It’s time I did some writing. Picked up my sleuthing Catholic priest – so to speak – where I left off.
I need to do a bit of research. Don the hat of character. Pull on the coat of atmosphere.
I drive into my favourite car park, the one beneath the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. Sniff the tarmac air, listen to the padded silence, feel the weight of the lightness above.
But I’m not here to pray.
I’m here for the gift shop.
Not for a rosary, a holy-water stoup, or votaries bearing images of saints.
I want books.
I buy several pamphlets and a pictorial guide to The Way of the Cross. Amble into the café, order a mint tea. Set my stash of Catholic Truth Society pamphlets on the table.
A Catechism of Christian Doctrine.
The Priesthood Today.
If I have the temerity to write from the point of view of a priest I need a bit of background.
I flick through the first one and discover I’m still destined for hell if the Catholic church’s doctrine is observed by an omnipotent God.
I drive back home wondering.
To distract myself I start to think about evangelists, about speaking in tongues.
Now, as far as I’m concerned, talking in tongues was a gift which enabled people in the early church to be understood by foreigners. I imagine a tongue of flame appearing over my head and then finding a Bushman or Pygmy could understand every word I said.
But speaking in tongues has evolved – as far as I can see – to mean gabbling gibberish or declaiming in gobbledegook. Please don’t be offended if that’s your thing, you’re quite entitled to do it, it’s just that I simply don’t see the point.
Now, Atheist-man’s granddaddy held revival meetings. It’s always fascinated me. He was, I gather, a rousing speaker (it runs in the family).
Exhorting his congregations to praise the Lord, he’d whip them up to fever pitch. Then people began to speak in tongues, receiving the ‘gift of the spirit’. Falling over backwards, often, when touched by the evangelist.
He made a blind man – a man who was born with no eyes – see. Or so he claimed.
He never saw a film.
Would not allow dancing.
Nailed rattle-snake heads to his fence.
I wish I’d met him, but I arrived on that scene too late.
His wife gave me a small gift, a turquoise ring which he had worn. It has the soft edges of much wear and I love it. But it can’t talk. Nor can grandmother, she’s gone to the great revival in the sky too.
It must have been tough being married to a man of God. When I met her she was already old and frail, but I remember those piercing eyes scrutinising me and I thought, oh-oh. I was wearing a bright red raw-silk outfit with a v-necked top. A scarlet woman sporting a chunky African necklace, many strands of seeds and beads – what you might call a statement piece.
But you know what she said when she finally spoke up?
‘I like your necklace, Mary.’
I looked at her with different eyes, then, wondered what lay inside that neat head, beneath the hair scraped back in a tidy bun.
‘Tell me more about your granddaddy’s church,’ I say to Atheist-man.
He pauses, thinks, shakes his head.
‘You’d be better asking my brother,’ he says, ‘he used to go with him to revival meetings. He took the tin around for collections.’
You probably haven’t seen Leap of Faith. It’s a Steve Martin film – I know, a Marmite kind of actor – love him or hate him, he’s perfectly cast in this film as the charlatan evangelist.
There’s a big-eyed lame boy, too.
And a big tent.
And a miracle – well, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t.
And maybe Atheist-man’s granddaddy made a blind man see, maybe he didn’t.
But talk of revival meetings made me think of Leap of Faith and that lame boy.
And when I remembered the lame boy, I slipped further back in time, to the little dancing cowboy.
I look at Atheist-man from under my goodness-they-do-need-plucking eyebrows.
‘Do you know what image that conjures up, your brother taking round the hat in the big tent?’
I’m not sure if he’ll want to know this. We are, after all, talking about his brother, his older bother, his respectable older brother. Albeit he lives in Texas (not that Texas is not respectable, I just mean he’s a long way away but nevertheless might read this).
‘The dancing cowboy?’ he says.
The very same.
It was the Great Dorset Steam Fair. On a hilly field huge traction engines were massed, puffing out smoke, limbering up for the ploughing competition. But the first thing that caught my eye was a little side show.
A skimpy awning hung over a tiny stage. And on that small stage was a small boy. Tap-dancing. In a cowboy outfit. With a fringed shirt, a cowboy hat – and a blank expression.
It put me in mind of Robertson Davies, the masterful Canadian storyteller. (If you like great yarns superbly unravelled and you haven’t read his Deptford trilogy, try it. Such characters, such prose – such a story.)
Texas brother-in-law, forgive me for likening you to a little dancing cowboy. You’re not at all like him and never were, I’m sure.
No fringes on your shirts.
No tap dancing – though I’ve seen you do the Texas two step.
Your granddaddy would not have approved. But I suspect your grandmother might’ve, given half a chance.
Hello again Mary. Catching up. Grandaddy sounds like someone from John Steinbeck, no longer of our time, but after all I suppose he was. Strange to think of..
His grandson smiled and nodded at that!