1960’s-1970’s Holy Angels, Iowa (the following is an excerpt of a project I tentatively have titled, “Holy Angels”
The door swings shut, a gust of wind and the sound of bells reverberates amidst delicate conversation. It’s just like he remembers it, well lit and now dingy powder blue and a faded eggshell white. The lights are new but the same light fixtures adhere to the walls. He fumbles in his pocket and for a second his fingers rest on his car keys. Maybe it’s just best if he should go, yes, perhaps he had better be on his way.
“Frankie!!!!” He’s been spotted, oh sh*t, it’s Loraine, what should he say to her? What could he say to her? “Lorraaaine,” he responds sing-songily. “They let you out of that office of yours in the city Frankie?” She gestures toward downtown, one wrinkled hand on her now almost elderly hip and the other flying somewhere between in and out of space and time. Frank is mesmerized by her, he was always charmed by Loraine but he just didn’t know how to talk to her, especially since, “What brought you up here Frankie? How’s your mother?” “Oh, you know, Ma,” he sputters, “she uh, well, that’s partly why I’m here.” “Sit sit, have some dessert, it’s on me.” She flutters a white and blue menu before him, they are encased in clear plastic with now dingy and dented gold borders. His eyes scan the front of the menu, “Holy Angels Diner” he notices that this is a menu circa post WWII because this version has a halo above the word angels. What are they in business for anyway? To profit off of God? The nerve of this place, making a mockery of his faith. They know what they are doing is wrong, calling coffee, devil’s juice, serving children their version of the popular PB& J Sandwich, “The Lord’s Supper and Peanut Butter” calling their water, holy water, finally he finds the desserts listed under the label, “Temptations to Be Lead Into,” “Ah Christ,” he mutters to himself, he thinks, he realizes he has shared this thought out loud when Lorraine says, “What honey??” “Oh, um, just deciding,” he covers. He begins to search the menu again and realizes, he can either have Angel Food Cake, Devil’s Food Cake, or a Hallelujah It’s Sunday…With 3 choices for Sundae toppings: Blood of Atonement Berry Red, Sweet Chocolate Salvation or Holy Marshmallow Spirit. This place is so blasphemous, but free dessert is free dessert. “Gosh Aunt Lorraine, are you sure? You really don’t have to.” “Baby, don’t you think about that, besides don’t I owe you some back birthday presents?” “Okay, well, I would like a Hallelujah it’s Sunday, with the Holy Marshmallow Spirit topping. “Oh honey, it’s the best, did you know we order that holy spirit sauce from a little Monestary in Colorado?” “Well, isn’t that something, I did not know that.” “MMM, lots to learn if folks will take the time to listen. Well baby, I am going to go put your order in and take a quick,”she gestures like she is holding a cigarette, “break.” “Aunt Lorraine, I thought you quit.” “I tried Frankie, now don’t be picking sh*t. I’ll be back.” What was he doing here? How could he have come back?
He hears the door jingle and in from the wind is a woman with a 5 year old boy. Frank does his best not to stare and he makes use of the many reflective surfaces that surround him including mirrors all around the restaurant. He likes it because it sort creates this element of being in infintite space. Also, if you wanted to look at someone, you easily could, there wouldn’t be any of this facing away from strangers thing all so common now in modern restaurants, eventually everyone’s eyes could meet a strangers. The abundance of mirrors made it easy to see her. She looked tired, her rosebud mouth and fawn like eyes were so beautiful to him. She was a real life example of Rubenesque Beauty. She wore a brown trenchcoat that cinched into her waist. Her hair was wavy, loose, wild. She sat at the wrap around bar, a table or two away from him. He could hear her order, “5 loaves and 2 Fishes Tuna Salad and a Lord’s Supper and Peanut Butter, with two Spiritual Milk’s to go.” “Sinful Chocolate?” says the waitress. “No, I think Pure as Snow will be fine.” “But mom, you said!!” “I’m sorry, can I make little Henry’s a sinful chocolate?” “Of course,” says the waitress. The waitress walks away and the woman at the bar adjusts the little boys coat, so that it won’t fall to the ground. He plays with a small toy truck. “Now, Henry, you can play with that, but, when our food comes, I’m going to need you to be a big boy and help me carry it to the car” “I know,” Henry smiles at her.
It’s too much. Frank’s chest begins heaving, before he knows it he has tears flying down his cheeks, they attempt to feverishly escape his eyelids. “Oh Mama, Mama,” he says to himself. “Sir, sir??” It’s the young woman, she has come over to talk to him. “Yes M’aam” Frank musters. “Sir, would you like to sit with us?” “I wouldn’t want to intrude.” “You wouldn’t be, please join us. It’s just that….aren’t you Gertie and George’s son?” “Well, yeah I am.” “Oh I thought so, I’m Trudy, that’s Henry…I used to work for your uncle Jack.” “Oh that old son of a gun. I don’t remember you, I worked up in that shop most every summer ya know?” “Yes, I know, that’s when I met you, the summer I was working there, I did have braces and glasses back then and my overbite has since been fixed. “Oh wow, no wait, when??” “Oh it must have been 10-12 years ago I’d guess. “Oh you would have been just out of high school like me?” “It was the summer before my senior year.” “Oh, you were sooooo skinny and, “ she looks down. “Oh no, I mean back then you couldn’t hold any weight on and now, look at you, you’re such a woman.” She looks up and meets his gaze. She’s smiling and that’s when he sees it. With a flicker in her eyes, the girl she once was, waves to greet him in his mind’s eye. “Mellybean!” he says excitedly. “Well, yes,” she chuckles, “no one has called me that for years, most people just call me Melissa these days, what brings you through Frankie?” “No one calls me that these days, except for my moth….mother,” he chokes out the word Mother. “Frank, are you okay?” “Yes, the reason, I am uptown is because I just got word that she died this morning, I was coming here to tell Aunt Loraine, she’s supposed to be off in an hour anyway. The thing is, I don’t know how to tell her, how do you tell someone their sister is dead?” “Isn’t she Christian? Come on, she knows the truth, she’ll be fine,” Melissa smugly says.
Lorraine is just a table away now, she’s filling up some man who is dressed entirely in denim’s coffee. She drops the coffee back on it’s hot pot behind the counter and grabs Frank’s sundae. “Oh, so they made you come here, why couldn’t your coward of a father?” “Loraine, I really don’t want to get into that.” “He’s the one who killed her, that cheating son of a b****,” she says in a strained whisper. “Aunt Lorraine, she didn’t die of a broken heart besides that was 20 years ago.” She puts down Frank’s sundae in front of him and hands him a spoon, “Well, I coulda killed him besides.” “Yes I know Aunt Loraine and we all agreed if you come to the funeral you can’t be picking any fights.” “So, who sent you here? Franny? Mary? Those nieces of mine really take the cake, huh?” “They just want to know that you’re not going to start anything with Dad. “I got no business with him, that low-life. For Chris’sake kid it was my sister… I outlived ’em all,” she says partially to herself. “Auntie L can you please promise me?” “Frankie Angel, I promise you. I pinky promise you,” she sticks out her pinky, “I know this trick” he thinks, “as soon as we pinky shake, she’s going to pull me in and kiss me on the cheek. She doesn’t seem to realize that I am a 30 year old man now.” This time, however, she doesn’t pull him in for a kiss, he wonders to himself, “how long has it been since she has? She used to do that all the time.”
“Oh Gertie was a fine Christian woman.” “Yes, she was Christian, that’s for sure, ” Frank says, clearly a little uncomfortable. Melissa feeling a little awkward and sad says, “I am so sorry for your loss Frank.” ‘You can come to the funeral too, Ma would’ve liked that,” said Frank. “When is it? I might have to work?” “Uh, this upcoming Saturday March 9th, 10am-noon for the visitation, 1 for the funeral, and 4 for the interment at Holy Angels Cemetery.” “I think I might be able to sneak in a little late to the funeral.” Just then Melissa’s order is wrapped and ready. “Well, God bless you Frankie and God bless your Mama too,”she waves goodbye and in a whirl, coats and scarves bundle Melissa and Henry. Frank watches them walk into the softly falling snow, it dances in spirals of wind that make it look like the dancing swaying smoke that rises in the front of the church at Christmas time after candelit mass and all the candles have been extinguished.
The sign out front of Holy Angels Church and the bulletins all read, “The Funeral of Gertrude Ann Novelsack Presided over by the Most Reverend Honorable Divine Bishop Deacon Doctor Adam Smith.” “Should he really be listing Doctor? He never went to Medical school to my knowledge,” whispers Frank to his sister Mary. They both chuckle, Franny shoots them a look that says, “Shut up you two!” How typical, Franny, the second Mother was acting her part, as Mary and Frankie lost themselves between grief and laughter. They were grieving so deeply, they were rapidly coming through it, in it, out of it and and back through it. They were grieving but Franny had been the one to spend the last years with Ma and it was also Franny who had never abandoned their faith like he and Mary had done. Little did he know, Mary would soon re-join the fold, within months in fact.
The service was a blur, the quietly loud drive to the cemetery, we all know that drive once we reach a certain age, lead to their eventual standing, bleary-eyed at the cemetery once the interment began. It was really over, the finality and futility of it all strangled him. In a weak moment, he felt his father’s hand on his back, it was lacking the strength and firmness it once had. There were times when Frank always knew his father would catch him but, now Frankie’s hands were the robust, strong hands that must uphold his father, but who would hold up Frank? Frank and Mary took their mother’s death the hardest in many ways. Frank believed that ‘Holy Angels’ and all of it’s local businesses, were just operating out of big lie meant to placate the masses.” Mary wasn’t entirely convinced, she could see how Christianity in many ways should have just been a terrible failure, but it survived and even thrived and the idea of humans and Christ being connected in some divine way brought Mary joy. She also wasn’t sure if she could believe it all, what if Frank was right? What if she was only at Holy Angels out of habit and because she fell in love with the church when she was young and couldn’t stand to part from it out of habit, with it rendering no real or perceived value to her?
“Why does Frankie always have to do that?” She wondered. “Why can’t he just accept things the way they are?” Meanwhile Frank was pleased to feel that Mary was finally beginning to show signs of thinking for herself. Later, at an early dinner, Frank was approached by the Most Reverend Honorable Divine Bishop Deacon Doctor Adam Smith. “How are you, son?” “No, don’t even, I’m not calling you Father, you’re nothing but a kid, Adam,” sneered Frank through a clenched jaw. It’s true Adam Smith was a young man, fresh out of seminary. His moustache barely connected to his beard, he looked like some Amish do-gooder type and Frank knew the Holy Angels types all too well and he resented them all. “Frank, Gertie forewarned me about you but I never knew you would act out so forcefully. I understand that you’re grieving please know I am praying for you all at this holy time.” Adam bowed his head and began to turn his posture ever so slightly, indicating his leaving of the conversation. “This holy occasion?! This blessed occasion,” said Frank, voice and temper rising. Just at that, Mary slid out her chair, and stood slightly between Father Adam Smith and her brother. “My condolences,” Father Adam said, maintaining eye contact then walking away. “Will you cool it?” Mary asks Frank. “Mary, how dare he, he just called our mother’s god d*** funeral holy?!” Frank says, more than a little cross. “Frank, you know, that’s not what he, you know when something’s just beyond words, it transcends, it starts a new cycle, its like a re-birth of a…” Frank is annoyed with Mary, “Why can’t she just think for herself?”, Frank wonders and as he does so he believes he only internally rolls his eyes. He doesn’t just internally roll his eyes, he also does so externally. At which point Mary storms away from him, crying. “She always was a cry-baby,” he absolves himself of his guilt.