Letting Mother Mary Be
The house was perfect. The four-bedroom tract house in a kid-friendly subdivision was what our family needed. I loved the retro-feeling kitchen with the big window that looked out at the backyard, and our children were thrilled that the chain-link fence all but guaranteed them a dog.
The one thing that concerned me was the three-foot concrete statue of Mother Mary standing in the overgrown flowerbed in the back of the property. Don't get me wrong, I like Mother Mary. My Catholic upbringing taught me to respect her and, before I became Protestant, pray the rosary. I just never imagined her concrete likeness standing in the middle of my Black-eyed Susans.
After negotiating price and repairs with the sellers, we happily approached our moving date. But we left the closing table in tears when, as we sat across from Joseph and Jouella, the former owners, we realized that our new home signified a beginning for us and an ending for them.
As her husband sat silently in a wheelchair, his body ravaged by the effects of Parkinson's, I asked Jouella what she would like us to do with the statue.
"Just put a bag over her head and crack her up," she said, matter-of-factly.
I was mortified. While I didn't think she would say, "Oh, honey, just haul her on over to the nursing home," I certainly wasn't prepared to crack her up. Instead, I did what every good former Catholic who is wracked with guilt would do. I put my father-in-law up to the task.
He performed the dirty deed while I busied myself upstairs in an attempt to disassociate myself from his crime. When he called me into the backyard, I went cautiously. I was relieved the act was over, but I was not interested in seeing the carnage.
"I've taken care of Mary," he said, face shining with pride.
I immediately detected the lack of guilt in his voice, and knew he had not "taken care of Mary."
I looked around, finding no evidence. "Where is she?" I asked.
"Never mind," he said.
"No," I looked at him squarely. "Where is she?"
"Well," he paused. (He's never been terribly good at keeping a secret.) He leaned in close and whispered, "I buried her."
"Shhhh!" he said, as if the Mother Mary police or the Catholic Diocese might overhear our conversation. "Don't say another word about it."
I confronted my father-in-law again after the dirt settled and Mary's feet started sticking out of the ground. "Well, she is awfully heavy, you know," he said. "Besides, it's good luck to have Mother Mary buried in your yard."
After our family added a puppy to our mix, the Blessed Virgin Mother's faded blue robe was quickly dug up and I knew I would have to take matters into my own hands. I unearthed the rest of her, wrestled her rigid, 185-pound body into my wheelbarrow (flattening the front wheel in the process) and managed to get her into the garage.
Knowing I could not simply set her at the curb on garbage day, I called the local Catholic Church. They assured me that someone would be interested in the statue, until they asked me if she was in good shape.
"Well," I said. "She's about forty years old." (Uh ? like me.) "And she's been buried for a few months." (I've spent many months feeling buried.) "And ? well, I'm sure she's not as pretty as she used to be. A lot of her paint is chipped off." (Ditto.)
After a long pause, the voice assured me that someone would get back to me. No one did.
Even the man who was hired to help clean the junk out of our garage refused to take the statue, saying something like, "Listen, I'll take just about anything, but I don't mess with the Blessed Virgin Mother." How easy it would have been if the mortar had been poured into a different mold (like say, of a frog) rather than one so sacrosanct.
But something happened between Mother Mary and me on the way to the trash. Over the past year I've learned a little about the former owners (who each passed away within a few short weeks of each other.) Neighbors told me that, before Parkinson's stole his body, Joseph tended to his garden meticulously day after day while his wife (who suffered from a rare sun allergy) looked on from her kitchen window. Mother Mary watched them both the entire time.
In light of these realities, we've decided to keep Mother Mary where she belongs - in our garden. It is now my turn to attempt to create something beautiful from the dirt beneath her silent gaze.
Her presence makes some of my neighbors nervous and they've expressed their concern that I might be tempted to pray to her. Others eye me warily, wondering if I've fallen off the Protestant bandwagon. I smile. I explain. I know they don't understand, but her presence is not for their benefit - it's for mine.