The Passion of Mrs. C.
Pat came over one day after school. On the floor in my bedroom, we played dolls. My older sister and I had Tammys, a cheaper, blockier version of Barbie. Like every seven-year-old, I wanted a Barbie, which could twist and turn and bend at the knee. Tammy was more athletic-looking than Barbie given the latter’s impossible proportions and high-heel-ready feet. When a cousin visited with her own Barbie and Ken, we created love triangles and made the dolls kiss, cheat, and have an argument that ended with a slap across Ken’s face. We based such interactions on what we saw on TV. Whether in the old melodramas or the new sitcoms, true love always ended with the reward of marriage. Somehow, the notion of a reward didn’t translate to my parents, no longer the beautiful strangers I stared at in the eight-by-ten framed photo on my mother’s dresser. Weeknights often ended with my father bringing the last of the salad bowl in front of the TV, a kitchen towel tucked into his shirt. A couple of hours later, one of us would wake him with a shove and send him off to bed.
Father Timothy Adaire arrived with the sprouting of snowdrops in the old garden between the church and the asphalt playground. Like the new high school, the new elementary school, the Second Vatican Council, nuns dressed like ordinary women, and even Twist-and-Turn Barbie, Father Adaire was the right man at the right time: all newness and beauty. With his peacock blue eyes, blond-streaked crew cut, and slightly overlapping front teeth, he looked like a cross between the Beach Boys and the Kennedys. He even had Bobby Kennedy’s compact build. On the asphalt playground, Pat and I were part of a dreamy coterie who matched up Father Adaire with one of the young nuns. Of course the good Father and Sister would have to reject their vows. But it would be worth it in the end.
For the spring, my Brownie troop’s project was to turn egg cartons into Easter wreaths. I was supposed to bring in as many egg cartons as I could round up. My mother had put aside two of them, but it was getting close to our Friday meeting. It was clear that I would have to go door to door. Soon I had a rehearsed sentence: My Brownie Troop is looking for egg cartons because we’re turning them into wreaths for old people in nursing homes.
Most of the neighbors on my street knew me. A couple of them were sorry but couldn’t part with their cartons. Some of them obliged by putting their eggs in a bowl. With only three or four boxes to my name, I kept going.
On the next block, where Pat lived, I was curious to knock on the doors of those neighbors I knew only by sight: the old man who looked like Clark Gable and wore a suit to the supermarket; the lady with lavender hair who didn’t answer her door on Halloween. Maybe because it was getting close to dinnertime, some people didn’t answer when I knocked. Pat hadn’t invited me over yet, but I recognized the house. Once, when we were driving by, I saw her sitting on her front steps as a man, probably her father, entered the garden. When he turned to close the wrought-iron gate, I caught a glimpse of him, giant and blocky, in a blue uniform. I would have been afraid of such a man if Pat hadn’t been smiling and laughing.