Daylight

Two Girls with Their Shelties - Victorian Images

Victorian art showing two little girls with their best friends

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The Sacrament of Being a Good Friend to Your Friends

So, Henry has been to see me. Henry from the past, Henry from the Ancients, Henry from Richmond, Henry the Hiker, Henry Morgan McKenzie, Jr., who vanished ten years ago. And being with Henry is the biggest and best thing in my life, and I can’t talk about it.

Girl with art project

Marianna in fourth grade

Oh, I can talk to Mama and Daddy, and Sister Alma Rose, but then I have to go to school and act like I’m interested that Kevin Olander has been walking Marianna Dempsey home after cheerleading. Well, that’s actually not a very good example of trivial junior-high gossip, because I AM sort of interested, because Kevin Olander is very cute and very shy, and Marianna is a real sweetheart and we were inseparable in fourth grade, when we had the same teacher, and she is that rare specimen of junior-high girl who is truly kind and neither knows nor cares what people, in general, think of her.

Sister Alma Rose gives me assignments, and the one I’m working on right now is what she calls the Sacrament of Being a Good Friend to Your Friends. “It takes a little bit of effort to keep up y’all’s friendships with youngsters* y’all don’t run into regularly,” she said, “not counting Pablo, who’s always around. But keep a-hold of those who love and don’t compete with y’all, and the other way ’round, by which I mean y’all want them to be happy and don’t begrudge them their successes. Those friendships are rare, and they’re sacred.”

Sometimes it’s just a real treat to listen to Sister Alma Rose talk.

Peter the Creep

Marianna is the friend I cherish most when I’m feeling… I don’t know the right word— not “excluded,” because I’m the one who’s avoiding people— “separate,” maybe, like I’m 12 going on 57, when I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about spiritual stuff, and meditating especially intensely, and none of this is of interest to my other school friends, not even Pablo.

Marianna is a Christian Scientist and totally into spirituality. She sees everyone as a perfect child of a perfect God who does not create imperfection. But she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I mean, she takes Christian Science seriously, because she’s seen and experienced all these amazing healings, but she says, very dryly, “Fanny, you might find this hard to believe, but I don’t always manifest perfect love.”

A typical American fire escape; SoHo, Manhattan

A typical American fire escape; SoHo, Manhattan

Then she giggles. “I really have to work at seeing Peter Gaines as a perfect child of God.” She doesn’t say “Peter the Creep,” which everyone calls him because he’s just creepy. Whenever there’s a fire drill, he makes sure he’s one of the first kids out so he can stand under the iron-bar steps that are the fire escapes and look up girls’ skirts until one of the teachers makes him go stand across the street in the practice field, which is where we’re supposed to go. And he’s been seen a bunch of times standing outside girls’ houses at night, being a peeping Tom with these high-dollar binoculars he has, including Marianna’s house.

The rest of the time he’s just there, not talking to anyone, sort of shuffling to his classes, and, in each of them, effortlessly committing every spoken and written word to memory and always getting straight A’s. Marianna tried to talk to him once, asking him a question about the subjunctive mood or something, which they were studying in their English class, and he just stared at  her with distaste, “like I was a particularly loathsome beetle,” she said.

Something so heinous

Sunny Victorian parlor

She and I talked to Sister Alma Rose about him one day when we went to her house after school seeking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incredible limeade.

“How can someone that intelligent be that clueless?” I asked.

“There has to be a reason for a boy to be so warped at such a young age,” she said, “but this is how sex offenders start out. They don’t just change from healthy into sick human beings when they’re 30.”

Sister Alma Rose made us pray for him — I mean, we wanted to, and we did, silently, for quite a while. It was hard at first, because he was, after all, Peter the Creep, and I couldn’t get past that until I thought of him as a newborn, a gurgling infant, a toddler, taking those first, unsteady steps, all bright eyes and wondering at the big, wide world, and reminded myself that his true self was still that fresh and innocent.

I was sure that Sister Alma Rose would go and talk to his parents, and, of course, she did, and they are just regular nice people— they own the sheet-music and musical-instrument store in Hillside— and they were “concerned” about both Peter and his older sister, Alice, who, it turns out, was bulimic, though her parents didn’t know that until after. I can only imagine what family dinners were like at their house. But Peter and Alice were getting good grades and their parents convinced themselves that the kids were just “going through a phase.”

WAKE UP, MOMS AND DADS! Your 12-year-old son has no friends and has no interests and he is a zombie most of the time. Your teenage daughter is five-foot-five and weighs 87 pounds. IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION HERE?

Well, after a lot of gentle but persistent pressure on Sister Alma Rose’s part, a lot of patient conversations with Peter and Alice, and a lot of just plain snooping, Sister Alma Rose uncovered something so heinous I don’t even know how to put it into words… so disturbing that she would tell Marianna and me about it only with our parents’ permission and with our parents actually with us, gathered in our cheerful, sunny living room.

Okay, here goes

Interpol Headquarters, Lyon, France. Photo: Massimiliano Mariani

Interpol Headquarters, Lyon, France. Photo: Massimiliano Mariani

Peter and Alice have an aunt and uncle — their mom’s brother and his wife — who are called Hector and Carol Mote and who owned the music store in La Mesa. When the music store in Hilltop came available, the Motes urged the Gaineses to buy it and move from Chicago to Hilltop— which, they assured Mr. and Mrs. Gaines, was such a picturesque small town… so wholesome, so much safer than Chicago.

The Motes’ store was much bigger and busier than the Gaineses’ in Hilltop, because of there being a music college in La Mesa, so the Motes “hired” Peter and Alice, and paid them well, to “help in the stock room” on Saturdays, starting when Peter was 9 and Alice was 10.

But they didn’t work in the stock room. They “worked” in the plush master bedroom of the Motes’ house behind the store, where they not only were sexually abused(1) by the Motes but also were forced to do things with each other, which kindly Uncle Hector recorded on video,(2) and he sold the videos to people all over the world, which made it an FBI matter (also a matter for the U.S. Customs Service and possibly Interpol!) when Sister Alma Rose blew the whistle.

Pretty little red-haired girl with freckles

Me, Fanny

“How could they force them?” Marianna asked, and her voice sounded so strange that my eyes, which had been glued to Sister Alma Rose, slid over to Marianna, looking like a wounded bird between her mom and dad, and her mom had her arm around Marianna’s shoulders and was stroking her hair, and her dad looked dangerous, like an angry wolf might look protecting its cub. Or do wolves have pups? Anyway, Marianna was holding tight to her dad’s hand and very quietly sobbing her heart out.

“With threats,” Sister Alma Rose said gently, “to tell the children’s folks all sorts of lies— that they had caught the children together in bed, or that Alice had seduced her uncle— that kind of thing. And y’all need to understand that the abuse had been going on, during family visits, since before Peter and Alice were even in kindergarten.”

I made it to the bathroom just in time to lose the lunch I was wishing I hadn’t eaten. When I was done retching, Mama cleaned my sweaty face with a warm washcloth and got the mouthwash out of the cabinet. She looked a question at me, and I said, “No, I want to hear the rest.” I rinsed the bad taste out of my mouth as well as I could and went into the living room and sat down on the love seat next to Mama. Daddy, on the other side of me in “Only His” Chair, gave my shoulders a squeeze and handed me a peppermint. What a dad!

Then Marianna and I both started laughing. It wasn’t hysteria, it was our mutual realization— through some kind of cosmic connection, I guess, but it was as clear as a fingersnap— that we’d both been expelling toxins, Marianna washing them away with tears and I upchucking them out. Sorry, but that’s what it was.

Why friendships are sacred

Okay, so now, as I write this, the Motes are in prison, “but folks like them ain’t safe in or out of the penitentiary,” Sister Alma Rose said. She rarely says ain’t any more unless she’s “in a state,” and I was pretty sure she wasn’t losing any sleep over whatever peril the Motes might be facing.

Lexington, Kentucky, is "horse country." Photo: Wes Blevins

Lexington, Kentucky, is "horse country." Photo: Wes Blevins

Peter and Alice were long gone, even before our family conclave. Mama told me that the Gaineses’ house had been sold, as had both of the music stores, and Mr. and Mrs. Gaines were moving to Lexington, Kentucky, where Mr. Gaines’s parents and brothers lived with their families.

“But where are the kids?” I asked, wondering what kind of counseling could erase all those years of abuse and shame and secrecy.

“They’re in the best place they could possibly be,” Mama said with a wistful smile, “the most beautiful place in the world, a place where you take in healing and kindness and wholesomeness with every breath. They’re in Daylight.”

I knew where she meant, the place where the Ancients live when they’re not Out in the World, but I’d never heard it given a name (Henry just says, “up the mountain”), and I’d also never heard of anyone going there who wasn’t from the Ancients, and I told Mama that, and she smiled that wistful smile again.

“I was there,” she said simply. “After my father died, and Mama drank herself to death in front of my eyes and I went to pieces, Daddy Pete took me up. You’ll go yourself, of course, probably sooner rather than later, and you’ll never want to leave, but you’ll know you can go up there whenever you need to, and you’ll be full of zeal to come back and help mend the broken world.”

Asparagus: German botanical illustration

Asparagus: German botanical illustration

A week or so after our gathering, Sister Alma Rose gave a little party in honor of Marianna and me. It was just the three of us and Mr. Truman LaFollette, but we devoured baked salmon and tender asparagus spears and Sister Alma Rose’s famous fruit salad that’s like dessert, and warm, dark homemade bread, and then we had dessert, chocolate mousse so rich that the small piece was almost more than I could handle, although I can pretty much always find room for more chocolate.

Then Sister Alma Rose explained how Marianna’s and my friendship had started something that would bless the world for a very long time. I thought that was giving it more than its due, and started to say so, but Sister Alma Rose shushed me.

“The two of y’all was thrown together in fourth grade,” she said, “but you’ve gone out of your way to keep on being friends. Now, if y’all weren’t who you are, y’all would have paid no attention to Peter Gaines. He was easy to ignore, like everybody else did. Marianna, y’all made an effort to see him for what he is, a perfect child of God. Even so, if y’all hadn’t talked about him with each other, and then come to me, Peter Gaines and his sister probably would have fallen through the cracks. The parents are in denial, nobody else notices or cares, and those youngsters grow up and they’re just full of poison.

The Mother Church; the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston

The Mother Church; the First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston

“Now, think not only of them and the hell their lives would have been,” she went on, “but think of the people who might have been harmed by them but who won’t be, now, because of y’all. Think of Peter and Alice’s parents, who will recover because their children got help before someone else was hurt. Think of them two in prison, who won’t be brutalizing any more innocents. And think of all the circles of lives around these, like ripples. Poison travels fast and far.”

“But it’s not like we did something hard or made any sacrifices,” Marianna protested.

“Y’all made a choice,” said Sister Alma Rose, taking Marianna’s hand, and, Lord, I hoped she wouldn’t squeeze it and turn those delicate bones into little bitty Chiclets. “Instead of taking the path of least resistance, y’all chose to notice, to pray, and to act. Poison travels fast,” she repeated, “but love travels faster.”

I decided to wait for another time, when we weren’t celebrating, to ask Marianna and Sister Alma Rose if they were able to see the Motes as God’s perfect, innocent children. It’s still hard for me to use the words love and Peter Gaines in the same sentence. But I guess we did what Marianna calls “the loving thing,” and that, it seems, can change more than just our little corner of the world….

*The first time Sister Alma Rose referred to my friends and me as youngsters, I tried to explain that the only adults who use words like youngster are those who have little or no rapport with kids, which is definitely not the case with Sister Alma Rose. She laughed and said we’re lucky she doesn’t call us younglings, which was au courant before the seventeenth century, when youngster came into general use.

(1) Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused when they were children. Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims; approximately 30% are relatives of the child, most often brothers, fathers, uncles or cousins; around 60% are other acquaintances such as ‘friends’ of the family, babysitters, or neighbors…. Wikipedia

(2) Children of all ages, including infants, are abused in the production of pornography internationally. The United States Department of Justice estimates that pornographers have recorded the abuse of more than one million children in the United States alone. —Wikipedia

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Pure

Hayley Westenra, album cover, Odyssey

Hayley Westenra, album cover, Odyssey

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Hayley Westenra, now 22, was an international star at 16

I, Fanny

I, Fanny

I, Fanny McElroy, turned Sister Alma Rose on to Hayley Westenra, now 22, when she became known as a singing phenomenon at age 16 (Hayley Westenra, not Sister Alma Rose). She (Hayley) just gets better every year, as her voice develops and settles down. Because we love you, and because it will technically be Christmas until Twelfth Night, we are including two Christmas videos of Hayley, the first performed with the Choirboys.

Here is a little bio of Hayley from Wikipedia. I could rewrite it, draw from a few other sources, and make it “original,” but… why would I want to do that when Wikipedia does… well, an adequate job all on its own?

Here is Hayley with the Choirboys in selections from the musical OLIVER

Here is Hayley with the Choirboys in selections from the musical OLIVER

Hayley Dee Westenra is a New Zealand soprano, songwriter and UNICEF Ambassador. Her first internationally released album, Pure, reached #1 on the UK classical charts in 2003 and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. Pure is the fastest-selling international début classical album to date, having made Westenra an international star at age 16. In August 2006, she joined the Irish group Celtic Woman, was featured on their Celtic Woman: A New Journey CD and DVD, toured with them on their 2007 Spring Tour, and also was featured on their latest DVD, The Greatest Journey: Essential Collection, released in 2008. She sings… in a number of languages.

Westenra has performed for dignitaries around the world. She is the youngest UNICEF Ambassador to date and has contributed to charities around the world.

Okay, the next video is Hayley singing “Away in a Manger” with the choir and congregation at Manchester Cathedral. (Get this: “Work on the current building [Manchester Cathedral] began in 1215.” That might make it older than Sister Alma Rose.)

Hayley looks beautiful in her clingy pink dress. I could not wear that dress. One, I don’t have the bazooms to fill it out, and, two, I couldn’t hold my stomach in and sing at the same time. I wonder if the people who “manage” her make her eat celery and plain yogurt and spend two hours a day with a personal trainer. That would be very disillusioning.

Omigosh, my brother is screaming bloody murder, got to go, I’ll be back ASAP….

Sister Alma Rose makes everything okay

I am (obviously) back. Johannes and Daddy were having a game of catch, and Johannes was pretending he was Tim Lincecum and he (Johannes) dislocated his shoulder. Sister Alma Rose got there, to where they were playing catch on the other side of the barn, before I did, which, I don’t know how she does that.

By the time I got there, in fact, she had “relocated” Johannes’s shoulder, which, I certainly do not know how she does that, and she is muttering prayers the whole time, and she says Jesus and Mary a lot, and I’d swear I heard her say Allah, which would be okay, I guess, because, as Sister Alma Rose has taught me practically since infancy, it is “impossible to circumscribe God with a name.” I bet I was the only toddler in Hilltop who regularly used the word circumscribe in conversation.

Judy Garland in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, 1946

Judy Garland in TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, 1946

In any case, Sister Alma Rose says that she is a healer, that healing is one of the reasons she’s here, alive, on earth, and that it gives her great joy and confers benefits upon others. Some of what I just said are her own words, but I’m not sure which ones… “confers benefits,” for sure.

Hayley Westenra, too, has found a purpose that brings her happiness and that blesses others, Sister Alma Rose says, and we have talked about how easily a person so beautiful and talented can become a commodity, continually manipulated by family members, agents, et cetera, made to perform too much, treated as a money machine, and so forth, such as happened to Judy Garland and ruined her health.

Shed a little light

By the way, Sister Alma Rose does not like it when I say that I “turned her on to” Hayley Westenra,” because, she says, that expression came out of the drug culture, which is one of the few things that makes her really angry, illicit drugs, I mean, and she’s told me gruesome stories about people who shoot up with “jellies,” a liquid form of temazepam, and end up having to have a leg amputated because all the injection sites get inflamed, and one guy, I think in Scotland, died when he tried to inject temazepam into his eyeball. True story.

Well, anyway, I think that the thing that would bring me the most joy and would also benefit others (I’m not sure precisely how, let me get back to you) would be for me to be a backup singer for James Taylor, but by the time I’m old enough, he’ll be, like, 70, and it’s entirely possible that he will not be touring or even giving very many concerts, but I do so much want to be one of those people who harmonize with James on

James Taylor 1999

James Taylor 1999 (photo: Evan Osherow via Flickr). Okay, is it just me, or is there a disembodied hand on James Taylor's shoulder?

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound…

…and then get to do a little bopping and swaying on the “shed a little light” part. Father Dooley says, with respect to my dancing, that I am a “pretty hip little sister.” Of course, Father Dooley is a priest; what could he possibly know about hip?

* * *

See various Hayley Westenra videos, along with Enya and Loreena McKennitt, at http://www.zgravweb.net/51med_mix.html


Movie Time


Partridge in a Pear Tree Wall Tapestry

"A Partridge in a Pear Tree" wall tapestry (art.com)

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Warm your feet by the fire

The popcorn’s warm and buttery. The cocoa’s thick and rich and… well, chocolaty. It must be time… Yes! It is! … for the annual Sister Alma Rose Semisecular* Christmastide Videorama.

* To Sister Alma Rose, nothing is truly secular. Is there somewhere God isn’t? She doesn’t think so.

First, but not necessarily foremost, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser, whom we adore, in close harmony with nutty variations and a few outright departures. (The song itself — not the Straight No Chaser rendition — might be three hundred years old — no one seems to be sure — nor can anyone say with certainty whether each day’s gift has any particular significance.)

Okay, these next two give Sister Alma Rose goosebumps, but not me. I just sob.

Christmas in the Trenches

“Perhaps,” Sister Alma Rose ventures, “y’all have heard the story of ‘Christmas in the Trenches'”:

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Australian infantry wearing gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Christmas truce” is a term used to describe several brief, unofficial cessations of hostilities that occurred on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day between German and British or French troops in World War I, particularly that between British and German troops stationed along the Western Front during Christmas 1914. In 1915 there was a similar Christmas truce between German and French troops, and during Easter 1916 a truce also existed on the Eastern Front. —Wikipedia

It is said that after the particular truce described in the song “Christmas in the Trenches” (by folksinger/songwriter John McCutcheon), the soldiers were unable to or refused to fight and had to be sent home. Sister Alma Rose does not know whether this is true, nor does she know whether it makes them heroes or fools (cowards they certainly were not), nor should it reflect on the courage and honor of those who stayed and fought, or of those who do so till this day, God bless them all.

Bing and Bowie

Mama, the musician, likes to introduce this video:

If you’re under a certain age, you need to understand the subtext of this 1977 performance. Bing Crosby — one of the biggest stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and still a popular celebrity when he died in 1977, was very straitlaced and conservative, a strict Roman Catholic, and David Bowie… wasn’t.

Bing Crosby: He could carry a tune

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s singing and acting career “stretched over more than half a century from 1926 until his death. Crosby was a best-selling artist until well into the rock era, with over half a billion records in circulation.” (Wikipedia)

Apart from some youthful drinking and indulgence in marijuana, Bing was so squeaky-clean, both publicly and privately, that the public sometimes wished (although it was none of “the public’s” business) that he were less strict with his four sons (from his marriage to Dixie Lee, who suffered from acute alcoholism and who died of cancer in 1952). Two of the couple’s four sons committed suicide, Lindsay in 1989 and Dennis in 1991. Bing Crosby had three children with his second wife, Kathryn Grant Crosby.

Asked what he would write for his own epitaph, Crosby replied, “He was an average guy who could carry a tune.” Well, Bing, if you say so.

David Bowie — Mega-Shocker, Megastar

Iman and David Bowie

Iman and David Bowie; photo by David Shankbone

David Bowie is a highly respected “English musician, actor, record producer and arranger. Active in five decades of popular music and frequently reinventing his music and image, Bowie is widely regarded as an innovator, particularly for his work in the 1970s. He has been cited as an influence by many musicians and is known for his distinctive voice and the intellectual depth of his work.” (Wikipedia)

His music has been tagged as “psychedelic folk,” “glam rock,” “heavy metal,” and a dozen other styles, some of which he invented. On tour, he has startled even hard-core fans with his androgynous appearance, “ultra” theatrics, and “shocking stage moments….”

He married the Somali-born supermodel Iman Abdulmajid at Saint James Church in Florence in 1992. Their daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones (she goes by “Lexi”), was born in August 2000. The family has homes in Manhattan and London.

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

David Bowie, "Music's Most Fashionable Man" 2009

Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, Bowie’s son with his first wife, was born in 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree and then graduated as a director from the London Film School.

Bowie has been notorious at times — for years of heavy drug abuse, particularly cocaine; and for “politically radical comments, saying that Britain could benefit from a fascist leader and that Adolf Hitler was ‘the first super-star.'” Yet Bowie has steadily reinvented his image and his music so creatively that he is said to have progressed from “superstar” to “megastar.” Some who know him well say that the private David Bowie is at heart a family man but that periodically shocking the public is part of his mystique.

Culture Clash

The wildly differing backgrounds of Bowie and Crosby set up a cultural tension between the two that makes their duet all the more poignant — like watching the Crips and Bloods Mixed Chorus, maybe. It’s also helpful to know that “White Christmas” was a huge hit for Bing Crosby — his signature song, in a way.

This video is lovely, and Bing and Bowie are fun to watch. The duet, I think, is overorchestrated, which blunts the impact of the two very different men making music together. Even so, it’s a rare treat. I hope you enjoy it. And a very Merry Christmas to you….

Bing Crosby - White Christmas Album

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    A Pox on Doctrine

    Islamic architecture

    While Arab-Nomadic culture lacked a grand imperial art, their aesthetic tastes contributed essential elements to Islamic art. Nomads treasured the minor arts of textiles and weapons, and lavished them with geometrical decoration. Life under the stars, in the infinitude of the desert, endowed them with a love of surfaces filled with radiant, boundless patterns, and lush visions of paradise and vines. Along with architecture, decoration is a core element in Islamic art. —dartmouth.edu

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    For this they kill each other?

    I am listening to Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose discussing the possible reconciliation, in the distant future, of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The two bodies are having “ongoing discussions,” but there are of course some pesky differences, such as their dissimilar views on married priests and birth control.

    What the Anglican Communion is, it’s basically the Church of England (with its marvelous ancient Canterbury Cathedral, “the Mother Church”) in association with Anglican churches throughout the world— and who knew there were so many and so far-flung? And, however, one of them is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA), not being far-flung, at least not from our perspective here in Hilltop.

    Canterbury Cathedral

    Canterbury Cathedral, photo by Hans Musil. I'm not clear on exactly how old this structure is. St. Augustine built a cathedral on the site early in the 7th century, but the Saxons rebuilt it four centuries later or so. Augustine's church is still there, under the nave. Wow.

    A royal whim

    Father Dooley is saying that the Anglicans like to pretend that their church’s origin is not owed to King Henry VIII’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, with whom he was besotted, and who, everyone hoped, would bear sons to inherit the crown. Well, the establishment of the Church of England was indeed a direct result of Henry’s infatuation and his desire for a male heir, says Father Dooley. The wiley Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, plotted with Henry for years and in the end came up with the strategy that gave Henry “royal supremacy” and made him “the only supreme head on earth of the church in England.”

    Montage of English royalty and distinguished citizens in the time of Henry VIIIBut they did that only as a last resort, after the pope refused to annul Henry’s marriage to poor Catherine of Aragon… and Henry didn’t particularly want to change the church, he just wanted to control it so that he could have his way. Plus he wanted the wealth and the property that the Catholic Church had amassed, so he turned the monks out of their monasteries, which he then handed out like party favors (the monasteries, I mean, not the monks) to his friends and supporters, who converted them to grand houses. And many monks were executed for defying the Act of Succession.

    And do you know that in the end, after they were married, after hundreds died so they could be married, Henry and Anne didn’t like each other very much, and she didn’t give Henry the sons he wanted, only the one little girl who would become Queen Elizabeth I, and I know this because I have read just about every book about Anne Boleyn that was ever written, even though there is no suspense about the ending.

    So, under Henry’s reign, people were executed for not signing a document agreeing that Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, and blah blah blah, and one of the people who was executed was the scholar and statesman, and onetime close friend of Henry, Sir Thomas More (now, Saint Thomas More).

    This is not to say that the Protestant Reformation was unknown in England. There were Protestants in England, but most of them kept rather quiet about it, not as in Germany, where Martin Luther had already converted much of the country to Protestantism.

    Martin Luther

    Martin Luther

    When Henry died, his nine-year-old son (by his third wife, Jane Seymour) became king — he was called Edward VI — and he was a zealous Protestant. But he ruled for only six years, and then he died, and there was some scrabbling, much of which involved the Protestant claimant to the throne, Lady Jane Grey, who actually was queen for a few days.

    Edward’s half-sister Mary overthrew Jane with ease — there were still many Catholics in England, and Mary’s mother, Catherine, had been beloved. When Mary became queen, she restored Catholicism as the state religion, ordered her cousin Lady Jane Grey beheaded, and had nearly three hundred dissenters burned right there on the street corners of London.

    King Philip II of Spain

    King Philip II of Spain

    For this and a bunch of other reasons, including her wayward husband, Philip II of Spain, who wore hats that looked like upside-down flowerpots, Mary was not a success as queen, and she died unloved and unhappy five years after her coronation. Finally, destiny had its way, as Mary’s brilliant and charismatic half-sister Elizabeth was crowned. Defying those who called her a bastard with no right to the throne, and those who said that she must marry because a woman could not rule, Elizabeth I reigned forty-four years and brought a measure of stability and religious tolerance to England.

    And what does any of this have to do with God? I ask Father Dooley. If I believe in God and you believe in God and we both pray to God but the nitty-gritty details of our religious practice are different, don’t we begin with what we have in common? Don’t we start by honoring the one God, who gave us life and who holds our lives in his hands?

    Servants of God

    The name "Muhammad" in traditional Thuluth calligraphy by the hand of Hattat Aziz Efendi

    Sunnis and Shi’a, major Islamic denominations, are mortal enemies. In 2005, al-Qaida‘s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi called for a jihad on Shi’a. The situation in Iraq was degenerating into a civil war between the two sects. And what is it that each finds so intolerable about the other?

    Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad; since God did not specify any particular leaders to succeed him, those leaders had to be elected….

    The Shi’a, who constitute the second-largest branch of Islam, believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who according to most Shi’a are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor, and they call him the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs.Wikipedia

    Omigosh! You have got to be kidding. This is why you murder someone (but first you have to ask his name, because you can’t tell by looking or even talking with him whether he is a Sunni or a Shi’a, but you can probably tell by his name)?

    I try to understand. It seems important for me to understand such a big thing about the world. So I make a little speech.

    “I don’t mean to sound pious,” I say, “or naive, or… ingenuous?” (not sure I’m using the word correctly; it’s a new one I picked up the other day).

    Father Dooley nods, and I go on.

    Muhammad And Companions Advancing On Mecca

    An anonymous artist's 16th-century illustration of Muhammad and his companions advancing on Mecca. The angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil, and Azrail are also shown

    “I just don’t understand why everybody wouldn’t rather sit under a tree on a lovely day and read a good book. That sounds to me like a much better way to spend an afternoon than strapping on a bunch of explosives and then trying to blend at a wedding party, where, chances are, nobody else is wearing explosives, and where a large number of ‘the bad guys’ are gathered, and then detonating my explosives, thereby making paste of myself and several dozen wedding attendees, and some of them just little kids. In what way does that serve God? How can it be twisted into seeming to serve God?”

    “Honey, I hope y’all never have to understand,” Sister Alma Rose says, suffocating me in a Sister Alma Rose hug because I am about to cry. “I hope y’all will never be so poor and desperate, and angry, because maybe the other side has killed someone dear to y’all, that y’all have to blame and punish someone. But no, y’all are right. It does not glorify God.”

    Then I think of the Muslims born in the U.S. or the U.K. to middle-class families, the affluent young men who want to go to the Middle East and fight in the holy war, and I know that not all the killers are poor and desperate, maybe some are just bored, and Sister Alma Rose knows that too, and we will talk about it one of these winter afternoons as we warm our feet at Sister Alma Rose’s fireplace.

    The Alhambra

    At the Alhambra, the magnificent palace and fortress built by Muslim rulers during the 14th century in southern Spain

    Father Dooley and Sister Alma Rose and I go into Sister Alma Rose’s lovely white chapel and sit side by side, me in the middle, and we pray silently, except for Sister Alma Rose, who is whispering. And then Father Dooley prays out loud, fervently, for all who suffer enmity “in the name of God,” for those who die needlessly, and for an anxious, restless, seething world.  We sit quietly, and I feel the holy presence of peace, like the early rays of dawn, in Sister Alma Rose’s chapel.

    And then Father Dooley takes Sister Alma Rose and me to the Dairy Cream, and Father Dooley drinks two large strawberry-cheesecake malts and belches a world-class belch, on purpose.

    “Better to urp a burp and bear the shame than squelch a belch and die in pain,” he says, grinning like a kid; and what can I do but agree?

    Quickie

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    AlexanderEmpire334-323BCE

    The Empire of Alexander the Great, 4th century BCE; Jerusalem is shown just ENE of Gaza, lower right "corner" of the Mediterranean Sea; via Wikipedia

    Civilizing the Nations

    EVERYONE OF ANY OR NO RELIGION should listen to this free audio — fascinating and compelling, and the single most educational hour of my adult life. Click HERE

    INCLUDES THIS, FROM JOHN ADAMS:

    WorldPerfect230x150I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.

    …OR buy the book WorldPerfect: The Jewish Impact on Civilization, by Rabbi Ken Spiro.

    There are many gems like Rabbi Spiro’s free audio on the SimpleToRemember website. Check it out!

    APPLE

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    Will Guilt Make You Good?

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    Human nature
    cannot be studied
    in cities except
    at a disadvantage —
    a village is the place.
    There you can
    know your man
    inside and out–
    in a city you but
    know his crust;
    and his crust is
    usually a lie
    Mark Twain, 1883

    I guess a
    small-town
    mayor is
    sort of like a
    community organizer
    ,”
    except that
    you have
    actual
    responsibilities

    Sarah Palin, 2008

    Your hometown
    is where they
    can’t figure out
    how you did
    as well as you
    did
    —Source unknown

    What’s So Bad about Feeling Good? Part 1

    My Hometown

    From Canadian TV series MY HOMETOWN, Filmwest Associates

    HILLTOP, U.S.A. — A lovely place. A peaceful place, as I have said. The fact that I am peeved at Eloise Mary Shea because her birthday-party invitation said to come in costume, and I went wrapped in alumninum foil, as a baked potato, you know, and no one else was in costume because she, Eloise Mary Shea…

    …who, I happen to know, wears the same pair of underwear two days in a row, turning it wrong-side-out for the second day…

    Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

    Eloise Mary Shea, third from left; I, Fanny, am taking the photograph

    …had informed everyone personally that she’d changed her mind about costumes, but she “forgot” to tell me — anyway, I understand that my trifling I’ll-be-over-it-by-Thursday SNIT does, to some degree, send negative vibrations into the ether and thereby delays the dawning of the Age of Universal Peace and Love just that much more, but it doesn’t seem to have done much to the spiritual frequencies in Hilltop, because Hilltop is under a Peace Spell, like a soft blanket, which was probably doing its job of comforting and safe-keeping even during the silly Battle of the Barbers, which, after all, ended happily, with Mr. Henry now busier than bees on lilacs because, unlike Mr. Bill, who knew how to cut crew cuts, period, Mr. Henry’s not a one-haircut guy, plus Mr. Henry’s hands don’t shake so alarmingly that his customers are afraid he’s going to pierce an eardrum with his scissors, as they feared re Mr. Bill in the latter years.

    Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

    Sedona at sunset; photo by Joseph Plotz

    ‘Make love, not war’

    I, Fanny

    I, Fanny

    Now, just because Hilltop is peaceful and somewhat out of the way, I would not want you to think that we are all self-delusional or backward, like those people residing in really isolated parts of Appalachia who misbelieve that the War Between the States is still a-ragin’. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: We do not marry our first cousins. Well, not any more. Not since Lettie and Bobby Lee Wallace and their six unbridled hellions — children, I meant to say — Jimmy Lee, Tommy Lee, Alice Lee, Maribel Lee, Robert E. Lee, and Curtis Lee. True story.

    Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

    Appalachia: Earnest Fort House, Green County, Tennessee, 1780s; photo by Brian Stansberry

    No. We are well informed, we are hip, and we are diverse.

    The Vietnam War era, as recalled by Sister Alma Rose

    According to Sister Alma Rose, in the 1960s and 1970s, when the young people of Hilltop went away to school (some to LaMesa State College, but as many to institutions such as Brown, William and Mary, Georgetown, Oberlin, and so forth), a number of them wandered off after graduation and forgot to call home to let their parents know they’d be late.

    Did they prostrate themselves before their parents, kissing their feet and adoringly, gratefully, or even sneeringly saying, “Thank you, Mother and Father, for spending skillions of dollars to provide me with…

    Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

    Healy Hall, Georgetown University; photo by Patrick Neil

    “(a) a fascist education devised to indoctrinate my cohort and me with propaganda about the history and government of the United States, which is an evil capitalist empire bent on world domination; or

    “(b) a highly practical education that taught me to despise you and everything you stand for and through which I learned how to make pipe bombs and orate against capitalist materialism outside the White House, the United Nations, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention?”

    NO,
    THEY DID
    NOT

    Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

    Crim Dell Bridge, William & Mary

    If they wrote at all, they sent surly letters asking for rent money or travelers’ checks for a sojourn in Tibet, or perhaps Canada (who could blame them?). Eventually, many of them drifted back… sometimes contrite and in need of treatment for various addictions; sometimes pregnant or toting actual babies, who might be any of a variety of colors characteristic of humans (not green, like Kermit, though that would have been okay too).

    Sister Alma Rose recalls that all the parents “killed the fatted calf” and welcomed their prodigals with open arms. She knows of only one instance in which the chastened young adults, their children, and any spouses or life partners who might have tagged along, were not forgiven, cherished, cared for, and put to work as soon as possible. The exception involved the sister of a boy who had been killed in Vietnam. The sister, Jeannette, who had changed her name to “Peace Feather,” and who, mystifyingly, wore a war bonnet and painted multicolored stripes across her face for all occasions, had been contemptuous of the Vietnam G.I.’s and had heaped abuse, at every opportunity, against the veterans. Even in her parents’ home, on their dime, she was unrepentant; and she was asked to leave, and nobody cared, except for possibly Peace Feather herself, though we hear that she has done well in Sedona, where she grooms cats and balances their chakras, but she still wears her war bonnet all the time, which is kind of sad, but, oh, well.

    Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

    Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Return of the Prodigal Son

    Also in the late 1960s, all the kindly old ministers who patted you on the head and called you “Susie,” and who had baptized your grandparents, died, kind of in a clump. And the young ministers who took their places preached the Gospel of Social Justice. For these warriors against racism, ageism, classism, sexismhomophobiaxenophobia, speciesism, and whatever other phobias and –isms I’m forgetting…

    …GUILT

    was the weapon of choice (except in the case of Father Dooley, who was and still is a cupcake).

    Astronaut John Bennett Harrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

    Astronaut John Bennett Herrington is an enrolled member of the Chickasaw nation

    These clergymen (no women, yet, back then) were opposed to the war (like Sister Alma Rose); they supported racial and gender equality (like Sister Alma Rose). They wanted to Integrate Hilltop, I don’t know, import people in from Miami or something — until the new ministers looked around, says Sister Alma Rose, and saw that

    all together, there were (and still are) more Asians, Indians (both kinds), black folks, brown folks (many being refugees from Central America), and combinations thereof, than there were and are white folks in Hilltop….

    This “demographic,” says Sister Alma Rose, is unexpected in a town the size of Hilltop, and located where we are, and given the fact that there are no big companies headquartered here and luring folks with jobs. I, Fanny, think that our good fortune has something to do with The Ancients, but I always believe that The Ancients are involved when I can’t think of another explanation.

    Crow warbonnet

    Back to guilt. Sister Alma Rose does not believe in guilt. No, that’s not true at all. Guilt, she says, is “like sticking y’all’s foot in the fire. Oh, hell, that stuff’s HOT! Y’all pull your foot out, repair the damage as well as y’all can, and then let it heal. Y’all don’t poke and prod at it every ten minutes to see if it still hurts.”

    Sister Alma Rose on guilt…
    ‘Guilt is a bad reason to do good’

    …because it wastes so much energy. Guilt is uncomfortable, so most folks try to get rid of it, like they’d dig out a tick. How can y’all do the work of the Lord, or even empty the trash, if y’all are tuckered out from grappling with guilt?

    Adultery

    Adultery

    Guilt trip, Type A

    If y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong, and if y’all can fix it — like if y’all stole money, say — y’all can (1) pay it back with interest and (2) apologize. Maybe y’all won’t even have to (3) spend a few days in jail (well, unless you stole a WHOLE LOT of money; let’s just say you didn’t). (4) Resolve not to steal again, and (5) stick to your resolution. Then, by the grace of God, there’s no reason to feel guilty any more, is there?

    Guilt trip, Type B

    Now, if y’all feel guilty because y’all did something wrong and it can’t be undone — like a spot of adultery, say — then y’all should (1) quit, cold turkey; (2) resolve not to commit adultery again, and stick to your resolution. (3) As to whether y’all should confess your transgression to your spouse and ask for forgiveness, that’s between y’all and God. But (4) once y’all have established that y’all not only can refrain from adultery but can love and cherish your spouse, and live in mutual trust, then (5) there’s nothing to feel guilty about. (6) If guilt sticks to y’all anyway, unstick it off yourself and give it to God.

    Parents: 'Where did we go wrong?'

    Bad Lot: 'Where did we go wrong?'

    Guilt trip, Type C

    The hardest to get rid of is the kind of guilt that y’all do nothing to deserve in the first place — like if, in spite of y’all’s being the best parent y’all know how to be, one of y’all’s kids grows up to be a ne’er-do-well. Y’all will undoubtedly relive every moment of this kid’s childhood, and y’all will find mistakes because y’all are human, and y’all did not have Mary Poppins living at y’all’s house.

    Y’all will have tried to fix the kid or paid lots of money for “professionals” to fix him, and then y’all tried to help him out and discovered that, omigosh, y’all were “enabling” him.

    Y’all will have tried “tough love,” which is a breeding ground for parental guilt, and “tough love” won’t have done any good either, because Dad’s sticking to the program but Mom is slipping the kid Dutch apple pies, or worse…. Eventually the kid ends up in jail or disappears, or gets struck by lightning and goes to medical school and becomes a top proctologist. Who knows?

    I know a nice married couple who raised four kids: two model daughters and a saintly son and a Bad Lot, addicted to cocaine, committing armed robbery, constantly pestering Mom and Dad for money, stealing from them. They moved across the country and didn’t offer a forwarding address to the Bad Lot. Sure, they felt guilty….

    The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

    The Hague: Actors in a play about teenage angst

    This kind of guilt is really sticky, and y’all might have to peel it off and give it over to God a whole slew of times, and rejoice in y’all’s new freedom, a whole slew of more times. The guilt tries to creep in through the back door, and it starts by whispering in y’all’s ear, “If only y’all had….” Well, y’all didn’t. In fact, y’all probably did better than y’all remember, but that’s beside the point. Just hand over to God this fresh batch of guilt, because it’s not like he has his hands full, or anything….

    Sister Alma Rose believes that Freedom from Guilt is a gift of grace and is pretty much the whole point of the New Testament; it’s the Good News, the occasion for gratitude, the reason for joy, the excuse for a party; and it’s not just for Christians! Buddhists and people in other religious traditions (not that Buddhism is, strictly speaking, religious) know how to let the vast, intelligent universe redeem their guilt.

    Take Judaism, for example. King David, or whoever authored Psalm 103, wrote this heartening, lyrical promise:

    As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgression from us (Ps. 103:12)

    Russian icon of St. David, the Prophet and King, 18th century (Iconostasis of Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

    The Gospel of Guilt, which most of Hilltop’s ministers in the 1960s and 1970s preached, is one of a bunch of reasons that Sister Alma Rose started worshiping in her own chapel, the one Daddy Pete built so long ago. At first it was just her and Mr. Truman LaFollette and a few neighbors, but now, on Sunday mornings, several dozen people might show up for worship at Hilltop Farm.

    Not that Sister Alma Rose is sticking her head in the sand. She helps. No one has any idea, because she doesn’t advertise the good works she does.

    “I do what I’m called to do,” she says, “what best uses my talents and gives me the greatest satisfaction. So will y’all someday.”

    Guilt rides again

    When Elizabeth Anna Stratton, Sister Alma Rose’s good friend since she, Elizabeth Anna, was a little girl, came back to Hilltop for a visit last month, and Elizabeth Anna asked Sister Alma Rose and me to go with her to the 7:30 a.m. Sunday service at the Presbyterian church, I thought, how bad can it be?

    Child in  Darfur refugee camp, www.columbia.edu

    Child in Darfur refugee camp, http://www.columbia.edu

    Well, as Sister Alma Rose put it, “We got a us generous dose of the Gospel of Guilt,” to the point that I came out of that service feeling depressed and ashamed and ready to get on the next boat to Sudan or the next train to Chicago, where I’m sure, if I looked hard enough, I could find young people, and older people as well, using dangerous, addictive drugs, and I would say, “Stop that right now,” because, what do I know, I’m just a kid, and they would shoot me, or at least take my nice catalog clothes and my travelers’ checks, and it would be no more than I deserve. Because what right do I have, living in the bosom of a loving family, in a nice house with oak floors and central heating and a microwave, for God’s sake, eating plenty of wholesome food and probably throwing some of it away! and wearing nice clothes from the catalog when God knows there are rags aplenty, or I might consider a hairshirt — all this in a world where — according to the vituperative sermon given by the Reverend Ms. O’Donnell and directed at the “complacent middle class,” which is pretty much all of Hilltop —

    The reality of drug addiction, www.outoftheherd.com

    The reality of drug addiction, http://www.outoftheherd.com

    …families are being driven from their homes and living in filthy camps where children starve, and little boys are being abducted to fight in revolutions they don’t understand, and young men and women are smoking crack cocaine, and mothers are selling their daughters into prostitution in exchange for money to feed their addictions, and I think that I have a right to want anything at all and to be happy in a world of suffering?

    A word about the Reverend Ms.O’Donnell

    This is a woman who, by all appearances, ingests quite a bit more than “plenty of wholesome food,” in fact, a surplus, one might infer, which she evidently carries with her, dromedary-style, in case of a sudden and tragic potato-chip shortage; and who, according to Elizabeth Anna, was wearing a chichi suit from Lord & Taylor… and who also, after the service and the Coffee Fellowship, hopped into her classic T-Bird convertible, which, and my mother doesn’t even like cars, Mama would cheerfully exchange her own children for.

    1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

    1957 Thunderbird convertible; photo, nminow via Wikipedia

    So much, I thought, for self-denial.

    To be continued…

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    Prayer Works Wonders

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    bird_pursuing_prey_istock

    The Battle of the Barbers, conclusion

    If you need to refresh your memory, please see “The Battle of the Barbers,” part 1 and part 2.

    There is, as you know if you have been paying attention, a large meeting room in the library, and that is where half the town gathered on Sunday after church, it seems like, though there were maybe about two hundred people, really, Daddy says I tend to exaggerate so I am trying to see and describe things more accurately —

    I, Fanny

    I, Fanny

    — what Daddy said, actually, is, “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, don’t exaggerate! —

    … and we were gathered, as you will also recall, to resolve the matter of The Competing Barbers: Henry Hunter, who had set up The Other Barber Shop across the street from the barber shop of his father, Bill the Barber, whom I previously reported as being 150 years old, but I will amend that age estimate, in the interest of accuracy, and, having asked Mrs. Bill, I am forced to report that he is only a little more than half that age, 78, to be precise, though he looks much older, as I tactlessly exclaimed to Mrs. Bill…

    Henry Hunter with a customer

    Henry Hunter with a customer

    … but she sweetly ignored my rudeness and told me that a combination of arthritis, workaholicism, lack of exercise, and a tendency to raid, several times a day, the soda and candy-bar machines he has in his barber shop, have all made him age prematurely, but she is sanguine — a word I learned recently, which means “optimistic and cheerful” — that if she can just get him to their villa on Corfu, all those problems will be solved in one fell swoop — a phrase that originated, we think, with Shakespeare, and that refers to the “fell” (savage, cruel; same root as felon) descent of a hunting bird.

    The Revelation at the
    Hilltop Library

    Synopsis of previous episodes: [Mr. Bill was getting on in years and in any case, no matter what the customer asked for, Mr. Bill always gave him a crew cut.] So as soon as Henry Hunter’s barber shop opened, the customers came in droves, apparently believing, though they would soon discover that they were sadly mistaken, that Mr. Bill wouldn’t mind if his old customers didn’t patronize his shop as long as they were taking their unruly hair to be cut by Henry Hunter. This was doubly unfortunate in that Henry Hunter’s barber shop is right across the street from Mr. Bill’s. It is also a very delicate situation, this rivalry, I mean, because Henry Hunter is Mr. Bill’s only son.

    Sister Alma Rose has heard about the entire misbegotten affair from Mrs. Bill, who is very worried about her husband because his heart is “hinky” and she’s afraid he will have a heart attack one of these days, that’s how angry he gets at Henry Hunter, his face turns about as red as Mrs. Bertie’s unbecoming lipstick. And of course she’s concerned about her son. She wonders whether Bill’s vicious campaign might actually drive Henry out of business. Secretly, Mrs. Bill wants Mr. Bill to retire so that they can go live in their villa on Corfu. Who knew?…

    little_boy_with_crew_cut_istock

    Little boy with crew cut

    Several employers have asked the mayor to Do Something, because none of their employees is getting any work done, they are having noisy partisan arguments about Henry Hunter vs. Mr. Bill instead. Mayor Atticus Hines, unable to cool things off through his official status, has appealed to a higher authority: He has asked Sister Alma Rose to restore peace and quiet to Hilltop, one way or another.

    Residents of Hilltop are nothing if not creatures of habit, and two of the strongest traditions are Sunday Dinner and Sunday Afternoon Football on Television, and Mr. Bill is the biggest Football on Television fan of them all, which is one of the reasons that Mrs. Bill is so desperate to get him to Corfu — not that Mrs. Bill doesn’t like professional football, in fact she adores football, she grew up in Wisconsin and she is a Cheesehead, big time, but watching football is just another sedentary thing that Mr. Bill does that makes Mrs. Bill fret. Mr. Bill eats his big Sunday dinner, then he sits down to watch the game, and then he takes a nap, and after that it’s nearly bedtime, but first — a snack! Probably another helping of dessert. (Mrs. Bill, to her credit, has tried Not Making Dessert, but if she doesn’t, then Mr. Bill goes to the corner store and buys one of those heavy, lard-laden fruit pies.)

    Cheesehead hat, by Allen Wonder

    Cheesehead hat, by Allen Wonder

    Sister Alma Rose did not just fall off the turnip truck, and so it was no accident that she scheduled this meeting for 1 p.m. on Sunday, because another Hilltop Tradition is that everybody goes to church, Sister Alma Rose’s strategy being that everyone is already Out and About.

    Prayer works wonders

    So there we all were, the assembled semi-multitude, and of course the mayor had to reiterate what everybody already knew, to wit, why we were there and who the perpetrators were, et cetera, ad infinitum, and after the mayor’s fifteen-minute speech, Sister Alma Rose stepped up onto the podium, looked pointedly at Mr. Bill and his son, Henry Hunter, and then she said in her y’all-better-mind-me-or-else voice,

    “Will y’all please join me in silent prayer? Let us pray.”

    Now, there is an unwritten, unofficial time limit for silent prayer, after which feet start to shuffle and coughs become more frequent and people even whisper audibly to one another, and as the silent-prayer time in that library stretched from ten to fifteen to twenty minutes, which was my own personal time limit, I looked around the room and I could see that some folks were genuinely absorbed in silent prayer but others were looking anxiously at their wristwatches (or, in a few cases, pocket watches) or toward the rest rooms, and the sound of stomachs grumbling was audible, and I looked up at Sister Alma Rose, her large, brown hands folded tidily upon the lectern, and I could see that she was either oblivious or pretending to be oblivious to the restlessness in the room.

    Pocket watch

    Pocket watch

    The silence, or the approximation thereof, crept on, and a few people had actually slipped out of the room — you could hear cars starting in the parking lot — until 1:45, and there was mutiny in the ambience, until Mrs. Bill cleared her throat, rather loudly, for Mrs. Bill, and heads shot up all over the room, as if there were a giant puppeteer up in the rafters yanking on strings, and the room was suddenly more nearly completely silent than it had ever been during “silent prayer.”

    “Bill,” said Mrs. Bill in a low, clear voice — and here she looked apologetically at Henry Hunter — “it was I who set Henry up in  his barber shop.”

    There was, of course, the collective gasp, and it occurred to me that the Packers were playing that afternoon and that the kickoff was at 2:00, which explained why Mrs. Bill had been among the most restless individuals in the room.

    Henry Hunter looked down at the table and Mr. Bill, along with everyone else in the room, gaped at Mrs. Bill, who was searching among the spectators for Dr. Deirdre Barstow, who stood quickly, apparently in order to get Mrs. Bill off the hook, if only for a moment.

    Beach in Acharavi village on the Greek island ...

    Corfu; image via Wikipedia

    “Mr. Bill,” said Dr. Deirdre Barstow, “I don’t think I’m violating any privacy laws by saying that I have suggested many times to you that it is time for you to retire, because you are ruining your health, and I don’t understand why you have been holding on to that villa in Corfu unless you intend to be an invalid by the time you get there. The sunshine will be salutary for your arthritis,” she went on, “and the Mediterranean diet for your heart, and you can stop working yourself to death and start sailing and hiking and all the other things you used to enjoy before you became a workaholic barber.

    “It’s time for Henry to take over, Mr. Bill,” Dr. Deirdre Barstow concluded. “I didn’t suggest this particular strategy to your wife, of setting Henry up across the street, I mean, and creating this rift between the two of you, but I do know that both Mrs. Bill and Henry had your best interest at heart.”

    * * *

    And so it was that Henry Hunter moved into the house of Mr. and Mrs. Bill, who spent most of the year at their villa in Corfu, and on their visits home Mr. Bill looked tan and sleek and hardy while Mrs. Bill looked as if she had spent most of the winter trying to find a way to view Green Bay Packers football games, and it is rumored that Henry Hunter mailed her videotapes of the games, but as to that, I could not say for sure. As for Henry himself, he retained “The Other Barber Shop” and by the grace of God found a very able barber by the name of Bill, and leased Bill’s old barber shop to the new Bill.

    “Do y’all see, Miss Fanny?” Sister Alma Rose said to me as we walked up the hill to Sister Alma Rose’s farmhouse after the meeting at the library. “God is good, and prayer works wonders.”

    The Greek island of Strongili

    The Greek island of Strongili

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