I am consumed with Looking for Mary: Or, The Blessed Mother and Me by Beverly Donofrio. It is absolutely fascinating. I promise this is not a religious blog, but you've caught me at a religiously-interested moment.
I converted to Catholicism when Al and I got married. Women on my mother's side of the family were Catholic, so it was an easy decision. Then again, my dad has a habit of referring to Mary as the "hoo ha" lady and to the rosary as "clickey beads." Clickey beads is self-explanatory, but the "hoo ha" is for the Mary statues you see in people's yards, with her arms held low and open, palms up, as though she were rotating from side to side saying "hoo ha! hoo ha!" Picture Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, though she's been the "hoo ha" lady for long before that. I guess you could say I did have a few preconceived Catholic notions to overcome.
Nevertheless, Al's mom is very Catholic, particularly involved in the church and teaches at the Catholic school. I think part of me was expecting to become that kind of Catholic (not devout, but certainly active), yet I failed to realize that I was marrying the son, not the mother. Al is not exactly a practicing Catholic. He can barely answer my Catholic questions and he went to Catholic school his whole life. As a result, we haven't loaded the boys up every Sunday and hauled them off to mass.
In recent years, I inherited some beautiful Catholic icons from my female relatives. I began to collect a few pieces on my own, as well. Not until I became Catholic did I feel comfortable having statues in my own home, but my converting seemed to translate into permission to begin displaying my faith. Like I wasn't a poser anymore. One such piece I bought myself was a simple vintage porcelain bust of Mary, bought at a little store in the French Quarter. I am only drawn to a very particular type of Mary, and this was one such face. I adored her.
Of course, you know what's coming... the hurricane destroyed them all. All of the statues. All of the rosaries. Everything from my grandmothers, my great-aunts, my aunts, my great-grandmothers... all of it.
Or so we thought.
Al went to our slab one day shortly after the storm and came back with all that he could find that was ours. It could fit in an Easter basket, so little was to be found. But what was found was remarkable:
- one tea cup from my grandmother's china she left me
- one wooden train engine from Pants's room
- one family heirloom iron rabbit given to us as a wedding gift
- one plaster cross I had hung in every home since college
- three rosaries
...and the porcelain bust of Mary. She didn't have a scratch on her. The most delicate porcelain Blessed Mother, displayed on a shelf on a wall on the ground floor at the rear of the building. At least four other buildings had to have crashed into ours before it began to fall. The upstairs collapsed into our living room where she looked over us each day from her wall as we played on the floor with Pants as a not-yet-one-year-old baby. The waves pounded the debris into pulp for hours before it finally wiped the slab clean.
Yet there she was. Looking as untouched as ever. Waiting patiently for us at the edges of our slab. As though she knew her children would come back for her.
Our Lady of the Slab.
Since then, I have thought of beginning to rebuild my Mary collection. I just didn't know where to start. I particularly missed the Kitchen Madonna my great-aunt Ina left me. But where was I going to find one and when I did, would it feel remotely the same? After a while, I just stopped thinking about it.
Then I found this book. I've always had a little trouble making sense of the Mary fixation of the Catholic religion. I've come close to grasping it occasionally, but then it slips away. A friend of Al's mother's gave me a copy of Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen to read once and it certainly brought me closer. This book, however, has lifted that veil of mystery more than any other. I feel like I get it now. Hell, I've even begun saying Hail Mary's this week. Never said one in my life. Amazing what a book can do, huh?
So naturally, my Mary hunt has begun again. My pursuit of Our Lady. I told you it was coming.
But she is an elusive lady, let me tell you. I'll share some of my search with you later.