I remember waking in the middle of the night, the house full of strange and scary noises. Flashing red lights streaked across the ceiling as people ran up the stairs, something heavy clunking along behind them.
“Daddy, what’s going on?” I called.
“Go back to bed,” he told me, his voice sounding high and tight, squeaky with fear.
“But I have to pee,” I protested. It was a lie but forgivable under the circumstances, I thought.
“Not now! Get back in bed before I swat your behind.”
That was all I needed to hear. My parents weren’t hitters so if they mentioned a swat, you had better behave because they meant business.
I went, convinced I wouldn’t be able to sleep but the next thing I knew it was morning. This time my bladder really did insist there would be no waiting. I ran to the bathroom, arriving just as the door closed behind my little brother.
Hurry up!” I called through the door, hopping from foot to foot and humming my pee holding song. In a house full of people and only one bathroom, you had to have some way of holding it. I had my song. It soothed me, for a while anyway. Things were just getting critical when the door swung open and he stepped aside to let me in.
“Did you hear the news?” he asked over the sound of water running in the sink. (You have to do that so people don’t hear you whizzing).
“What happened?” I answered as the pressure on my bladder eased in a most satisfying way.
“Mom’s in the hospital. Nana and Grandpa are coming to stay.”
So that’s what the commotion was about last night. An ambulance had come and taken mom to the hospital.
No one would tell me what was wrong with her. The grown-ups just whispered among themselves and shook their heads in sorrowful concern all the time. Whenever I came into the room they would tip their heads and ask, “What is it, dear?” but they never answered my questions.
I was too big to let on that it’s very scary to have your mother disappear in the night and then have to wonder if she is ever coming back. I decided to pray for a miracle.
It was easy, or so I thought. We went to the catholic school across the street and the nuns were so keen on church going that we had to go to mass every day before lunch. That way your breakfast was digested and you hadn’t had lunch yet so no food would get mixed up with Jesus when the communion wafer went down your pipes.
I figured if I had to go and I had to kneel for all that time I would offer up my discomfort for the healing of my mom. In addition to her sickness, there were other problems too. I could only eat so much of Nana’s tasteless cooking and with Grandpa scowling all the time the house was so quiet it was spooky.
Up front, to the left of the altar, was a statue of St. Theresa, the Little Flower. I decided I would pray to her first and have her ask God to make my mother better. Since she was already a saint and I had strong reason to believe I would never pass that particular test, God would probably listen to her faster than He would listen to me. She was going to be my patron saint once I got old enough for confirmation so I figured she would be willing to help.
The sisters told us that if you pray hard enough and with true humility, God will answer your prayers. I just wasn’t quite sure what ‘hard enough’ was and humility always had a way of escaping me, but I resolved to try my best.
I gave my full attention to my praying that day. Except that I still had to keep an eye on the mass well enough to know when to stand and when to kneel. A rap on the knuckles with a ruler would tear my attention away from my prayers for quite some time and mess up my plan for sure.
I thought I prayed pretty good and I kept watching for some signal that she heard me. I thought she might give me a little wave or maybe a wink to let me know all would be well but even after a very long time of intense praying nothing happened.
I need to concentrate more, I thought. So I squinted my eyes up real tight and stared at her, figuring that maybe I was expecting too much in the line of signals and perhaps a minor flutter of her sculpted robe might be more in line with what God had in store for me.
Nothing happened. Not even when mass was almost over and my eyes were burning from the strain of all that squinting. I went to communion with all the other girls, and about half the boys, as usual, hoping the piece of candy Mary Alice gave me at recess had left my stomach before God arrived. If it hadn’t, I hoped He liked spearmint and that He wouldn’t hold it against me when it came to listening to my prayers.
After supper I kept Nana company on her walk to the hospital. Even though I was never allowed up to her room, I liked sitting in the lobby reading, knowing Mom was so close by. This time I asked Nana to take her a note.
“What’s this?” she asked, when I gave her the folded slip of paper and asked her to pass it to Mom.
“I miss her,” I answered, unexpected tears filling my eyes.
“Of course you do,” she hugged me, almost smothering me in her squishy Shalimar scented bosom. “But you can’t upset your mom when she’s trying to get better. Maybe I should read this and make sure it’s appropriate.”
“OK,” I agreed, “but don’t get mad if I spelled something wrong. I wrote it in a hurry and it’s a little messy, some tears fell on it and smudged it some.”
Nana read it pretty fast, and she didn’t say anything about misspelled words but her eyes did get big at one part just before she folded it back up and said, “This is fine just the way it is,” and got on the elevator to the third floor where all the sick women stayed.
Nana didn’t say much on the long walk home so I kept quiet too, using the time to ask God to please to listen to a message from St. Theresa that should be coming through soon.
The next morning Mother Superior sent a note to my classroom, instructing me to gather my books and to report to the office immediately. I was thinking it must be spearmint and God in my stomach at the same time that was getting me into trouble and wondering how she knew about that when I walked into her office.
“I am sorry to hear that your mother has been ill,” she spoke as I slipped quietly into the room.
”Thank you, Sister,” I whispered back, frightened to see my father sitting in the chair across from her.
“You should have told us,” she scolded. “We would have included her in our evening prayers.”
“I’m sorry sister.”
“I understand you prayed for her,” she offered, her face softening a bit.
”Yes,” I told her. “I prayed for a miracle but I guess I didn’t pray good enough. But I’m going to pray some more. I promised I would.”
Now my father was smiling at me too.
“I’m glad you plan to keep praying,” sister told me, coming out from behind her desk and putting her hand on my shoulder. “I hope that sometimes you will say a little prayer for me as well, but now it’s time to go home. Your mother is waiting, she wants to see you.”
Many years later I found that faded, tear stained note tucked into the pages of the family bible along with a mass card bearing a picture of St. Theresa my mother had given to me at my confirmation.
Please get better. We miss you, even the cat that you don’t like too much. I prayed for a miracle but St. Theresa didn’t move a bit. Please come home anyway. I told her I will pray a lot more to make up for not having enough humility yet.
PS: Nana needs some cooking lessons.
When I arrived home that day Mom held me close and explained that she had nearly died from a ruptured ulcer the night the ambulance came, her rapid recovery a miracle, according to her doctors. I guess Jesus doesn’t mind a little spearmint after all.