Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Sweet Jesus"

This morning's spam mail box offered more of the same, but at least this time the invitation to help some poor soul (usually in the distribution of $27 million) had a bit of zest. As usual, all I had to do was to hand over my personal-information particulars in order to support some fellow who had been arrested in Spain. But the request did not involve pancreatic cancer or some other family medical disaster. This time the money seemed to be linked to a bank robbery and I had to give the conniver brownie points for creativity.

Somehow that piece of spam seemed to fit seamlessly into a mind frame that had come back to wakefulness this morning thinking about an utterly fictional character, Sarah "Sweet Jesus" Peabody, who, at 82, woke up one morning and realized without sorrow or delight that she had somehow lost her religion.

At her age, there was no need to be delighted or sorrowful: At her age, things seemed to fall away with increasing frequency and Sarah had become used to losing things or having them walk away or something like that. Knitting, piano, saving dried flowers from the garden, reading romance novels ... each in turn had seemed to leave home like grown children and gone to live somewhere else. But finding that her religion had likewise packed its bag was curious and at first Sarah wondered if she shouldn't be frightened or ashamed or bereft. She had taken part in so many church functions for so many years that perhaps she was just sick of baking cookies or drinking thin tea, a beverage she had never really liked but had sipped dutifully with the other women who likewise made cookies and combed their hair into a neatness that would never survive a good night's sleep.

Sarah searched her mind for an appropriate reaction to the departure of her religion, but she couldn't really find one. It wasn't as if the space reserved for religion had suddenly become filled with the overbearing fulminations of some atheist or the glue-y ramblings of a nitwit agnostic. It was more in line with the bedroom that might suddenly be put to other, as yet uncertain, uses after her four children had, one by one, moved out of her house.

Truth to tell, reacting to things that happened all on their own took an amount of energy that, at 82, Sarah could ill afford to waste. Thinking it over with the same fearless disinterest anyone might bring to cutting a cantaloupe, Sarah found herself smiling as her mind seemed to sum things up well enough: "Sweet Jesus!" The words were not so much an expression of awe or prayer as they were a small backward glance to a time when her father, Horace, a good-natured insurance salesman who had lived in Benton all his life, took it into his head to replace the baby Jesus in the town-square creche with his beautiful, sleeping daughter.

Horace was a church-going man, but he was not a man to be bound too tightly by convention. He would do what he wanted to do, but he was not careless of others' needs or assertions. And so, one late night, as Christmas approached, Horace wrapped Sarah warmly, grabbed his Brownie Hawkeye camera and several flash bulbs, and walked into a Benton that had long since gone to sleep. The creche was lighted all night long during the Christmas season, but Horace did not trust the capacities of his Brownie Hawkeye so he brought the flash bulbs along. Laying a bundled and sleeping Sarah in the snow nearby, Horace removed the baby Jesus from his well-coiffed bit of hay, placed him on an extra blanket Horace had conscientiously brought along, and substituted his sleeping daughter. Horace had five flash bulbs and he planned a use for each of them, lining up shepherds and kings in the background as he took pictures of the central figure, his daughter. One, two, three, four ... and Sarah slept on. But as Horace plugged in his last flash bulb and prepared to take his last picture, Sarah woke up. Horace was just about to take the picture -- his thumb had begun to depress the trigger -- but he saw that his daughter was waking in strange surroundings and so he leaned over to reassure her with his presence. Sarah looked left, looked right and finally looked directly into her father's eyes. And she smiled. And it was at that moment that the flash bulb went off as if unbidden. The resulting photo was all and more than Horace had ever hoped for from any church. And from then on, Sarah was, somewhat to her mother's dismay, "Sweet Jesus" -- a moniker that was simultaneously deeply endearing and mildly irreverent, a smile written on both Horace's and Sarah's heart.

"Sweet Jesus" was the best Sarah could do now as she wondered where her religion had gone.


This small fiction and wherever it might amble insisted mildly this morning and displaced the serious news with which the news wires might invite me to be serious. Someone else will be serious, never fear. A fiction is as good as a fact, at least for the moment.

But perhaps whimsy was just the underpinning of the day since I also recalled out of a wispy, wispy past, a time when I was in the second or third grade and had somehow become a Cub Scout. Cub Scouts had blue uniforms and collected badges for doing such projects as building kites or constructing bird houses. Cub Scouts were in the business of fueling something called 'character.' Most of the boys hated having their characters molded in this way ... they didn't want to fly kites and could care less about where the birds lived.

Each Boy Scout group had a series of "Den Mothers" -- mothers who would consent to having all troop members over on a rotating basis. Den Mothers would guide the character-building experiences... and also provide a snack when the effort of the day was spent. Somehow (and I find this hard to believe given her character) my mother agreed to be a Den Mother. But when the boys gathered at our house for an afternoon of character building my mother's guidance consisted of organizing a spit-ball shooting contest. Spitballs were right up our alley at that age. My mother became an instant heroine -- someone who was most definitely (though the word had not yet been invented) kool.


OK ... I'll read the news and do other serious things now.

Sweet Jesus!

If fictions are the result of facts, it seems reasonable to observe that facts are likewise the result of fictions.

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