March 27, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Faith teaches we can rely on Christ’s promise in Easter

Cynthia DewesThe first time I laid eyes on Marcella O’Connor, we were 5-year-old kindergartners at Wayzata Public School.

I admired her because I thought she was pretty in what I later came to know as an Irish way. She had fair skin sprinkled with freckles, a pert little nose, steady blue-gray eyes, and black hair fashioned in Shirley Temple curls and topped with a big bow.

And she was funny. Almost every day, she told us stories about what her several older brothers were up to, all of it no good, and the incendiary reactions of her parents.

This really impressed me as an only child, and shocked me a bit too, since Marcie and I were both “goody two-shoes” girls. She had an infectious laugh, and was a magnet for boys and girls alike because she was always cheerful.

When you attend one school for 13 years, as I did, your classmates become like your family. I may have been an only child, but I had several brother and sister classmates whom I knew as well as any blood kin, and Marcie was certainly as dear to me as a sister. We skipped rope, sledded down schoolhouse hill, whispered confidences and giggled from the primary grades through high school.

Marcie’s dad was a working man struggling through the Great Depression with a large family to feed. The family lived in a small house in an unfashionable section of town, but Marcie had her own tiny bedroom in which we’d have occasional sleepovers. We’d hear the naughty brothers thumping and wrestling in their room until finally their mom would drive them outdoors.

When you knew Marcie’s mom, you knew where the humor came from. She was funny as well as wise and long-suffering. She never sat down until the kitchen was clean, everyone was in bed and prayers were said because the O’Connors were faithful Catholics.

The first time that I set foot in a Catholic church was to attend the funeral of Marcie’s father, who died when we were about 12. As I sat in the church balcony, a Protestant trying to keep up as people rose, knelt, genuflected and recited Latin responses, I was impressed with the faith displayed in the church. It was so sad, but the certainty of resurrection was almost palpable.

In high school, Marcie dated a “new” boy who was good-looking and charming. We all adored him, too, and voted them “cutest couple” in the class. They were married after graduation, and he entered the Air Force. Later, not able to have their own kids, they adopted two children.

Mr. Charming turned out to be an abusive alcoholic and, after years of trying to hold her marriage together and keep the children safe, Marcie divorced him. But not before continually asking help from Church leaders. Their response was always something like “hope and pray,” which she found unhelpful.

Marcie, the good Irish Catholic girl, finally left the Church and raised her kids by herself. Later, she married a kind

non-Catholic who adored her, and then life improved until she began to suffer from dementia. Her husband still brought her to our school reunions and, though she wasn’t sure who we all were, she understood that we loved her.

Marcie was a good and faithful woman who felt let down by her husband and by people in her church, but not by God, as we know from Christ’s promise in Easter.

Now that she has passed away, with that in mind, I hope and pray that I will see her again one day in glory.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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