|Moratinos Super Heroes|
Sundays for me are fraught, and have been for years.
As a child in Denver, San Antonio, Bossier City, La., and Little Rock, I was dressed up in skirts and scratchy petticoats and made to sit through Nazarene basement Sunday School flannelgraph Bible stories (which I rather enjoyed) and windy pew-bound sermons that ground my cute plastic-net petticoats into the backs of my thighs (which taught me the meaning of “wrath”) and hours-long, on-our-knees appeals to the Almighty by Elder Ernie Slayton, who prayed for each damned soul on This Celestial Ball, ferChrissakes. (Brother Ernie taught me what Eternity is).
When I grew up and had two kids myself, with a husband who was a classical church organist, Sunday meant everyone on Red Alert. My husband was articulate and beautiful. He played Buxtehude, Bach, and Cesar Franck with Germanic precision. Every note was perfect. Every nerve was fried. Every mistake was amplified 50 times. (“This is Art, people. Can’t you shut that kid the hell up?”)
On Sunday afternoons I took my babies for long rides in the car, usually to a Dairy Queen in Van Wert or Stryker, VanLue or Waterville, some small town far away. Small cones. I didn’t often have more than $4 on me, but I had lots of gas in the tank. Rolling Stones on the car stereo, our Emotional Rescue. Muddy Waters, singing “Sail on, little honey bee.” Merle Haggard and his Mama’s Hungry Eyes. Gillian Welch with her Mark where the Nails Have Been, Springsteen’s Thunder Road, Prince’s Little Red Corvette, and Johnny Cash stuck in Folsum Prison. They saved our souls. We stayed alive. We sailed on.
We survived. That husband left us in Ohio, but we’d set ourselves free a good while before that. Sundays still happened. We danced to “June Bug” and “Love Shack” and “Keep a Lid on Things.” We were dancing fools after church at St. Tim’s Episcopal, Perrysburg. I taught Sunday School, I covered religion at the Toledo Blade. I did a hell of a job, won all the national journo prizes. I lost my religion, found my faith. I was a sinner, and Jesus didn’t mind so much. Real Jesus isn’t anything like the Jesus I’d been taught.
And after many years and much to-and-fro, I am here in Moratinos, Palencia, Spain, on a Sunday afternoon. Sundays still are unique. This husband is not an American and not a Christian, but he’s a devout Catholic. We’re at Mass every Sunday, and at the community “vermouth” afterward, at the local, catching up on the gossip, the TV news, the “Norte de Castilla,” a remarkably good regional newspaper. Sundays set the tone for Moratinos, and today was a rich mine of sociology.
In summertime, all the chicks come home to Moratinos to roost. The younger generations that live in faraway cities return to town with their children, and the families and kids and grannies all mix it up together for a few weeks (except for the few who feed on grudges and won’t talk to the others.) But church brings everyone together. And today, this morning, a deep mine of Sociology showed up for the Divine Office.
It was the sixth birthday of one of the youngest set, so four of them, all cousins, came to church dressed in costume: Superman. Thor. BatGirl (with added princess tiara and wand), and Captain America. They all sat together on one rickety pew, kicking their feet, tapping their tinfoil hammers and shields, shaking hands with the priest at the Passing of Peace. Padre Santiago wouldn’t shake with the Hammer of Thor, but he laid a hand on the Norse thunder-god’s head and blessed him.
It’s a little unsettling, having Super Man and Captain America show up at my Castilian church. I am used to being the only American in the place, and I know the little guys under the masks are Unai and Ibai, burly little half-Basque bruisers who don’t speak a word of American Superhero. (They probably have a real leg-up on Truth and Justice, however.) (I asked Ibai in English, “How old are you today?” He answered me “sei,” six, in Euskadi. Basque. The kid speaks three languages, almost. Damn superpowers!)
Anyway, Paddy and I stuck around for an extra glass of vino, while the whole town poured in the doors to commune together. Up on the TV screen was a huge national demonstration in Barcelona, with all of Spain (including the very tall young King Felipe) saying they are against terrorist attacks but still love the resident Muslims. Everyone agreed the Catalan nationalists were hijacking the whole thing for their own political ends, yadda yadda. (Spaniards love demonstrating against things that have happened already. They are not so great at prevention. Prevention is risky, and it requires work. We pay the government for that.)
Paddy and I sat among the superheroes and card-players, perched at the limit of our integration. We don’t play Mus or Brisca. Our grandchildren made acceptable holiday appearances last week, pale-skinned, red-headed, smart and polite, their parents – our children – speaking acceptably good Castellano, paying in cash, laughing at the right moment of the jokes. We will never be natives, but we do OK.
Life is very good here. Sundays are much more quiet than before, now that the pilgrims have other options. These days we listen to Eric Satie and Jussi Bjorling, and eat melon and the summer’s finest gazpacho. We consider what we left behind, and the options that remain. The next edit on the book. Should I take up Mitch’s latest offer? That opportunity in Asturias. The house for sale next door…
Sundays still can be fraught. Sundays often bring us pilgrims, or guests from the homelands. The second bottle of hospitable Toro often turns people political, or confessional, or tells them it’s time our dogs were properly trained or our gardens properly weeded or my novel properly edited. I have been advised at least four Sundays this summer on how to “turn this place into a total gold mine.”
We come from busy, busy places. Our friends and families are improvers, fixers, helpers, caped crusaders. Just like we were. Usually Paddy goes for a nap toward the start of the seminar.
I listen. I hear them. My petticoat scratches the back of my legs.
Sometimes I have to pull my Thor mask over my American face, and pick up my tinfoil hammer, and let ‘em shake hands with that. But with my other hand I bless them. I bless their busy, big hearts. Because I have one of those, too.
We’re all still driving down Thunder Road, looking for the Dairy Queen.
We all still have so much to learn, and maybe we should listen better, but it’s the Sabbath Day on the Holy Way. We’re all on our way home.
Me, I’m the honey bee, sailing on. It’s late, but I can make it if I run.