at the bottom part of the window screen. I sensed the urgency in my mother's tone.
"Shh," Mom admonished.  "I don't want Carole to know I'm home."
"Too late," I suggested.

"What do you mean?  Did she see you park the car?"
"I don't think so, Mom.  But between your big mouth and the fucking television set, everybody in America knows you're home."
"Please, honey."  She cupped her hands over her ears as if to shield their delicate inner workings from physical assault.  "Don't say that word."
"What?  America?"
"No.  The "F" word.  It's filthy talk."

"I thought you liked Carole."
"I do," my mother assured me.
"Then what's the problem?"
"She wants to take me to lunch for my birthday."

Big Mare turned her attention to Brother who stood mesmerized by the box of donuts I carried under my arm.
"Mommy has a fresh mouth.  Doesn't she, sweetheart?"
"We're coming in," Rory informed her, stomping his feet.  The child had already licked at least a tablespoon of sprinkles off the floor at the Dunkin' Donuts.  He was ready to party.

Gene Dall finally appeared in the doorway, wearing pajama bottoms and a tee-shirt with an illustration of a slice of toast on it.  The words "I Love Jelly!" were written in big letters across his chest.

"Take these inside.  Will you, Chief?"
I handed my father the balloons I was holding.  I picked the baby up and followed my old man down the corridor, moving toward the sound of two TVs playing at volumes you could easily hear from a beach chair in space.

"Happy Birthday, Grandma!" I announced joyfully, swinging my happy, human bundle from side to side.  I leaned Rory against my mother for a smooch.  She kissed him noisily and hugged us both.  He lost his balance in my arms, giggling uncontrollably.

I plopped Brother onto the sofa and searched frantically for the remote control.
"Shut that crap off, will you?"
I handed the device to my dad.  He shuffled over to face the screen and changed the channel to cartoons.

"Have lunch with Carole, Mom.  Do something fun for a change."
"I can't," she replied, willfully.
"Why not?"
"Because your father's a pain in my ass."
"That's no excuse.  We'll watch him while you're gone.  Right, Bro?"

"Toast," the baby pointed to Gene Dall's belly.
"Bread," my dad rebutted.
"Toast," Brother insisted.
Daddy looked carefully at the picture on his clothing.
"I could've sworn it was bread," he said.

"You know, she used to be a nun," Big Mare whispered secretively.
"Who?"
"Carole."
"No.  Really?"

I suppose I was shocked.  Not because I couldn't envision my mother's neighbor as a woman of the cloth.  Oh, I could.  Carole fit the profile perfectly - the older career girl, devoted to Christ.  She was quiet, educated and stooped.  She wore polyester slacks and practical shoes.  I guess I just never thought you could get kicked off the force.

"Did she get fired?"  I needed more information.
"I doubt it."
"Maybe she quit," I added.
"I have no idea, babe."
"Mom, you have to find out."
"I can't, honey.  That's not something you ask a person out of the blue."
"Oh, I disagree.  It's precisely the kind of question that needs answering.  'Carole, your sandwich looks delicious.  How come you're not a nun anymore?"

I glanced over at my dad.  He stood by the refrigerator, waiting for an opportunity to reach in and snatch something when my mother wasn't looking.  A cookie perhaps or a handful of grapes.

"Get away from there," Mom barked without turning around.
He came and sat next to me at the kitchen table, sulking.

"Why didn't you ask her, Big Guy?  Don't you care?"
"Care about what?"
"Not what, who.  Carole."
"What happened?"
"She and Jesus broke up."

Big Mare interrupted us.
"Don't bother telling your father.  He doesn't give a shit."

Just then from the window, I saw Carole.  She trudged slowly toward the building carrying two bags of groceries that weighed probably seventy five pounds each. Ex-nuns are freakishly strong.  They're working that much harder for God's love.

"There she is now!" I motioned toward the sidewalk.  "I'm gonna tell her you'd love to have lunch together."  I headed for the door.  "Go put your bra on."

Mom grabbed me by the arm.
"Listen, Mary.  Whatever you do, don't mention my age."
"Okay."  I paused.  "Why not?"
"Carole thinks I'm 76."
"But you're 77."  I made a face.  "Why'd you tell her that?" I asked as I reached for the doorknob.
"I don't know.  I just did."



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