Tag Archives: Jean

ForgeTown Cover

ForgeTown 1.11 – Two Men In T-Shirts

Don was sipping his glass of iced water — a glass which he was amused to note bore definite signs of having been part of a loyalty program giveaway some decades previously — when the sliding doors to the rectory sitting room parted and a man about his own age, in cargo shorts and a Foo Fighters t-shirt, stepped into the room.

“Don?”

Don put his glass down on the coaster Jean had provided and struggled to his feet. He found himself a bit off-balance.

“Sorry to keep you, but I see Jean’s been taking good care of you. She runs the place, of course, but you’ll know how that works.” The man smiled and extended his hand.

“Father Tom. Good to meet you.”

Don hastily wiped his hand, wet from the condensation on the glass, on his own shorts and shook the other man’s hand.

“Don Morris,” he said. “Late of Massachusetts, new resident and parishioner, reporting for duty, just like my mother trained me.”

Don grinned and the young priest grinned back.

“Ah, where would we be without our mothers? Don’t answer that!”

And with that, the two men sat down across from each other.

“I hope you don’t mind the civvies,” Father Tom said, pointing at his neck where the clerical collar wasn’t. “It’s just, in this heat,” he waved a hand.

“Not at all,” Don said. “Sensible. We don’t have enough priests left for you to be passing out from heat stroke.”

The priest said nothing, but gave Don a long, appraising look. He sat still through it, but he wasn’t ashamed to admit later, to Kath, that he’d been squirming inside. It was like the man was looking directly at his soul and Don had the definite sense that all his charm would be nothing but window-dressing to this guy. This was a man to watch.

“So,” said the priest, settling back into his armchair. “Tell me about your family.”

Don relaxed. If there was one thing he could do, it was talk.

“Well, let’s see. There’s my wife Kath — Kathleen — but she goes by her own name, Rodriguez and I’d advise you to remember that. Then there’s Stella, eleven-going-on-twelve. She’s a firecracker, just like her mother. She’s stuck between being Daddy’s little girl and too old for that kind of nonsense so I guess the teen years are almost upon us.”

The priest nodded.

“From what I’ve seen,” he said. “They’re always Daddy’s little girl, even when they’re trying their best not to be. My sister certainly is.”

Don looked up.

“Are there many of you?” he asked.

“Just me and my sister,” the priest replied. He leaned forward in his armchair. “Contrary to expectations, isn’t it? To be honest, I suspect my parents were not entirely aligned with Church teaching in certain areas, not that we ever talked about it.”

He winked and Don laughed out loud. The image of discussing ‘such things’ with his own parents was not one he could conjure, for all his fertile imagination. It was odd enough to be having the discussion with a priest. A day of firsts, indeed. On a whim, he asked,

“So, how did they feel about their only boy becoming a priest?”

Fr Tom gave Don another searching look.

“A bit surprised actually, and not entirely confident. We weren’t the most strict family, to be honest. I know my mother wanted me to settle down and find a nice wife to look after me. And there are days, like today, when I almost wish I’d listened to her.” He winked at Don. “But the Lord can be quite insistent when he comes calling. They gave me their blessing in the end.”

The man opposite him was smiling, but Don had a strong sense of things left unsaid.

“Bad day?” he asked.

Fr Tom paused.

“Busy, let’s say. Interesting, even. But enough about me, you were talking about Stella. Is she your only?”

“Oh no, “Don said. “Robbie’s our youngest. Nine. All boy, as they say. A bundle of potential but God knows where he’ll end up. He’s all over the place, but that’s probably my fault — he’s got my overactive imagination, I’m afraid.”

“And will they be joining us at our school? I can point you in the direction of the registration forms.”

“Ah,” Don picked up his water glass from the table in front of him and twirled it, the cut glass pattern catching a beam of sunlight and splashing a lightshow across the exquisite fireplace. “Public school.”

“That’s fine,” Father Tom said. After a pause, he continued, “I don’t want to be indelicate but I do let everyone know that we have an excellent reputation and a robust scholarship fund. I hate for anyone to let financial concerns get in the way of their true wishes.”

“It’s not that, Father, And I’m sure the school is lovely. But my wife has…views.” Don stopped. Did that make him sound disloyal? “In fact, we’re both big supporters of public education,” he hurried on, taking a drink of from his glass to cover the moment.

“Well, we’re always here if you change you mind,” Fr. Tom waved his hand as if to dismiss the topic. Then he leaned forward again. “12 years of public education, sitting right in front of you, by the way, so I’m not going to tell you to fear for their immortal souls, or anything.”

Don looked at the man opposite. He was beginning to get the sense that this was a priest unlike any he’d met before. He was someone Don might like to call a friend.
They talked on for a bit, Fr Tom doing his sales pitch for the parish and telling Don all about the various ministries (“Are you musical? You know choirs are always desperate for men”) and the not-to-be-missed parish picnic in September, and all the other little things that make up parish life. Jean reappeared and pressed some forms into Don’s hand (“just return them whenever you can’”) and then the men were standing on the porch, shaking hands again, the door propped open behind them.

“My advice?” Fr Tom said, at last. “Don’t sign up for more than two things in any one year. It’s easy to get sucked in and then you end up overwhelmed and you’re no good to man nor beast.”

“Well there’s another surprise,” Don said. “A paster asking me not to volunteer!”

“People know my views, by now. You’ll thank me when Jack Rousch comes to sign you up for the seventh thing this week and you can tell him, ‘sorry Jack, I’ve already filled my two spots, you know how Fr Tom is…’ and shrug helplessly.”

Don laughed and then said,

“Will you come for dinner? One night this week. It won’t be fancy but we’d love to have you over.”

The priest frowned — the first Don had seen.

“Problem?”

“It’s not like the old days,” Fr Tom said, carefully. “There aren’t enough of us around anymore to go making home visits all the time. I’m not able to get around all the parishioners…”

“So you don’t want to offend anyone?” Don looked across the street. There were children swinging in a park. A woman in a straw hat emerged from behind a great green hedge to check her mailbox.

“Come after dark. Nobody knows who we are yet, and I can keep a secret.” Don leaned in and lowered his voice. “You know, if it was my mother, she’d have had you down there to bless the house before the movers had even crossed the threshold. The people before us, who built our house, lovely as they were, were named Patel. If I told my poor mother that we were sleeping in a house that’s likely never had a touch of holy water…”

Jean’s voice floated through from the inner room.

“You’re free on Wednesday evening, Father. After the Parish finance meeting. And it’ll be getting dark by then!”

“And they say priests don’t have wives,” Don winked.

Fr Tom laughed,

“We don’t. Just an abundance of mothers. And far be it from me to get between a fellow Irishman and the wishes of his mammy.”

“God bless you,” Don grinned. “Though I’m sure he already does. Come over whenever you’re free. . Wear your civvies if it helps, but don’t forget the holy water!”

“They’d defrock me if I did!” Tom offered Don his hand. “A real pleasure. Wednesday, a little after eight, then?”




ForgeTown 1.10 – Don Goes To Church

ForgeTown CoverThe heavy wood and glass door would have been magnificent it if hadn’t been sandwiched between an ugly louvered-plastic storm door on the outside and a set of yellowing lace curtains on the inside. But for all the church’s theoretical wealth it was, at the grass roots, the charity it claimed to be on its tax filings. There was little of what Don’s father would have called ‘liquid assets’ for such frivolities as cosmetic upgrades. Actually, the ugliness was kind of reassuring. It hinted at a pastor who put the extra cash into the hands of the needy rather than the Glory of Rome — assuming this parish had ‘needy’. Don hadn’t seen much evidence of poverty in the little town yet, but he was sure he’d soon meet plenty of people willing to warn him off walking down the streets where “they” congregated. People were always very quick to do that for new arrivals.

The door ahead of him jerked and twitched a couple of times and Don plastered his most charming smile onto his face, timing it to reach its full power just as the door opened. Which it didn’t. It twitched another couple of times. Clearly whoever was behind it was having a little difficulty pulling the old and probably warped door free of its frame. Don’s hand was on the knob of the ugly storm door, ready to lend a bit of counterweight to the problem, when the lace curtain twitched back and the face of every parish housekeeper he’d ever known appeared beyond it. It was quite remarkable how, regardless of age, race or station, every woman who took on the role of priests’s Girl Friday had the same bouffant hair, the same patterned polyester blouses — flounced at collar and cuffs — and some kind of sensible knee-length leg-covering. The woman behind the glass flashed him a smile.

“Stuck,” she mouthed. “Just a moment.”

She disappeared behind the lace again. A moment passed and then, with a mighty heave, the parish lady wrenched the door open.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “Beautiful old buildings do have their drawbacks. It’s the original door, you see. Fr Tom is quite keen to save it if we can, so I’ve taken up lifting weights at the Y on Saturday mornings. My doctor says it’ll keep the osteoporosis at bay, too, so it’s a win-win really. Come on in out of the heat.”

Dan noticed with a jolt that, in this case, the lady in question certainly had the regimental hairstyle but was wearing a daring sleeveless top (synthetic, patterned) and shorts (shorts!) that fell just at the knee. How modern.

The woman ushered Dan into the dim, tiled foyer. The space had an air of stillness that he savored for a moment before following her into a bright front room, lit on two sides by tall windows in elegant wooden frames. The room was stuffed full of computer screens and printers and piles of paper all shrieking for urgent attention.

“Jean McGinty” said the name plate on the desk behind which the woman had slipped.

“So, what can I help you with?” Jean looked up from behind the piles of paper she had quickly shuffled aside on her desk.

Don twinkled at her. Get the parish secretary on your side and all will be right with the world. Another lesson he’d learned early. He checked her left hand for rings.

“Well, Mrs McGinty,” he began.

“Jean, please!”

“Jean,” Don said, slowly. Surely she could see he was honored to be invited to call her by her first name? “My name is Don Morris, new to this parish. Just moved in this morning in fact, and I’d never be able to face my mother again if my first stop hadn’t been here at the rectory.” He grinned. “I called ahead and made an appointment.”

Jean made a show of pulling up reading glasses from where they hung around her neck on a beaded chain and of paging through the big paper diary on the desk, but Don had the distinct impression she knew exactly what she was going to find. There, on the page, he could see his own name in beautiful, painstaking cursive script. Number 2 pencil, if he was any judge of character.

Jean tapped the page with a manicured nail (a modest short curve, natural shade) and smiled up at Don over her glasses.

“Ah yes, I think we spoke on the phone. I remember a young man with Irish manners calling me and laying on the charm a couple of weeks ago.”

“Guilty as charged,” Don winked.

“Well, let’s get you settled in the sitting room. Father’ll be with you in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. He’s just back from lunch with Father Andryczyk over at St. Stephens and…well.”

Her face clouded. Oh-ho, there’s a story there. Don made a note but didn’t press for details now. Better to broach it with the priest himself in case it was…though he hoped to God it wasn’t. Funny how quickly the mind jumped to “that” conclusion these days.

The sex abuse scandal had rocked the church much more than it might appear to outsiders who only saw carefully-worded press statements by corpulent bishops on the steps of forbidding cathedrals or heard soundbites selected by ambitious reporters desperate for a ticket to the big time. It had rocked families too: civil wars over Christmas dinner when the drinks were flowing and patience grew thin (“How can you stay?!” “How can you leave?”). Don sighed and thought of Kath and the empty space in the pew next to him these past few years.

Please don’t let it be that.

Jean lead Don back across the still hallway to  the sitting room, all worn-velvet armchairs and an ornate fireplace. It was a room full of faded gentility and, normally, Don would shave taken great pleasure in the sense of history in the place. But his thoughts had been polluted, his peace ruffled and he sent up a quick prayer for the will to forgive the men who’d brought this down on the church.

Jean left to get him a glass of water and he could hear her footsteps echoing on the old wooden floorboards of the old house. He tried to rekindle the sense of a fresh start as he sat alone in the room filled with who-knows what kind of memories. He was certain his glass of water would come back in a worn and scratched cut glass tumbler from a mismatched set stored in a cabinet near an elderly stove that burned pizzas on one side and left them raw on the other. He had been in enough rectories over the years to be absolutely sure of that. No matter how affluently this parish house had started out — and in this one the signs of former wealth were everywhere, from that intricate Italian tile foyer to the ornate carvings over the fireplace — he knew that everything else in the house would be hand-me-down and make-do. It always was. The surest sign of a good parish, in his experience, was a preset who saw this as the way things should be. He’d known plenty who had railed against it, requesting the parish council to sign off on upgrades and new leather sofas as if the rectory were a doctor’s office.

The big question, Don thought, the thing that shapes it all, is what kind of man is this Father Tyler?