Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Strange Plots 17


I didn’t know how much space Vin would need to sort himself out, but there was no doubt he was a slow mover. I was bracing myself not to hear from him until the fact of my absence percolated down through his system and pooled in his nerve endings. For myself, I was already at that point, feeling my want of him stinging throughout the day and building to a steady yearning by night.

To distract myself, I went out and got a job. Not a cool job at a bookstore or Starbucks or secretary at a publishing house or at some classy boutique, like in a Hallmark movie. Nor a career like my mother would have approved of, getting my first leg up at some reputable tech company or getting in on the ground floor of a hot start-up. No, I needed something fast and I needed it now, so I went down to the mall and applied to work holiday retail. I’m young and pretty and ready to start now, so there wasn’t much challenge in hurdling the low barriers to entry. By Wednesday after Thanksgiving I was ringing up credit cards and gift wrapping packages and making jolly chitchat with harried shoppers.

By my second day I’d already had to bite my tongue to keep from telling off a fool, but I had some strong motivations to maintain my cool. First and foremost was Vin’s example of humility. I couldn’t be near him in person, so I was near him in attitude, smiling patiently as customers took out their year’s worth of frustrations and family stresses on the one person who had to treat them as if they were always right. When I felt hot words boiling up, I swallowed and became Vin patient with his crazy mother, or (more compelling) Vin, patient with crazy me. And to my constant surprise, not only did it work in the moment, but it changed people. A few shoppers went away with their nastiness still fully lodged up their asses, but most of them, given space, softened and regained their humanity and even apologized to me for losing their tempers.

As I neatened the cash wrap in the slower moments, I thought about the times when I’d been extended my own grace moments to let my brain catch up with my behavior. Never from my mom, who loved to catch me out. But dad, whether because he had more tolerance for me or because he just didn’t like conflict in general, almost always gave me that room to change myself without being forced to. Maybe that’s why he and I had a stronger bond and a more flexible relationship than I did with mom.

But what about me? Did I ever give mom the same space I was making such a big deal about right now? I tried to remember the last time I’d let her words hang and echo in the air. I always had to have a comeback, to give as good as I got. I could never let anyone get one up on me. One-upping wasn’t really a good name for a process that was more like a race to see who could dig themselves in deeper. And Mom and I had dug down so far that we were stuck in our World War One trenches, facing off across no man’s land, and I didn’t know who was going to be able to sneak out first and cut the barbed wire.

So that was one reason and two reasons not to blow up my job: Vin’s respect, and space from Mom. The third was straight up money. Driving to Titusville took a lot of gas, and looking cute for Vin meant a girl had to go every now and then and drop a wad of cash on a pair of boots or a pair of new hoops. My own savings were depleted perilously low, and I could not always be borrowing from Grandpa or my dad, open-handed as they were. Until my finances regulated and expanded I was stuck living with Mom and Dad — not the world’s worst arrangement, when everything was peaceful, but a little humiliating nevertheless. But they say that the best time to look for a job is when you already have one, so maybe after the holiday rush I could find something better and more permanent, which in turn could lead to more and quality adulting.

These considerations filled my working time, and when I got off I was worn out and ready to veg and stream some brainless entertainment, so I was surprised on Friday to get a call from Vin.

“Hey, sorry to disturb you,” he said.

“You’re not bothering me,” I said.

“I just always think I’m going to interrupt someone. But look, I was wondering if you could come up today. I ran into Father Leonard in town, and he said that he was wanting to get in touch with you. It seems like he had something to show you.”

“Something show us? What do you think it could be?”

“I don’t know. I wondered if maybe the man from the cornfield was buried in the Catholic cemetery or something.”

Oh my gosh, I wish I could get up there right now,” I groaned. “But I’m scheduled to work this afternoon. I’d get fired if I blow it off, and I’m really trying hard to make a good impression.”

“You have a job?” Vin was too polite to register all his surprise, but there was definitely an inflection of disbelief there. “When did this happen?”

“Right after Thanksgiving. I’m actually on break right now. I didn’t know when I’d hear back from you, so I decided I’d better start living my own life in the meantime.”

“Oh.” I could hear the gears shifting in his head, and I wondered with satisfaction if he’d gotten used to the idea of me being available whenever he needed me. “Okay, yeah. Of course. When are you free?”

“I’m off Sunday morning. Are you?”

“This week? Yeah.”

“What if I come up to Titusville and we go to mass, and catch Father afterwards? That way we’ll know exactly where and when to find him.”

“Wait, can I just go to mass with you? I thought there were rules about that.”

“Of course you can just go to mass with me. What do you think, that we have bouncers at the door keeping you out?”

“No, but I mean… I thought you had to go through some initiation to be Catholic.”

“Yes, but you don’t have to be Catholic to go to mass. Anyone can go to mass.” I reached back to my catechism days. “That’s what catholic means. It’s Greek for ‘universal’ or something.”

“But what about your Lord’s Supper? Not just anyone can take communion, right?”

“You can go to mass without taking communion.” I sighed. “I have to do it a lot, actually.”

When I got home I dragged myself into the kitchen for a snack, and found Mom at the table. We’d mostly avoided each other since Thanksgiving, but if we were going to be under the same roof we weren’t going to be able to keep that up indefinitely.

“Hi,” I said.


I rummaged in the fridge. “By the way, I’m going to Titusville again on Sunday.”

“On Sunday? Really.”

“Really. I’m going to mass with Vin.”

“Vin is Catholic?”


Mom got up from the table and shrugged. “That’s nice you’re going to church together.” And she left without further comment.

I stared after her. I’d concocted plans for many discussion scenarios — snark, needling, prying, dismissal — but outright acceptance had not made any part of my battle strategy. And her retreat had never been factor I'd considered, mostly because I’d never seen it happen before. I wondered if everything was okay and whether I should go upstairs and press the point with her. And then I thought about how I’d just been pitying myself for never getting any space from Mom. Take it where you can find it, I told myself. This moment may never come again.

“Thank you, Lord,” I breathed. “Let me not screw this one up.”

The Sunday sky was gray and lowering as I headed up into Titusville. The forecast called for snow, and I was glad of it. It would be such a pretty picture: Vin and me, strolling around the old square in the swirling flakes, crystals glistening against our hair, dark and red. (Hats did not figure in my images of seasonal bliss.) Snow melting in our hair as we knelt together at mass. Except Vin wouldn’t kneel, because he wasn’t Catholic so why would he?, but maybe he’d do it just to be polite. But would that be worshipping false gods if you didn’t actually believe? Suddenly I hoped I wasn’t provoking a theological crisis that would tear us apart before we were actually together. Maybe mass hadn’t been the best idea for a meeting place, but it was too late to change it now.

And indeed, the first flakes were starting to fall as I pulled in next to Vin’s car in the small parking lot next to Sacred Hearts. He was studying the pretty stonework so intensely that I felt intrusive knocking on his window.

“Sorry,” he said, getting out. “I was just thinking about how this church has been in Titusville for almost 100 years, and I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve only gone inside once on a call. There’s so much history I’ve never been curious about, or taken any time to explore. I’ve been so obsessed with the missing fathers in my history that I’d never asked my grandmother about her own grandmother. What else have I been missing all this time, that’s always been right under my nose if only I could see it?”

“Hello,” I said, cozying up to his side. “I’m right here.”

“So you are.” He put his arm around me. “And we’ll go into that church together, where Father Leonard is plotting to steal you away and make you a nun.”

“What on earth?”

“And then someone will ask me, ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’, and I’ll point to you and say, ‘Nun’.”

“Do you even know the first thing about Catholi… No. Just, no.”

Vin was shaking silently next to me. I drew myself up with dignity.

“I hope I would have more respect than to go to your church and desecrate the holy ground with godawful jokes.”

“That’s why I have to come to church with you.” Vin gurgled. “We don’t even have nuns. Oh my gosh, I’m going to have to become Catholic. You guys have the best scope for puns.”

“I’m pretty sure God is going to send fire from heaven to strike you down,” I said, hampered in my ability to stalk off by Vin keeping a tight grasp on my hand.

Fortunately he didn’t cause any scenes, humorous or ecumenical, during mass. As we all knelt, I glanced over to see him sitting in universal posture of religious respect-but-not-ascent, elbows leaning on knees, head bowed. But he was watching the altar in fascination. I watched, too, wondering what he was looking at, trying to find something new and unfamiliar in the same liturgy I’d seen week after week, year after year.

“That was something else,” he said, as we sat in the pew afterward. “”There’s a lot of stuff going on up there.”

“It’s the first Sunday of Advent, so you have the Advent candles added in,” I said. “Otherwise, it was pretty standard.”

“What do you do on weeks when you don’t have the Lord’s Supper?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “We go to communion every Sunday.”

“That’s a standard part of every Sunday worship service?”

“It’s a standard part of the mass. There’s not a ton of variation. You could go to mass and take communion every day of the week if you wanted.”

He gazed up at the golden tabernacle where Father Leonard had put away the hosts. “Do you want to?”

“Go every day? I never thought about it.”

“I would,” he said, sitting back. “That, every day. You’re lucky.”

Father Leonard passed up the aisle from greeting his sheep. “Hello again to both of you. Come back in the sacristy with me. I have something you will be interested to see.”

In the sacristy, Father unvested while Vin tried not ogle the closet of chasubles or the narrow drawers of linens.

“I thought a good deal about what you told me,” said Father, hanging everything up. “You have Aaron Moore, a tiny black baby, or half black. And he is not taken to the county orphanage or put in local foster care. He is taken to Roanoke.”

“Maybe his parents didn’t want anyone to know about him?” Vin suggested.

“But why not take him to a state institution in Roanoke?” Father asked. “Doesn’t it seem strange to you that someone would have come all the way down from the mountain to seek out a Catholic orphanage for this little baby? I thought about this, and I decided to do a little digging around in the only Catholic institution in Titusville.”

He led us back into a small room off the sacristy, not much more than a glorified passageway from the back door, packed with filing cabinets and drawers. A computer took up most of a small desk under the window. There was just about room for one extra chair.

“This is my office,” said Father. “It’s been the parish office ever since the church was built. Here is where we keep all the old registries and records.” He pulled down a large book bound in red leather. “In those days, the priest here did not have a secretary or a staff. He did all the recording himself. A lot of work, though the congregation up here has never been very large.”

He flipped open to a page he’d marked with a ribbon. “This is the registry for the 1920s and 30s, from the founding of the mission.”

The double page spread was lined with columns with Latin headings and filled with a tight cursive hand.

“This is the date,” Father said, stabbing the far left column. “You see this page is Summer 1934. And this next one says, in English, ‘I, Father So-and-so, baptize you’, and Father So-and-so would write his name.”

The top entry for the column was scribed “Francis X. Walsh”, with ditto marks most of the way down the page. 

“And this says, ‘Name of Infant’.”

He traced halfway down the page and stopped under a neat listing that read, “Aaron.”

“Oh my god.” I looked at the next column. “Natum? Is that birthday?”


“This is the day before his birthday. Oh my god. It’s been wrong all these years.”

“If he was very small, the orphanage may have listed his birthday as the date they found him,” Father said.

Vin had moved to the next column. “Ex Parentibus. Parents. A.M and T. Why aren’t they written out? Everyone else has full names.”

“Perhaps even in an obscure Catholic registry, Father Walsh didn’t want to make it too clear who the baby’s parents were.”

“A.M,” I sobbed into Vin’s chest. “Aaron Moore. I wish Grandpa were here. I wish he could see this.” Father Leonard patted my shoulder as Vin murmured into my hair.

“You see,” said Father Leonard, brushing at his eyes. “No godparents. This must have been a very private baptism.”

“I wonder who T. is?” said Vin. “She must be the missing maternal link.”

“But wait,” I snuffed into the tissue Father handed me. “Why did no one ever know about this? It’s right here in the open.”

“How would you ever have known to look, though?” Father Leonard said. “If Aaron Moore came to the orphanage as a foundling infant, the sisters probably assumed that he was unbaptized. If he has been recorded there, and has traced back his records to the orphanage for all these years, why would he look elsewhere? And if no one in Titusville besides his parents knew that he existed, how would anyone in Titusville know to search for him?”

“And if his father was really killed by Old Titus and the mayor, then no one but the priest ever knew.

“Until the DNA test,” I said. “It’s like this was hidden in plain sight all these years.”

“Father Walsh’s name is only in the registry for another two months after the baptism,” said Father Leonard. “Then another priest took over. So if he were gone, and A.M. the father was dead, and the mother was not talking, perhaps understandably in the circumstances, then there is no one left in town who even knows that there is a mystery of Aaron Moore to solve.”


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