At some level, mom understood importance of having a Bible in the family
Back in the early 1980s mom, dad, my younger brother and his fiancé, my youngest brother, Sara and I are all at my parents’ house. The topic of conversation is the approaching wedding of my brother. Specifically, my future sister-in-law is trying to persuade her future husband to read a passage from the Bible at their forthcoming wedding (a non-Catholic wedding between two Protestants). Unable to accurately recall the Scripture passage she wants read, she asks my brother to bring her a Bible.
Dad lets go with a laugh and all discourse grinds to a halt. Why? Because all present know that finding a Bible in the house is analogous to finding kryptonite in the house. All present know this, that is, save the future bride.
Mom, in a desperate ploy to save face, assures us all that a copy of the Good Book can certainly be had, and she instructs my brother to commence the hunt for it.
Minutes pass. My brother calls from down in the basement with a question. Dad hollers, “Try behind the bar!” Mom shoots a look of daggers at dad, who just shrugs.
More minutes pass. Finally, my brother appears sans Bible. With her ever-present cigarette in hand and waving her arms in exasperation my mom cries, “Oh, there’s a Bible here someplace!”
My brother makes one last stab at it, but comes up short. Mom is clearly upset. Then my wife Sara speaks up: “Why don’t we call Ma?” Ma was what we called my grandmother, my mother’s mother.
This suggestion is a stroke of genius. All present know that Ma, a by-god Baptist, owns several copies of the Sacred Scriptures. Furthermore, she lives just down the street, and she can be at the house in no time. Finally, and more importantly, Ma was family. Hence, though a Bible might not be on the actual premises, a copy of the Bible was in the clutches of a dear family member, thus making mom’s claim to possessing a Bible one step closer to her imagined reality.
So, the call is made. Ma appears in record time– beaming, by the way - clutching said-Bible. Mom stands, walks to her mother, takes the Bible from her and says oh so seriously, “See, here it is.”
Now, what makes this story is not that a Bible could not be found in the house. Rather, what makes the story is my mother’s embarrassment that a Bible could not be found in the house.
What accounts for her embarrassment? I don’t exactly know, but I have a hunch.
Though mom rarely darkened the door of any church, she nevertheless understood propriety. She had listened to how my brother described, in glowing terms, the social status of his future bride. The status was not one of wealth or class. My brother’s fiance’s family was no better off financially than my parents. Nor did my brother’s fiancé hail from a prominent family with a long noteworthy pedigree.
Rather, the status my mother zeroed in on was that the family her son was marrying into was well known and thought of in their Methodist church.
This rattled mom, because she and dad and my brothers never went to church. Her own mother, however, was very active at the First Baptist Church. Ma attended church every Sunday. She once had taught Sunday school (what we Catholics call Religious Ed). She attended Wednesday night Prayer Meeting. Thus, when the issue of getting hold of a Bible sprang up, mom – as I said earlier – wanted to save face in front of her future daughter-in-law. No, they never went to church, but they were not so far gone as to not even have a Bible in the house.
Pop psychology? Perhaps. But here’s my point: mom tried hard to get us all to go to church, but simply gave up. Nobody wanted to go. The snarling and temper tantrums we threw at her attempts to get us to go to church overwhelmed her. Couple that with mom’s innate sense of hypocrisy in regards to Christians (“They never act like they say!”), and the recipe was ripe for surrender.
Since mom’s death in March 1997, I think of her less and less often. But at this time of year I remember her a lot, for she loved her children and adored giving us presents at Christmas. It is at this time of year when I wish I could see her again. No one, I mean no one, did exasperation better than mom.