“As always, I have no idea what I’m doing, nor do I know why. But all of a sudden, all these memories are coming up. My father, the bomb shelter, the fire rope,and now my high school friend Joan. You don’t suppose the fall is causing some sort of frontal lobe epilepsy, do you?”
“No clue,” said Lady. “But anyway, why don’t you go with the flow? You’re writing again, at least….”
“It’s strange. One day I can write, and the next day, no. So I try to write, and it comes out sterile and boring. And if I’m bored, can you imagine the reader?”
“Well, who can be bored with a character like Mary Ann van Hoof,” said Lady. “And are you serious about this woman, Marc?”
“Well, you click on the link, and tell me if it’s true,” I told her. “Though I never really met her. Anyway, by the time I came along she was quite old, and quite feeble, and everything about the place seemed….well, as if it was just hanging on. I mean, you could tell that there had been a time when the furniture and the furnishing had been expensive. But by the early seventies, everything was old and dated and sort of seedy. Think a religious version of the Bates Motel. And the grounds, of course, were just plain crazy.”
“How so,” asked Lady.
“Well, the Blessed Mother, as they called van Hoof, had had all these visitations from the BVM. But canny woman that she was—or perhaps canny women that they were—and the BM and the BVM conflated patriotism with religion. So it turned out that the BVM had been helping George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. So to commemorate that, well, take a look….”
“Jesus, Marc,” said Lady, “that has to be the ugliest set of statues I’ve ever seen.”
“Artistic merit be damned,” I told her. “Can’t you see that it’s a teaching moment, this statue? And notice what country on the globe is right smack under the raised right hand of Jesus? Yes, the Blessed Mother and gotten the message: the BVM had been a good egg in the past, when things were righteous and on the up and up. But now, well, here’s a sample, lifted from the website:
Our Holy Mother often appeared to Mary Ann Van Hoof with the plea of “Wake Up America”. Holy Mother begs mankind to fight the evils that have crept into our country; and, to stand for the truth and love of God. Any change for the good of our Country can only come through prayer; a Constant Vigil of Prayer as she requested. So many evils and sins are being accepted in our laws, that this is no longer America the Beautiful. Can we truly ask of God to Bless America, if we don’t take a stand and fight?
“My goodness,” said Lady, “and when was all this decreed?”
“First in 1950,” I said. “But as things went to pot, the messages got increasingly strident. And guess what really got the Virgin going? Abortion, which even the pagans had not practiced.”
“So did anyone else hear the messages?”
“Well, no, but that was no problem, because the Blessed Mother had, so she was able to repeat everything the Virgin had told her? See?”
“Could this, by any chance, be the reason I have such a problem with religion,” asked Lady. “I mean, somehow this fails to impress, logically speaking….”
“I fear for your immortal soul,” I told her, “since anyone can see that we are, if anything, in even deeper trouble than we were in 1950. You would very likely not be among those appointed to board the spaceship with limited seating that will be sent to rescue the godly. Captain: Prince Joseph, with blue eyes and golden hair. Destination: Middle Earth.”
“You have got to be kidding. Anyway, you put your friend Joan into the hands of such loonies?”
“I didn’t,” I told her. “her mother did. Anyway, the Blessed Mother had started off legitimately enough, but then the Catholic Church got seriously peeved. There is something about seeing 100,000 people from forty states come to see the Virgin revealed, when your own parish churches are half-empty. Leaves a sour taste in the mouth….”
“So what happened?”
“Well, the church kept hoping that somehow, she’d go away. And so even though they said it was all hoooey from the get-go, they never took action. Sure, they said it was all bunkum, but it was her land. If she wanted to build shrines and put up statues, well, how could they stop her? A point she made quite frequently, by the way….”
“Well, by 1975, the church had finally had enough. And then, the bishop excommunicated and refused to give sacraments to anyone who, and I quote,
attended, participated, approved, associated with, contributed to, anything whatsoever associated with the Shrine at Necedah, whether pageants, prayer meetings, devotions, venerations, visits, meetings, classes, secret meetings, strategy meetings, seances, movies, books, or anything else, whether at the Shrine or away from it.
“Wow, what about passing it along the road,” asked Lady.
“Dicey ground, theologically, though I suppose if you didn’t look at it….”
“Well, I still don’t know how you could put a daughter into such hands,” said Lady.
“Look, it was a different time, then. First of all, this was absolutely the worst thing that could happen to a mother. And not only was her daughter’s life going to be ruined, but the whole family would be ruined. And not just by the wagging tongues, but right in the pocketbook, since would you want to put your life in the hands of a doctor whose daughter….”
“That’s how we thought back then. Though it was mostly the mother who got it. And so there was all this pressure, and every day that belly was getting just a bit bigger. And it was nicely out of town—Necedah is 100 miles or so away from Madison. And it had, somehow, still managed to be seen as a Catholic institution. So she sent me off to shepherd Joan into the orphanage, and that’s what I did.”
“But that poor girl,” cried Lady. “So the mother ditches her and leaves her in the hands of those lunatics?”
“Yes,” I told her. “And there was something else operating, though I didn’t know it at the time. But I’ve forgotten it now. I mean, I knew it at the time, I guess, but it’s all so long gone. Or have I imagined it? Whatever—it’s probably not important, since I don’t remember it, anyway.”
“There’s got to be something else,” said Lady fiercely. “No mother, not even in the 1970’s, would give up her daughter and grandchild just like that!”
“Yeah?” I asked her. “Then what about my two nieces, who were adopted by my brother from women in essentially the same circumstances, and in those years? Yes, there was a sexual revolution in the 60’s, but a lot of the country was untouched by it. And the old morality was still pretty fierce….”
“Well, I want to know what it is,” Lady said. “Think, Marc, you must know….”