It seemed to me that I had just dozed off, when the alarm yanked me out of a wonderful dream about Mike and me on a tropical island. I reached over and turned it off. When I peered at it through half-open eyes, it brought me fully awake. 5:00! Why did Mike set the alarm for that ungodly hour?
As I dragged myself up to sit on the side of the bed, Mike came out of the bathroom, all dressed in a dark suit. "Good morning, sunshine! I figured I wouldn't wake you any earlier than I had to. But we've got to get a move on; we're going to seven o'clock Mass."
I was still foggy, and none of this was making any sense to me at all. Why was Mike all dressed up, and why were we going to church at such an early hour? I looked at him through bleary eyes, and he just grinned at me. "You see what you Protestants miss? The chance to get an early start on being good!"
I couldn't talk straight, so I heaved up off the bed and staggered into the bathroom. When I had finished the shave and shower and came back to the bedroom, Mike had laid out my best dark suit on the bed. I mumbled something that was supposed to convey my thanks, but I doubt seriously that he understood a word of it. I was really looking forward to a couple of cups of coffee to get me ready for this!
I got dressed and went to the kitchen. Mike was standing by the sink with a cup of coffee in his hand. "I'm breaking the rules, having coffee before we go, but it's OK, because I won't be taking communion. I didn't go to confession last night." My Protestant upbringing had not prepared me to translate that into anything that made the slightest bit of sense, so I just looked at him.
"We're supposed to go, fasting—nothing to eat or drink until after communion—and then we'll go to Mom and Dad's house for breakfast afterward." Well, that sort of explained something, but I wasn't sure what it explained. He poured me a cup of coffee, and we sat down at the table. I was concerned for him; I knew he had been hurting bad, when we got home from his folks' house last night. Annie seemed a little better after our talk, but Mike didn't want to talk about anything. He just seemed to pull himself into a shell, so I had left him alone. I was just there, ready to do anything I could to help him, but I didn't know what to do or even where to start.
We went to bed early. Nobody was in the mood for TV, music, or conversation. When we got into bed, Mike pulled me close to him and just held me. I wrapped my arms around him and we drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.
I tried to observe him without being obvious about it. I was getting better at reading his moods, but this was something totally different from anything we had experienced before. Death is a physical presence in a house, and it casts a shadow over everything and everyone. I couldn't shield him from it, but I would be there, whenever he needed me.
We finished our coffee and got ready to leave. Annie came downstairs in a black dress I remembered from her days as Paul's wife. It was a cocktail dress, very plain. She had always worn it with a heavy gold chain necklace and matching bracelets. She wasn't wearing the jewelry today, and it made the dress seem stark. She had on a small round hat that sat on the back of her head; its veil came forward to cover her forehead. I suddenly realized I had never seen Annie wearing a hat. She noticed me staring at it.
"Mom loaned me the hat. I don't own one, and she said I needed it to wear for the Mass."
"Oh." There didn't seem to be anything else to say. We went out and got in the car. There was no conversation on the way to the Dorczek house. When we got there, Milo's car was already there, so we parked and hurried into the house. The whole family was standing around in the kitchen. Tom looked at the clock.
"Maybe we'd better get going. I don't want to get there late, so we can't find a place where we can all sit together."
We took all three cars, and found when we got to the church that we had to park around the corner and down the street. I was amazed. So many people out for a church service at this hour of the morning!
We went inside and found seats together. Jody wanted to sit on her mother's lap, and, of course, Peter wanted to sit on Uncle Mikey's lap. Terry snuggled down between Annie and me and held hands with both of us. Mom, who was in the row ahead of us, turned to see where Terry was. She smiled and nodded her approval.
I had no idea what was going on, as the processional began, the altar boys with their censers and their candles, then the priest in his richly colored robes—it was like waking up in a new country and not knowing how I got there.
As the service was about to begin, the priest stepped forward on the platform. "There are a couple of changes in the Order of the Mass this morning. This is a requiem Mass, in honor of Stanislaus Dorczek, who passed on to his heavenly reward yesterday morning." I could hear gasps and whispers all around us. The priest continued, "Mr. Dorczek was a long-time communicant of our church, a true friend to many of you, and a loyal and generous supporter of our church. As many of you know, he came to this country from Czechoslovakia in the early part of the twentieth century. He was of the "old school" of the church. Only some of you who are as old as I am will probably remember the Mass being spoken in Latin, as it had been for hundreds of years, since the founding of our Church. When the decision was made to offer the Mass in the language of the people, it made some angry, because it went against the traditions they knew, but I think we have all accepted the English Mass now. Today, however, in honor of our departed brother, Stanislaus Dorczek, the Mass will be offered in Latin."
There was more whispering around us, and as I looked around, I was amazed at the number of men and women nodding, as tears ran down their cheeks. It seemed that Grandfather had been a popular and well-loved member of the community. The priest spoke up again. "The funeral will be held at the Matychak Funeral Home tomorrow at ten a.m., for those who may wish to attend." He stepped back and began the service. I had no idea what was going on or what was expected of me, so I simply followed Mike's example. He was sitting on my other side, and he prompted me to stand, kneel and sit at the proper times.
I had never attended a Catholic Mass before, but I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the majesty of the ancient service intoned in a language spoken in most of the known world centuries before America was discovered. Mike reached over and took my free hand, and we looked at each other. Both of us had tears in our eyes.
When people started lining up to go forward and receive communion, Trisha gently pushed Jody into the seat next to Annie and joined Milo, Mom and Dad. There was a long line, and the organ played softly, as people moved forward and received the little wafers on their tongues. The kids were beginning to get a little restless, as the line went on and on, so Annie leaned over and whispered to Mike, "Would it be all right, if we take the kids outside?" He nodded, and we all stood and slipped out, as quietly as we could. Annie waved to Mom, who was just returning to her seat. She looked over at us, smiled and nodded.
Out on the street, Mike took Peter and Jody by the hand. "Let's see who's the fastest here! I'll race you guys to the corner and back." They were practically jumping up and down with excitement. "Ready? Go!" It was really funny to see big Mike, with his long legs, trying to keep his pace down to that of the little ones. He almost looked as if he were running in place, but the kids were having a wonderful time! They raced up to the corner and back. When they approached us, Mike called, "Hey, you lazy guys! Come on and join us!" They continued down the street in the other direction. By the time they got back to us, both kids were winded and even Mike was panting a little. They sat down on the steps of the church to catch their breath.
Terry pulled at my hand. "Uncle Davie, could I talk to you a minute?"
"Sure, sweetheart, any time!"
"Aunt Annie, will you be mad if I go and talk to Uncle Davie instead of you?
"No, honey, you just go ahead. I'm sure Uncle Davie will have better answers to your questions than I would."
We walked slowly down the street until we were just out of earshot of the others, and she clutched my hand and pulled me down so I could look her in the face. Her expression was full of confusion and pain.
"What's wrong, sweetheart? You can tell Uncle Davie, can't you?"
She started to cry. "Uncle Davie, I know what the word 'funeral' means. Are they having a funeral for Grandfather? Is that why everyone has been so sad at home? Is that why Daddy cried all evening last night?"
I pulled her into a hug. "Oh, sweetheart, we didn't want to scare you or make you sad, but, yes, Grandfather has gone to be with the angels, and we won't be seeing him any more."
"I'm not scared, but I'm sad that he's gone away. I love Grandfather, and I'm going to miss him a lot. Why did he have to go away and leave us?"
"Sweetheart, Grandfather was old, and he was very tired. And he missed Grandma Ana so much. She went to be with the angels a lot of years ago, and he was sad without her. Now they're together, and they can help the angels watch out for our family."
"Will he be happy now?"
"Oh, yes! Now that he's with Grandma Ana again, he's very happy, and they'll both be watching you and Jody and Peter—and your two new brothers or sisters—growing up. And you can talk to them, too. You can tell them that you love them and that you miss them. They won't be able to answer you so that you can hear them, but they'll hear you, and that will make them even happier."
"Do you mean, like saying my prayers?"
"Yep, just the same, except that you'll be talking to Grandfather and Grandma Ana instead of to God. And you can tell them secrets that you don't dare tell anyone else. They'll never tell on you."
She gave me a little smile through her tears. Then she hugged me.
"Thank you, Uncle Davie! I asked Mommy last night why Daddy was crying, and she wouldn't tell me. I knew there was something wrong, but I guess grownups don't think kids understand things."
"Well, then the grownups are wrong, especially with smart kids like you. Are you OK, now, sweetie? Do you have any other questions?"
"No. Now that I know why everybody is acting so funny, and why they're all so sad. But, I guess I'm happy for Grandfather. It's awful to be alone for so long, and now he's got Grandma Ana back, and they can help the angels watch out for our family." She grinned. "And Peter needs a lot of watching!"
I gave her a big hug. "I'll just bet he does!" She wiped her eyes on her sleeve, and, hand in hand, we walked back to join the others on the church steps. Mass was apparently over; people were coming out of the church in groups. I saw Mom and Tom at the top of the steps just outside the church doors. They were surrounded by friends offering their condolences. I looked over at Mike.
"Do you think we should get the kids back to the cars before the whole bunch gets out on the street?"
"Good thought! Come on, Munchkins!" He took Jody and Peter by the hand and started down the street. Terry managed to get between Annie and me and she held our hands as we walked back to the cars. When we got there, we still had quite a wait before we saw Mom and Tom, Milo and Trisha come around the corner. As they approached us, Mom called out, "All of you are coming to the house for breakfast!" When she got closer, she noticed Terry still clinging to our hands. She smiled. "So you like your Aunt Annie and Uncle Davie a little, do you?"
Terry grinned at her. "I sure do! I'm so glad that Uncle Mike found them for us!"
"Me, too, sweetie, me, too!" Mom reached out and patted Annie's cheek. "You are coming for breakfast, aren't you? I could use a little help from you and Trisha."
"We'll be there, Mom."
Mike decided to take a shortcut back to the house, and he got caught in construction. Annie was enjoying his frustration much too much. He finally turned and growled at her, "Do you want to drive?"
"Sure! I couldn't get us any more lost than we are now."
Mike pulled over to the curb and got out of the car. "You're on, Missy! Let's see you do better!"
Annie got out of the car, and they swapped places. I was a little concerned. We were in a section of town that I was unfamiliar with, and I didn't think Annie would know it any better. But the gauntlet had been thrown down; Mike had challenged her, and I knew my big sister. I slipped down in my seat and tried to look invisible.
Annie adjusted the rear-view mirror and pulled out into the street. Guided by the workers, she threaded her way through the construction, and turned right at the next corner. In less than two minutes we were pulling up in front of the Dorczek house. I didn't look behind me; I could hear Mike's teeth grating. Annie parked the car, handed Mike the keys, and got out. She had a smug grin on her face. "We're home, now, sir!"
Mike growled something that I couldn't understand and really didn't want to ask about. He got out, slammed the car door and stomped up the walk to the house. Annie was ahead of him, with a definite lilt and swing to her walk. We had almost reached the house when Milo's family arrived. Trisha hopped out of the car and quickly caught up with me, while Milo got the kids out of the back seat. She grabbed me in a big hug, kissed me on the cheek and began to cry.
"Oh, Davie, I can't thank you enough!"
"For what? What did I do?"
"Terry was telling us on the way over here what you told her about Grandfather. She's accepted his death, and she's looking forward to being able to talk to him and Grandma Ana. Oh, Davie, I knew that she knew something was going on, and I wanted to explain it to her, but I didn't know what to say. I was afraid I'd traumatize her. And Milo was no help. He was so destroyed by Grandfather's death that he just couldn't cope with anything. I don't know how we would have managed it, if you hadn't talked to her and made her understand and accept it." She kissed me again on the cheek and hurried into the house.
The kids came running up the walk. "Hi, Uncle Davie! Are you going to eat breakfast with us?" Terry ran up to me and gave me a big hug. "I love you, Uncle Davie!"
I hugged her. "I love you, too, Sweetheart. Aunt Annie's in the house, and I'll bet she could use one of those nice hugs." She gave me a big grin and hurried up the steps. Jody and Peter followed her, and they disappeared into the house.
Milo approached, almost shyly. He seemed a little more in control than he had been before. He held out his hand and I shook it; then he grabbed me in a big bear hug. "Why weren't you there to tell me about Grandfather, instead of Mom and Dad. They tried to be gentle about it, but they might as well have hit me with a baseball bat. When Terry was telling us on the way here what you had said to her, I realized that she was right, that you're right. Grandfather isn't 'dead,' he's just gone away from us to be with Grandma, and he'll always be close, if we need to talk to him. Thanks, Davie. And I mean it. You've really helped me to put things in perspective." He gave me another hug and hurried up the steps and into the house.
I just stood there. What's going on here? How did I get to be counselor to the whole family? Why is everyone coming to me for the answers to their questions? But more important, why is Mike shutting me out? The one I most want to be there for, to help in any way I can, and he won't talk to me.
Suddenly a picture from the past flashed into my mind. Our family was sitting around the breakfast table. Annie was nine and I was seven. Mom and Dad were sitting across from us. They both had terribly sad expressions, and they had both been crying, but they smiled at us and reached across the table to take our hands.
They told us that Nonnie, our grandmother, had died. They were very sad, because she was gone and wouldn't be there to hug us and give us cookies and milk, but they told us that the angels needed Nonnie to bake cookies for the little angels, and that Gramps was there, so they were happy to be together again. We were both too young to remember Gramps; he was just a picture that sat on the table by Nonnie's bed. But she had told us about him, what a wonderful person he was, and we loved him in the abstract way that children can love.
We weren't allowed to go to the funeral. Mom and Dad said that it was better for us to remember her as she had always been for us than to have our final memories of someone who really wasn't Nonnie. Nonnie was happy now, and we should be happy for her. We stayed at a neighbor's house, while they went to the funeral, and gradually our life went back to normal.
Mike came out of the house, carrying two cups of coffee. Someone inside closed the door behind him, as he walked carefully to the top of the steps.
"Hey, Davie! I was wondering where you got to. I was afraid we'd lost you along the way. You want a cup of coffee?"
"You have to ask that?" I hurried up the steps; he handed me a cup of coffee and we sat down on the top step. It didn't occur to either of us that we were still dressed in our suits, and I don't think we would have cared, if it had. We sat, sipping our coffee and staring out across the lawn. Then Mike turned to me.
"Terry was telling Mom and Dad what you told her about Grandfather. You really do believe that, don't you? That's pretty much what you told me yesterday, and I guess I wasn't really listening. I'm having a problem, dealing with the big hole in my life where Grandfather was. I always felt that he liked Milo more than he liked me, and it hurt! I wanted him to like me, too. When Dad told him about me being gay, it was the first time I ever felt that he really liked me, too. We've always been a close family, and my folks seemed to accept me being gay, but you can't begin to know how scared I was, when it came time to introduce you to them. I didn't know how they would react. I guess I should have known, but I still felt like I needed to give them a big sales pitch to introduce you, so they could understand how I felt about you, and maybe they'd come to feel the same. But Grandfather! I still can't believe how he accepted you…and he hugged you! I was almost jealous for a minute! I couldn't remember the last time he hugged me! And Dad said the same thing later.
"Davie, I don't know if you realize it, but in this short time you have become a very important member of this family. Everyone loves you, and I mean everyone! And if you ever had any doubts about my love, forget them! You're the best thing that ever happened to me in my life!"
He set down his coffee cup and reached out to me. I set my cup down on the step beside me and snuggled into his warm hug. We just sat there for…minutes?…hours?…days? I was where I wanted to be, where I had always needed to be, wrapped in the arms of the most wonderful man in the world.
The kitchen door opened, and Annie snorted. "Would you two please get a room? You're really embarrassing!" She shut the door. Then she opened it again. "Oh, breakfast is ready." The door shut again, not quite a slam. Mike pulled back and looked at me with a big grin.
"Do you think she might be just the least bit jealous?"
I had to return the grin. "There's just the slightest possibility!" We picked up our coffee cups and went back into the house.
Mom was at the stove with a pancake turner in her hand. She had a big metal plate that covered all four burners, and it was covered with pancakes, big, fluffy ones.
"Go on in the dining room, boys; everything's on the table, and I'll be right in."
We went into the dining room where Tom and Milo were already seated at the table. The kids were sitting next to their Dad. Annie and Trisha were fixing plates for the kids. The table was loaded, as usual: stacks of pancakes, plates of sausage patties and bacon, along with fried ham slices, cut into serving sizes. There were muffins and sweet rolls, and fresh fruit cups at each place.
Mom called in from the kitchen, "Who's ready for eggs, and how do you want them?"
Mike called back to her, "Mom, there's already too much food here. Can we skip the eggs this morning?" Everyone at the table, including Terry, nodded in agreement. The little ones were too busy stuffing their faces to pay attention to what the grownups were talking about.
Mom came in and sat down next to Tom. "There's another plate of pancakes in the oven, when we need them." Trisha and Annie began passing dishes to her, so that she could eat. As the plates went by, the guys were helping themselves. Mom looked around the table and smiled.
"I thought the Mass was very nice this morning. It was a wonderful tribute to Father that the priest said Mass in Latin. Annie, have you ever been to a Catholic Mass before?"
"I've attended a few with friends, but this is the first time I've heard the Mass in Latin. They always used the English Mass."
Mom turned to me. "What did you think, Davie? This was the first time you attended a Mass, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was, and I have to tell you that I was impressed beyond belief. The power and majesty of the service, the color, the ritual! I sat there, realizing that this is the way it had been for hundreds of years, long before my church, or any other Protestant church existed. It just about blew me away!"
Tom looked up from his plate, where he was dissecting a ham slice, removing the little round bone. "I grew up in the Church, and I sort of took it for granted. I guess I was about your age, when it finally dawned on me that my Church has a history dating back to the first Christian century. And I'm a part of that history. Oh, there have been a lot of changes, just in my lifetime, but the core, the real meaning of the Church and its message to the people has never changed from the days of ancient Rome, when the Disciples preached there."
Mom nodded and added, "And our local Church here in town has been our spiritual home for our whole lives. Grandfather began attending when he first arrived in this country. My parents did the same. Tom and I grew up in this Church, and we've brought our children up there. It's a big part of our lives together."
She jumped up from the table. "Oh, I forgot! There are more pancakes in the oven, if anyone wants them, and I need to get the coffee cake in to warm up, so we can have it after breakfast. I baked it last night, but it won't be as good cold."
Annie spoke up, "Mom, couldn't you warm the coffee cake in the microwave? That would be quicker, and you could relax a minute. You've been on the go, since we got home from the Mass."
"You're right! I'm just going to sit here and enjoy my breakfast!" She sat back down, and we finished breakfast in peace. When everyone had eaten all they could hold, the ladies got up from the table and began clearing away the food and the dishes. Tom looked at the food that was left and shook his head.
"We can't even have breakfast without leftovers! And I'm not eating leftovers from breakfast! If you guys don't take this stuff home with you, it's going in the garbage can!" Mike looked at me, grinned and winked. I had a hard time, keeping from laughing. But I managed to keep a serious expression on my face.
Trisha, who was just gathering another load of dishes to take to the kitchen, spoke up, "I'm not ashamed to take leftovers. We can make up our breakfast plates and heat them in the microwave. They'll be just as good as fresh. And I'll be thanking you for saving us money on our grocery bill!"
Tom laughed. "Well, you're more than welcome! Now, if we can just get Annie married and with a houseful of kids, I won't have to eat leftovers at all!"
Annie walked into the room just in time to hear his last remark. "I'll tell you what; if you can make that miracle happen, I'll gladly take all the leftovers you want to send me!" Everyone was laughing now, and the mood in the dining room was definitely lighter.
Well, I was very pleased with this chapter. It was really sweet the way that Davie explained things so that the children could understand it, and he helped just about everyone in the family come to terms with their loss.
I want to point out something about kids. Children are a lot smarter than most adults give them credit for. Even young children can see that something is terribly wrong when a family is grieving the loss of a loved one. That is especially true when the children are close to the person that dies. The first thing the kids think of is that it might have somehow been their fault. Don't just try to ignore the situation; tell the kids the truth. Don't sugar coat it too much, and it will be a lot better for everyone.
Davie is a really good person and like so many people, he has no idea of how wonderful he actually is. He is so happy that Mike loves him, but he still hasn't really figured out that he is very much worth liking and loving. Everyone in Mike's family already love him and Annie. There is now a whole new family and they all love and cherish each other.
Of course there is still quite a bit of work to do to get all the loose ends tied up and get all the T's dotted and the I's crossed, things like reading the will and of course going through all the personal belongings and discovering some most interesting treasures. What will happen to Grandfather's house and any monetary sums that are to be divided, all the things that families have to deal with upon the death of a loved one.
Of course that is not the only thing happening in this wonderful story. Maybe by the next chapter or so, we will get to see what happens with that piece of scum that was Annie's husband. I want to see him squirm.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher