|Bridget Mary Meehan enjoying her favorite soft ice cream at McDonald's|
(Note: I was an Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister- Immaculata, PA. in 1995 I transferred to Sisters for Christian Community)
In her former life, she was a nun. Now, she’s an outlaw. More importantly, she has loved and will always love ice cream.
She’s the eternal optimist. My father and uncle, her only siblings, are quintessential pessimists. They try their best to bring down my aunt at any possible chance.
“Dear Heart.” Uh-oh. That phrase is a red flag. Except, of course, Aunt Mary never really gets mad or annoyed- at least not enough to admit it.
The full-length sundress twirls through the kitchen. She doesn’t cook, just prepares. She sets out her father’s dinner then goes about dropping his pills into the opaque medicine box. Sixteen for each day… six after breakfast, three after lunch, three after dinner, and three before bedtime. She hums as she works.
Her car is small… a regular piece of shit, nicknamed by my father, the Jap Trap. The soothing sounds of the spiritual soul plays softly on her radio. It’s literally torture. Danny and I roll our eyes a hundred times over. We look over at her and giggle. She has to sit on a pillow to see over the steering wheel.
A heretic, really. She’s committed crimes against the Catholic faith with her social justice programs and community outreach projects. She’s an imposter. The impersonator of priests.
She backed into a wall once while parking on an empty street in Ireland. Afterwards, my best friend and I convinced her to drink with us. One Guinness later, she bid us adieu but not before leaving us twenty euros and sashaying out of the dingy pub with a crooked smile. At the door, she spun around and gave us a mischievous wink. We nodded knowingly and turned back to our Bulmers at the bar.
Her diet consists of power bars, diet coke, and McDonald’s frozen yogurt. She’ll walk for miles to get Mickey D’s frozen yogurt.
There are stuffed bears along the aisles. Her parishioners are smiling and waving me over. Dreading more social interaction, I slink over and nod as they all tell me, “your aunt is a saint.” I smile obligingly.
She was excommunicated the day I graduated from very same high school she attended two decades earlier. The ceremony was held in the National Shrine and she sat patiently, beatifically in the fourth row. I can’t imagine how she felt sitting within the very building at the heart of her faith and the enemy to her cause.
Dick, her friend, came to Thanksgiving a few years ago. His dyed black hair, his gray beard, and white soul patch were a real sight to see. He smiled longingly at my aunt as my Uncle Pat mimicked the look behind him. Aunt Mary never noticed and denied the crush. “He’s a dear, sweet man. You know, his wife died three years ago. She had an amazing soul.”
I splash-kicked water into her face, accidentally, of course. She had already given up on keeping her hair dry. Danny, my younger brother, laughs and cries, “Let’s play cops and robbers!” We scream “Not it!,” and rush to opposite sides of the pool as my aunt wades out towards us.
She’s a dancing fool. Every wedding, every wake, all parties… She’ll dance by herself or whoever she finds. She doesn’t care. The Irish jigs really get her going.
She is short, about 4’9. Her platinum blonde bob frames a pair of soft blue eyes. She wears long, flowing dresses, chunky sandals, and an oversized floppy hat during the summer. In colder weather, she opts for bulky sweaters and tights under long skirts and wool dresses.
We packed up the whole family one Friday and drove up to Pittsburgh. We made a weekend of the ordination. That Saturday and a few loopholes later, my aunt was ordained a woman priest in the Roman Catholic Church. We took her out to dinner and my dad bought her roses.
I set up her Facebook for her. She bought me a Starbucks card for it and offered twenty days worth of praise for my social networking skills. She updates about ten times a day with articles or Bible verses that inspire her. Giddy with her technological abilities, she posts videos of my grandfather playing trumpet every week.
When I was eight, she made me teach her moves from my Irish dancing class. We’d spend hours perfecting the reels, hops, and lead backs on the cool, tiled floor of the darkened basement.
They knew the regulars at McDonald’s. (They were regulars at McDonald’s). Laura was a nice little old lady. We saw her at 6 pm every time we visited until one day, we didn’t see her. Intercessions went up to God and we dedicated our mealtime prayers to Laura. Aunt Mary bought an extra cone for old time’s sake.
Her voice is soft but her laugh is shrill. What’s worse is that she can’t carry a tune to save her life. She’s utterly hopeless. But still, she insists on singing.
She swims every day she can. My grandfather plays the trumpet for her on the sidelines in his baseball cap and baggy Hawaiian shirt as she splices through the water in their cheerful pool. The chestnut tree casts a shadow the length of the pool but she reapplies her SPF 75 four times every hour.
When we were younger, we’d play all sorts of games. Cinderella involved a pair of tattered old heels and many attempts to jam it onto all of our feet. For awhile, when I was very young, Mother Eagle was my favorite game. We’d race around the yard to protect and feed our baby birds. We’d coax our sometimes-willing beautiful black, brown, and white mutt, Belle, into a nest of pool tubes, old towels, and flower petals as we threw sticks and wiffle balls to her. Belle just lay down and sighed. She was a good sport, though.
The first time she drank, my aunt was 18 and at the convent. The nuns were watching some godawful John Wayne movie. She thought the cheap wine would taste like ice cream. By the next morning, she realized that she had been sorely mistaken, as she nursed her killer hangover.
Belle knew two words: “walk” and “McDonalds.” Aunt Mary was relentless in providing her already bulging frame with juicy double cheeseburgers. Whenever my dad and mom would grumble about it, she would reply: “Well, she likes them. And she wants them. I can’t help that she expects them now.”
She introduced Danny and me to Starbucks. Enough said.
She’d rather speak to me than my father who jumps down her throat every time they talk about this. She doesn’t want to put her father, my grandfather, in a nursing home. She just couldn’t. I understand
When Danny was younger, she’d trick him into holding her ice cream cone as she licked up the drips. Danny watched, dumbfounded, perplexed, as his cone was gingerly handed back to him, half eaten.
She cried once… on the phone. The next day, I had convinced my father to fly down to Florida with me to see him one last time. He recovered that time but I know the cycle will continue. When we arrived, haggard and wide-eyed, she hugged me, held me for a minute and refused to let go. I waited awkwardly, but patiently.
Turquoise, teal, navy, seafoam, robin’s egg, periwinkle, royal… Blue is her signature color. Occasionally, some green and purple pop out like a black squirrel.
She wears necklaces with bejeweled and rhinestone crosses the size of a fist. They rest above her pale breastbone.
She loves the Beatles.
She prayed fervently when her favorite president died… the Irish-American one. One wall in the basement is devoted to him: it bears a framed portrait of a young Jack Kennedy. A wooden crucifix is placed tenderly above it.
Years ago, she attended a St. Patrick’s Day dinner with Grandpa. She was invited to the White House by her idol. That night, my grandfather was kissed by an angel (Roma Downey) and she met and laughed with her feminist partner in crime, Hilary Rodham Clinton. I can guarantee from that framed picture in her bedroom that they laughed a little too hysterically for me.
The stock market arguments waft into the dining room where I’m trying to read. They never agree but my dad and aunt will spend hours nitpicking stock and bond choices the other has made. Afterwards, they stand a little closer and smile more.
After our near-death experience on the Irish Sea, we lost our appetites (and our lunch). I was squeezed in between my grandmother and mom, both stridently vomiting into the bags that the sailor had passed out earlier. When my father asked if they’d ever experienced such bad turbulence, the sailor answered that he’d been on a boat ride like this… but never with passengers. He promptly ran to the side of the ship and puked into the gray water. I looked over at my brother, nestled comfortably beside my aunt and grandfather. He glanced up from his Gameboy at all the hung-over college kids struggling a few rows in front of him and smirked. He went right back to playing his game. My grandfather was panicking and my aunt calmed him by swiftly pulling out about ten rosaries and handing them to all the passengers near her. My dad looked over and rolled his eyes. He had taken the incapacitated sailor’s job of passing out bags to the sick. He was currently instructing one aforementioned college kid to open his unconscious friend’s mouth so that she wouldn’t choke to death on her own vomit. My aunt settled in, crossed herself, and started the rosary. Her little voice chirped, rattling off the Apostle’s Creed, Our Father, and the first three Hail Mary’s. Each word got louder and several strangers joined in. My aunt offered a few words of solace… something about dying together. My father whipped around, nostrils flaring. “Shut up, Mary! We’re not going to die! I’m not dying without Pat!” A Midwestern woman who my aunt had befriended was appalled and spoke up, “You can’t speak that way to a nun!” My dad glared at the lady and yelled, “I can say whatever I want to her… She’s my Goddamn sister!,” before storming out of the little cabin into the miserable rain. My aunt turned to the lady and smiled, oblivious to my father’s recent outburst; she said, “Oh no. Now, I’m a priest.” Three hours later, we arrived at the dirty port and stumbled onto dry land. My aunt said her goodbyes to her newfound friends and exchanged contact information. She walked over to the van and slid back the door. “They were lovely people. Sean, do you think we could stop at a McDonald’s? I could really go for some frozen yogurt.”