Friday, September 02, 2011
So many things I do these days trigger powerful memories. This one’s about a car—-and early mass. What brought this on? I went to 8 o’clock mass three days in a row a couple weekends ago, with some dear friends. I can tell you the last time I did that. It was, ah . . . 1957.
I remember that year as the spring when my dad roared down the driveway at our home near Emory University in Atlanta in a new Austin Healey, a roadster, the proper name for a British rag-top sports car. This one was red with all the trimmings and served as waterproof glue for the closest period of bonding between a father and son. I say “waterproof” because the top on that car was a tight fit from the start, and had maybe fifty snaps to secure it around the cockpit; and of course after a couple times getting wet it shrunk, so there it stayed, behind the back seat squab—British for the seat’s backrest—for seven years, molding in peace. When it rained we got wet, so we cultivated raincoats and laughing. I didn’t mind a bit. I was a newly-minted British Sports Car buff, in 6th grade at St. Thomas More elementary in Decatur, Georgia. But waterproof, too, became my helplessness, watching my father’s daily incremental death from complications of chronic alcoholism. I read in my father’s book, “The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit, Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
I became a full-blooded altar boy. I volunteered to serve 6AM mass whenever I could. Maybe piety would help cure that bond. You see, my dad, a physician, would get up to do “rounds” early in the morning before office hours; that was when he went ‘round the various city hospitals, visiting with his patients and consulting with the hospital staffs about their treatment. We’d get up quietly, he dressing for work in the white-shirted suit, I for school in the olive green and grey uniform, trying not to wake mother and the sisters. Then we’d slip out the ‘Healey, go to mass, I would accompany him on ‘rounds for an hour or so, then he’d drop me off at school on his way to his office practice on Peachtree Street.
“Introibo ad altare Dei” the priest would intone; “I enter into the altar of God”. “Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam” was my response: “To God, who giveth joy to my youth.” I used to know all the Latin, and, knowing what it meant gave the effort hope. Oft times at the mass there were only the nuns who taught at the school and my father. It’s disconcerting serving communion to one’s father, kneeling before me and the priest at the altar rail. On the other hand it was a blast to have the nuns, particularly tyrants like Sister Katherine “Tornado” Leonard, friend of dungeon torturers and despots, kneeling before me, as who during the school day swung her nunchaku over helpless cringing children.
I remember so many beautiful crisp winter dawns, walking out of mass with my dad. One of our many rewards for being such good boys was roaring at breakneck speed toward the semaphore blocking the entrance to the doctor’s parking lot at Emory University Hospital, horrifying bystanders, but laughing our heads off in the knowledge that the little ‘Healey cleared underneath by a scant inch. These times were bonds of affection that could not be dissolved by years, though their ulterior goal was not rewarded.
Early mass with old Vietnam-era peacemakers, gathered here in the hope of turning Notre Dame once more toward active engagement with a loving, non-violent path. But I’m flooded with memories, shortcuts across time and space, of a father and his son, and another kind of love. [The Great Mandala / Peter Paul and Mary]