Betty Duffy


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Et Tu, Father Bob?

Pedge called after reading my Ball gown post and said, “I can’t stand it. I hate this attitude that we would rather be watching from our window while everyone else has a good time--that we’re somehow better off, and better people because we’re locked in our houses changing diapers. I say no! I say, I’m still going to the Ball, and I’m going to wear high heels and be the best looking woman in the room. My husband is going to love it, and every other woman in the room is going to want to be me, still. And afterwards, we’re going home, and I’m going to screw my husband, and it’s going to mean so much more than making out with some stranger in the hallway, because we have these five children, and these twelve years of marriage, and this relationship is more meaningful than any relationship I could have imagined when I was twenty-two.”

“Oh,” I said, mulling over her words for a moment.

“What?” she asked. “Am I wrong? Is that not possible?”

“I’m just trying to reconcile what you’ve just said with the absence of actual Balls to attend.”

“There are plenty of fun things to do. It doesn’t have to be an actual Ball.”

I hung up the phone with Pedge, thinking about the misplaced frugality that has prevented me from hiring a babysitter so my husband and I can go to the Reverse Raffle dinner at our kids’ school. The Reverse Raffle is a fried-chicken fundraising event held in the school’s basement cafeteria. Each class makes up a theme basket, local businesses donate gift certificates, and then the emcee gives a basket or certificate to every third ticket-holder drawn out of a pot. The last ticket drawn wins a thousand dollars. In years past, we’ve gone to this dinner, and sat awkwardly at a table with older parishioners we did not know, wondering how to get over to the raucous corner of the room where the young parents laughed and joshed one another, and made increasingly wayward paths to the bar. It's not really a Ball, but it might suffice.

We moved to this small town only a few years ago, and many of the young parents in the corner grew up here, and are themselves graduates of this parochial elementary school. Most of the teachers and the principal have been at the school long enough to see the children of their former students walking through the hallways.

My husband did not want to endure another night of this awkward watching. But I did wonder what might happen if we could somehow let go of the self-consciousness we have acquired over the years, and go sit by the keg like we own it and talk to people like we have a right to speak to them.

So armed with pocket shots of gin, and leaving our children with a sitter, my husband and I went last night to the Reverse Raffle.

At the door, we were greeted by our boys’ Cub Scout Leader, a woman with the open sunny face of Anne of Green Gables. Normally she dresses in casual adventure gear: shorts, athletic sandals, a scout uniform shirt. But for the raffle, she’d teased her auburn hair into a Brigitte Bardot semi-updo. She wore black leggings, a stylish military jacket, and stiletto booties. “Is that the den leader?” my husband asked. “She looks dynamite.” I said, relieved that someone had dressed out for the event more than I had. I had not been certain until that moment that I liked my boys’ den leader.

We sat down on the keg side of the room at the first available seats we found. We introduced ourselves to the other couples at the table, who seemed to be related to each other, and not very interested in talking to us. I looked around and spotted another couple that I knew from PTO meetings. She signaled to us that there were seats at her table, and my husband and I debated about whether or not to offend the people with whom we were currently situated. For me, it was a no-brainer. “Let’s go.” I said to my husband, and “No offense,” to the people at our table, “Have a great night.” For seventy bucks at the door, I was not going to spend another night feeling like an interloper at some other family’s dinner party.

The Emcee for the night, as in past years, was an Eddie Haskell-like alumnus of the school. He’s still lanky, with freckles, like his son, and you could easily see him as a boy showering compliments on his middle-aged female teachers, while they swatted away his antics with a flattered smile. His charming wife passed out baskets to the raffle winners, and rolled her eyes when he announced, “Congratulations number 798! You are the winner of two Pacer’s tickets, a Pacer’s jersey and a box of condoms!” It was his joke of the night, to add “--and a box of condoms!” to every other basket he called out, which is supposedly funny, because while Catholics drink and gamble, they do not pass out baskets of condoms.

“Let me see a show of hands,” he said, feeling comfortable in his roll as comedian. “Who here is worried about Father Bob? I’m worried. He has a new beard, and a new hair do. There’s an awful lot of hair gel going into the Rectory. I’m starting to wonder if he has a girlfriend.” His wife rolled her eyes, and Father stood up and brushed his hands through his hair, which he just recently began combing back off his forehead. With his sizeable mid-section and white collar there could be no doubt about his celibacy.

Whenever I have a drink or two, I start to think about also having a cigarette, but in this environment, I hesitated. I only smoke in certain company because I have a golden girl image to protect. So I excused myself as if to use the restroom, and snuck outside. I was hiding behind a corner of the Church when I heard some other female voices and smelled the tell-tale aroma of tobacco. It occurred to me that no one could doubt my conviction to the faith I profess simply because I’ve had a drink and a cigarette, so I peaked around the corner to see to whom the voices belonged.

I recognized one of them, a platinum-haired woman who drove a black Armada. She’d just had her fourth daughter, and when she saw me emerge from the shadows, she looked at me with surprise, as if to say, “You too?”

I held up my cigarette and said, “Only when I’m drinking. Or when I’m angry.” My husband and I watched a movie earlier in the week about an Irish-Catholic prison inmate who rolled his tobacco in the pages of the Bible. When a visiting priest said he should stop smoking the Bible, the inmate answered, “I only smoke the Lamentations.” I wanted to say that, “I only smoke the Lamentations.” But I already have a reputation in this town as the ‘crazy lady with five children’—no need to add: ‘who also quotes obscure movies.’

In any case, there is always an instant union of souls in discovering another closeted tobacco user. When my husband and I were in the very early stages of our relationship, we both hid from each other that we used tobacco. He chewed. I smoked more regularly at that time. But we’d been set up because both of our families were involved with Regnum Christi. He thought I was one of those pious Catholic girls who might be turned off by his tobacco use. And I thought likewise of him. It wasn’t until our fifth date or so that we’d both had a couple glasses of wine and we couldn’t stand it anymore. I bummed a cigarette off the waiter, and we split it. I remember him inhaling twice before he exhaled, and I thought, for some reason, that it was one of the most sexy things I’d ever seen--the depth of his lungs, the voracious authenticity of his need. We spent the rest of our courtship in tobacco heaven, until we married and had our first kid, and we both put our habits to rest. He’s never used any sort of tobacco since. And I only smoke the Lamentations.

It wasn’t long before our Reverse Raffle secret smoking society was joined by Father Bob. “You too???”

"Only under very particular circumstances." He also smokes the Lamentations.

I came off the night feeling warmly about all these other parents to whom I’ve only nodded in the parking lot pick-up line. I’ve spent a couple years now feeling as though these people are not my people. But I felt an indescribable affection when I saw a couple members of the Knights of Columbus pull their Sedan up to the Cafeteria doors and unload another keg out of their trunk.

In college it used to annoy me that people felt like they were best friends if they happened to get drunk together one night. Not I, oh no. I am not so easily won, nor so easily known, I thought. But I’m not as deep as I was then; my needs are no longer so difficult to meet. I’m happy with just some casual familiarity in this community in which I live. No more awkward attempts at eye-contact and conversation starting. I now know a hand-full of people with whom I can let down my pious golden-girl guard. And it so happens that one of them has heard my sins in the Confessional. It sort of cracks me up: “You too, Father???”


Eric Mitz said...


I have not had a cigarette in some time, but I could eat a pack tomorrow.

'becca said...

this made me smile.

Pentimento said...

This is the best and funniest thing I've read in a long time.

mrsdarwin said...

Glad to see you're back, and with an attitude. :)

I'd like to know where the equivalent of this is in my parish. Is it the Turkey Bingo? The KJT spaghetti dinner? The Knights' pancake breakfast? Where is it that the cool young Catholic families hang out? I guess it would help if we had a school to fundraise for.

BettyDuffy said...

Mrs. D, I suppose the answer might be: wherever there's booze and gambling--probably not the pancake breakfast.

Otepoti said...

Lamentations is only about five chapters long,from memory.

Better start smoking Leviticus.

We all need more levity.

TheSeeker said...

This was such a fun post :-) I'm glad you let down your hair and your guard for a nice evening! And yay for finally breaking through the awkwardness.

Ellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ellie said...

Seeing as how the word verification is (I kid you not): "ingod", I feel that I must stop lurking and leave a comment.


Finding a table that is open to one's presence (shall we say) is always so awkward at these sorts of things. Even if one has friends, or friendly relationships with other folks there ... I usually think it would be easier if I wasn't single (with children), but perhaps not.

I'm glad you were able to go, and had a good time.

saintos said...

Just as I was getting fairly board with a number of blogs I read I find yours and Betty Duffy, I think I'm gonna enjoy reading yours.

P.S. I wish the word verification was as meaningful for me as it has been for other commentors but mine says "deforba" which isn't even Latin for something.

Anne said...

Great, great story! Love your writing style!

Marie said...

I do love this story.
My friend who is way better than me and also way more Catholic than me and happens to have five kids and a very air about her had a relative comment to her once about not drinking.
No, she told me with meaning on retelling it, I told her Catholics are definitely allowed to drink.
I feel for the golden girls. I watched her family from a distance for over a year because she was such a golden girl she didn't need anything from me! It was just an off chance that got us together as friends, and now I see that's actually a source of pain for her. Maybe I should suggest she get some Goodwill jeans that already have the cigarette pack outline etched in the back pocket, that should knock some people off their game. . .

Marie said...

That was "she has a *classy* air about her" -- sorry.

vallie said...

hahaha, love it!! good job breaking out!

Erin said...

I only started reading this blog recently, so forgive my somewhat "late" comment. I was perusing your posts and, while I absolutely loved this one, I was most surprised by your reference to Bobby Sands (smoking Leviticus). I have been studying Northern Ireland's political history for a while and know few Americans who have heard of Bobby Sands, let alone who are able to quote him!

I also had no idea they had just made a movie about him and am very excited about it. I can't wait to see it, though I imagine it will be difficult to watch.

You have a wonderful, wry voice and a delightful sense of humor. I look forward to reading more of your insights!

BettyDuffy said...

Erin, Thanks for dropping in. The movie is called, "Hunger," and yes, it was very difficult to watch but well worth it.