By Tom Minder - Gloucester County, New Jersey, USA - 1 March 2017
Fat Tuesday. Sam stared at the specialty items on display at Donut Emporium. Ahead in line were mothers with over-sugared children, senior men discussing Phillies spring training, and medical techs holding empty carafes destined to be refilled with Columbian. Sam clutched his AARP card. A free donut just for being over fifty. What a country!
He stepped to the counter and studied the menu one last time as Rosie, the cashier, adjusted her headband and sighed. Not wishing to risk social wrath from those queued behind him, Sam blurted out an order for two large coffees, four Bear Claws, four Easter Bunny jelly-filled, a free Boston Crème, and, to be safe, a dozen donut holes. Rosie nodded and started to pour coffee.
Sam juggled the bags and coffee carrier as he swung past people texting, listening to God-Knows-What on earbuds, or pulling their wallets. Fat Tuesday. One last day to clog the arteries before Lent.
Ash Wednesday. “How am I going to make it through today? I’m already starving,” moaned Sam. He looked at his plate, dotted with crumbs from a piece of toast slathered in butter.
“For Pete’s sake, Sam. It’s only 8:30. You just got up. Yesterday, you must have consumed 4000 calories and kept eating during Stephen Colbert.” Sam's wife Lana sipped her coffee. “Have some self-control.”
“I stopped at 11:59 p.m., Lana. I was watching the clock.” He sighed. “Oh well, fasting is two days a year, and Father Tim did challenge us from the pulpit to sacrifice for Lent, so I guess I can do without.” He stood and headed upstairs.
Lana jumped from the chair and hurried to the steps. “And no squirrelling donut holes. Last year I found some hidden in your wool cap.”
That afternoon, Sam stared at the ash mark smudged into his forehead. “Boy, Father Tim really went to town."
Lana walked in, examined Sam in the bathroom mirror, and laughed. “I guess he figured you needed it more than others. Didn’t you cut him off in traffic last week?”
“Tim was driving too slow. I had to pass him. It’s not my fault he skidded to a stop.” Sam shook his head. “As I recall, he offered something decidedly unchristian.”
First Friday of Lent. Abstinence from meat. “These fish cakes are greasy and 90 percent breading,” Sam said.
Lana shrugged. “They were cheap. Next time I’ll buy something fresh from the fish market.”
“Why? Who needs Sea Bass? I’ll take deep-fried mystery fish any day.” Sam poured a mound of fries onto his plate. “And it goes so well with crinkle cuts. Maybe this self-denial isn’t so bad after all.”
Sunday Mass. Father Tim O’Brian looked over the congregation. “Lent is a time we set aside to remember Christ’s trials on this earth, and rededicate ourselves to self-sacrifice, charity to those less fortunate, and goodwill towards our neighbor.” He stared at Sam. “Make sure your Christianity extends beyond these Church doors.” Tim closed the bible and proceeded down the aisle with just a slight glance over to Sam.
Sam stood as Lana genuflected. He nudged her from the pew, nodding to the Cross as he merged with the departing worshippers. He shook hands and greeted Father O’Brian. “Powerful sermon, Father. Words to live by,” he said before Tim could respond. He pulled his keys as he and Lana walked towards the car. “Now to the Five Star Diner. I bet the Scrapple is fresh today.”
Laetare Sunday. “It’s halftime, Lana. Midway through Lent. I haven’t touched a donut since Fat Tuesday and I’ve been nice to that crazy Mrs. Shultz. A few more weeks and I can go back to normal.”
Lana sighed. “We’re late for church. Let’s get there before you need to cut off anyone in traffic pulling into the lot.”
Sam fished his hand into Lana’s baffling key basket, unravelling his Prius chain from orphaned key sets. “We need to clean this thing out, Lana. I think I see keys from my ’98 Chevy.” He pressed the remote starter and took a minute to pride himself in his ecological foresight.
They jumped in, pulled out of the driveway, and took off for St. Jude’s Church, named after the patron saint of lost causes. Sam took a sharp turn into the parking lot, causing a senior with a walker to hurry into the grass border to avoid the Anything Can Happen in Jersey flag jutting from Sam’s window. The couple heard “idiot” echo from the distance. “Now, that was uncalled for,” Sam said.
Tim O’Brian was dressed in rose-colored vestments befitting Laetare Sunday. “These colors are to express joy in the midst of our Lenten sacrifice. They remind us that happier days are ahead and help us focus on our remaining trials.” Sam looked at his watch, then glanced up to see Father Tim frowning at him. “I won’t keep you much longer today, as some of us have pressing engagements. Just know that God is watching our Lenten observance.” He turned in Sam’s direction. “Some more than others.”
On the walkway outside the church, Tim reached to shake Sam’s outstretched hand. A beep followed by a motor roaring to life, interrupted this meeting of saint and sinner. Tim stared at his hand holding Sam’s car keys. “Sorry, Padre. Just starting the old jalopy,” he said, while pulling the keys from his hand.
Lana’s handshake took longer. “Sorry, Father. This lug means well, he’s just...you know…”
Tim smiled. “He’s just Sam.”
Good Friday morning. Sam looked over their provisions. “We have Peeps, Cadbury eggs, speckled eggs, Hershey bars, and jelly beans. Are we missing anything?”
Lana put down her Harlequin and studied the assortment. “No, you have it all, Sam. Remember, it’s Good Friday. Today’s a fast day and there’s still two days of Lent.”
“Spoil sport! I know it’s not Easter yet. I just wanted to get into the holiday spirit.”
She put down her book and closed her eyes. After a deep breath, she responded, “Remember that we’re going to the 3:30 service. Keep your mitts away from the goodies.”
Good Friday afternoon. Sam raced into the parking lot, flinging soil onto Father Tim’s pant legs as he planted tulips. Tim looked up as Achy Breaky Heart blared from a car radio. Sam waved. “Padre, how goes it?”
“Redman. What the f…” He swallowed the remainder of the word as he saw Lana. “Have a blessed day, you two.”
They found a parking spot and followed the crowd into the church. Father Wally nodded as they walked in. “Oh, good. We have Wally today. Tim can really make you doze off,” said Sam as they found a pew.
The service recounted the Passion and Death of Christ. At the conclusion, Father Wally announced that confessions would be held for those wishing to unburden. Priests would be stationed throughout the church. Sam stood to leave but Lana pulled him back. “We’re doing this, Sam. One last act of humility before Easter.’’
Sam scanned the terrain and saw lines forming at three confessionals. “I just need the Express lane. Oh, there’s a short line,” he said, smiling at Lana. “Must be five sins or less.”
He hurried to the line, cutting off a woman who then had to steady herself by grasping a pew.
When his time came, he entered the small room, mumbled a fervent “Bless me, Father,” and looked up to see Father Tim smiling from his chair.
“Sam Redman. This should be good,” he said. He kissed his reconciliation stole and sat back. “Lay it on me, Sam.”
Lana looked over Tim’s plantings outside the church. Sam emerged, limping with symmetric sweat stains under his arms. “Sam, I was worried. I’ve been out here for an hour. Ours is the only car still in the lot.”
“Man, Tim gave me the third degree. I was Ok on the ten commandments, but then he hit me with the seven deadly sins. He gave me a penance of fifty Our Fathers, and fifty Hail Marys. My knees really ache.”
Lana smiled. “And what have we learned from this?”
He grimaced as he saw Tim leave the church and wave. He tipped his hat to Lana who returned a thumbs up. “Don’t screw with a man of the cloth,” Sam responded. “Especially during holy season.”
Easter morning. Birds chirping, sun shining, the smell of French Roast. Sam bit into a yellow and brown morsel, sat back, head tilted towards the ceiling, and emitted a long ”aaaaahhhhh.” On his plate lay a further assortment in a semi-circle.
“Sam, what’s that you’re eating?” Lana said as she entered the dining room.
“Morning, Lana.” He held up his creation. “It’s pieces of Hershey bar between Yellow Peeps.” He smiled, showing marshmallow and chocolate between his incisors.
Lana poured a cup of coffee, sat next to her husband, and eyed the menagerie. She picked one up, smelled the combination of yellow fluff and milk chocolate, shrugged and bit in. She nodded. “You’re right, Sam. It is pretty good.”
“You should try the chocolate bunny with orange marmalade.”
Lana looked up at Sam’s Tasmanian Devil clock above the counter. “We have to get ready for church. Hose off, Sam, and meet me down here in thirty minutes.” He saluted, grabbed a few jelly beans and ran upstairs.
Every pew was taken that Easter morning. CAPE Catholics, those who attend only on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter, filled the church beyond the normal Sunday crowd.
Sam and Lana rushed in just as Father Tim turned to walk up the aisle. “Hold on,” called out Sam. Tim turned and frowned.
“Father Tim, Happy Easter.”
“Redmannnnnnnn.” The priest took a deep breath. “Please take a seat with your wife. We’ll wait.”
Sam nodded and shooed a couple into the middle of the back pew. Lana nodded to Tim as she walked by.
After the Mass, Tim stood at the podium. “This is the day the Lord has made. Enjoy the fine weather and the company of those dear to you.” He walked down the aisle, nodding to families as he walked past. Lana smiled. Sam reached into his pocket.
Tim stood at the entrance, talking to parishioners as they stopped to greet him. Sam and Lana approached, arguing. Sam broke away from Lana, stepped forward and offered his hand. “No hard feelings, Padre. I know I can be a real pain sometimes.”
He took Sam’s hand and felt a molten object wrapped in foil. “It’s a Cadbury Egg, Father. Happy Easter.”
Tim eyed the cream-filled sign of spring, shrugged, removed the metal foil, and took a large bite. The fondant filling dripped onto his chin. “My Lord, that’s good,” he said as he wiped his now chocolate lips. Those close by cheered. “Have a blessed Easter, Redman…Sam. And you too, Lana.”
Sam grinned as he walked towards the car. “You see, Lana. If you’re nice to someone, they’re nice back.” He looked at the line of departing cars. “Now, let’s get out of here before the Five Star Diner fills up.”