Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Godmother

I spent last Sunday at my parents’ house celebrating my mother’s birthday. It was a small group – just my parents, my grandmother, my aunt, and me. Before dinner, my aunt, who is a nun, said a special prayer for me to find a good job. Now, although religion has never played a big part in my life, I will say that I was really touched by the gesture. I mean, heck, it can’t hurt, right?

It’s funny, but for a non-religious person, I’ve probably spent more time with nuns than the vast majority of Catholics. My aunt used to live in a convent, so we’d spend a lot of holidays there with the other sisters. And once she moved out of the convent, her home served as a way station of sorts for all the traveling nuns. It seemed like there was almost always a roving sister or two at our holiday meals. I never really understood where they were traveling to or from, but the nuns in her order were quite the jet-setters.

When my aunt lived in the convent, my brother and I loved visiting her there, in part because in a convent that once probably housed 200 nuns, there were now only a few dozen. So, it was kind of like being able to run around in an empty hotel. Looking back, it kind of reminded me of the hotel from the movie The Shining, but without the haunted shrubbery and bleeding walls.

As kids, our favorite room in the convent was the basement. It was enormous and almost entirely empty except for a piano, a couch, and shuffleboard equipment. We would just run around there like lunatics, jumping on the couch, and pounding out our idea of music on the piano. In the closet, we’d always find a few kickballs that were mostly flat. I guess it never struck me as odd at the time, but what the heck were nuns doing with kickballs? Somehow I don’t see them rallying together for a heated game of dodgeball after morning mass. Of course, now it’s hard for me to get that image out of my head.

My Aunt Therese is kind of like Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption. She’s the nun all the other nuns go to when they need something. I can’t prove it, but it’s possible that my aunt runs the Catholic black market. She always seems to get truckloads of “donated” goods that she then sells at garage sales every few months. The profits all go to the church, or so I’ve been told.

But where exactly does she get all these things? Boxes of barrettes, cases of candles, palettes of Precious Moments. I’m not making any accusations here, but I’ve got to wonder if somewhere along the way, there’s a truck driver or a stock boy who was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

I really don’t want to imply that these transactions are anything but on the up-and-up, but it did seem very suspicious to me that one of the nuns just kind of disappeared after she accidentally destroyed twelve boxes of candles when she left them in the church van one hot August day.

I remember asking, “Aunt Therese, what ever happened to Sister Fredo? She never comes over for Christmas dinner anymore.”

My aunt just smiled a little and said, “Sister Fredo… she went away. She’s working at an orphanage in Panama now.”

“Oh really? Is she working at the same orphanage that Sister Barbara, Sister Anita, and Sister Margaret all went to?”

“Who? Oh… yes. Yes. They’re all working at the same orphanage now. I think your mother would like some help with the dishes, don’t you?”

Although I can’t confirm it, I suspect that “working in an orphanage” is the nun equivalent of “sleeping with the fishes.”

Every so often, my aunt will try to recruit me to join the convent. Although she’s in her 60’s, she’s still the youngest nun in her order, so they’re on the lookout for some fresh blood. I’m pretty sure that joining the convent is a little like joining a street gang – once you’re in, you’re in for life. Although, I imagine it’s a little bit more like the West Side Story version of a gang rather than the Boyz ‘N the Hood version. But still, whenever she brings this up, I try to avoid the topic altogether.

My latest diversion technique has been to offer up my marketing services to help the church recruit new members. I think they just need to take a little different approach in order to reach today’s younger, career driven audience. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far – it’s a little rough, but I think I’m on to something!

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