Monday, January 13, 2014

Bless me, Father

I know, I know--some "writer" I am. Pure silence coming from me. So I decided I needed to do a blast draft of a short story. This is based on a true story--something that happened to a friend of my mother's in Costco just before Thanksgiving a few years ago:

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been about 50 years since my last confession.”

Edith felt a surge of self-consciousness and began to pick little bits of Styrofoam from the edge of her coffee cup. She stared at her half cup of bitter coffee as the priest across the table from her took an awkward bite out of a half smoke. Father Martin realized he had put way too much mustard on the half smoke and wondered if he could walk over to the condiment bar and get more napkins. But Edith had just said the first words of her confession and, thus the sacrament had begun. The excess mustard would have to wait.

It was two days before Thanksgiving. When Edith saw the long checkout lines at Costco she immediately regretted going there to do her grocery shopping. But she needed some wine and a gigantic pumpkin pie to bring to Melody and Gary’s house and she had promised to bring a veggie platter to the pre-Thanksgiving volunteers’ luncheon at the Veterans’ Home. She calculated how long it would take if she just ditched her cart, left Costco, and went to her little neighborhood market but decided just to stay in line and get it done. She began to chat with the middle-aged friendly man in line behind her, the man with the kind face whose cart was full of apple cider and frozen turkeys. They quickly bonded in their agreement that it was crazy to have expected a quick trip to Costco so close to the holiday that was centered on food. But maybe it was just part of getting in the holiday spirit.

"You must be having a lot of people for dinner,” Edith said, nodding in the direction of his cart.

“Oh, no,” he said. “These turkeys aren’t for me. I’m the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and we give turkeys to all of our church staff members for Thanksgiving.”

Edith’s face turned red. “You’re a priest? Oh, I’m so sorry, Father. I didn’t know you were a priest.”

“No reason to be sorry,” laughed Father Martin, “I’m here in disguise, dressed as a real human being.”

The line barely moved. Among the bright lights and the clamor of carts and voices and electronic gadgets, Edith began to tell Father Martin her life story. She had been raised Catholic and she was a young German war bride in the wake of World War II. Her husband Al was in the U.S. Army, an officer with the final wave of liberation troops. She married Al and moved to America in 1946, leaving behind her German heritage and her Catholic faith. And now Al, his memory nearly completely gone and his body failing, would probably soon die. She feared being alone and she wondered what would become of her without her husband. She told Father Martin that she thought it ironic that she unknowingly struck up a conversation with a priest, when in the past few months she had felt a strange need to return to the church of her youth.

“Sometimes I drive by the church and feel like God is telling me to go to confession and come back to church. But I never do it. I just keep driving.” She got out her Costco membership card and began to unload her purchases on the conveyor belt.

“Don't think about it too hard. Why not do it?” asked Father Martin. “Let’s just do it here. I can hear your confession now. Find a table in the café and I’ll meet you there as soon as I’ve paid for my turkeys. Trust me, God is speaking to you and there’s no time like the present.”

Edith looked at him and nodded, wondering what she had just agreed to do.

So she got a cup of coffee and a pretzel and found a table under an umbrella, off to the side near the ladies room. Father Martin bought his half smoke and pulled up his cart beside hers. He sat next to her so her so he could hear her quiet voice with his good ear. And it seemed that Edith and Father Martin were the only two people in the Costco café on that busy day before Thanksgiving.

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