“A terrible quiet fell on the thousands gathered at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican today…a shocked quiet,” said reporter Dan Rather on CBS News on May 13, 1981.
On that day, a Turkish man who had escaped from prison, made an assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II. The Pope, openly traveling amongst the crowd, blessed bystanders and kissed children. Suddenly, the cameras caught the Pope doubled over in the seat of his touring vehicle, held by his servicemen. Instantly a procession of servicemen broke trail through the crowd as the vehicle made a hasty retreat for medical help.
The reported “shocked quiet” wound like a heartless serpent through the crowd as the realization took hold and brought the crowd to stares and tears.
The television in my parent’s home roared with Dan Rather’s report. The sad news slowly sunk into the hearts and lives of my mother and father, both in their mid-seventies.
Mother sat on the couch in the living room, her control center, with the remote in hand, watching the news intently as the story unfolded. Ever conscious of Dad’s hearing impairment and subsequent disgust with wearing a hearing aid, she made sure the volume was loud. The volume of their shared programming kept anyone walking down the street fully apprised of their viewing preferences.
Dad sat at his control center, the end of the kitchen table, on a kitchen chair customized with a well-secured cushion. His latest Louis L’Amour rested word-side down on the table as he turned in his chair to better hear the morbid details.
“Well, I’ll be gawd-damned,” he said, shaking his head. “The world’s really gone nuts now. Who the hell would want to shoot a Pope?”
“Ssssht. Quiet,” Mom said, as if there was a chance that Dad could drown out the booming television reports.
Listening to the end of the news on the car radio, I drove into their driveway. As I opened the front door, Mom lowered the volume and said, “I suppose you heard the news.” I waved at Dad who was caught my arrival out of the corner of his eye.
“Yeah. What a disaster. Hope it’s true that they caught the guy.”
“Sounds like it, ” Mom said.
“Amy! Come in here and have a seat.” Whenever Dad invited anyone to sit at the kitchen table with him, we knew he wanted to discuss something serious.
“Oh oh. Is something happening?” I asked Mom in case she could give me a chance to prepare myself.
“I have no idea,” she said. “We’ve just been watching the news.”
I went to the kitchen and took the proffered chair. I disliked shouting through a conversation with my father, but I had no choice. I raised my voice and said, “Hi Dad! What’s up?”
“Well, I have a question. When did the Catholic church change the name of those young boys?”
“What? What young boys?” I said.
“You know. The young kids who work with the Catholic priests,” he said with a bit of impatience.
“Work with the priests? Where? At monasteries?” I was hoping we were not heading for a subject that could have him raging about the government, the church or some other aspect of “them”.
“No! I’m talking about those young guys that you see helping the Catholic priest with wine and stuff during the church service.”
“Altar boys?” I asked.
“Yeah! Why did they change their names?”
“They haven’t. They’re still called altar boys as far as I know.”
“Nope. They changed their names. I heard it,” he said with a twinge of smugness. I grew suspicious that Dad may have been harbouring an old resentment that few of the family members knew about.
Many years before, Dad told me that his father once walked into a convent and kidnapped his sister who was a nun. Grandpa and his brothers had learned their sister was very ill. When they approached the Mother Superior, she insisted that Grandpa’s sister did not need medical attention. The Sisters were praying for her and that was sufficient for any and all Sisters. Grandpa said, “Well, not for our sister.” He wrapped her up, her brothers put her in a wagon and brought her home where she eventually recovered. She never returned to the convent. The family would not enter a Catholic church again.
I didn’t detect any signs of dire negativity. ” You heard it? What did you hear them called?” I asked.
“Bartenders?” I laughed. “When did you hear them called that?”
“When the Pope got shot. I heard it. The announcer said that the Pope got shot along with a couple of bartenders.”
I was dumbfounded.
After Mother’s laughter from the living-room subsided, she clarified, “Bystanders, Bill, you silly man! The Pope was shot along with a couple of bystanders!”
Our “shocked quiet” quickly transformed into a triad of hilarity. I have no doubt that Pope John Paul II would forgive us.
It’s great to finally write a story about my father, Guides. However, this story does not portray the dignity that he lived. In fact, I think that he had quite a struggle with the indignities of old age.
Your father gave you a consistent and reliable base of safety, security and wholesomeness. He taught you to respect all of nature. He especially emphasized that you treat animals in the manner in which you wanted to be treated.
I remember one time being really upset with our dog Scamp. Although the dog always went with my brother or me, one day I wanted him to stay home. He kept following me. So I took him home by the ear since he never wore a collar. Scamp was yelping as we approached the house. My father came out and gave me a good talking to, asking how I would like him to take me by the ear. I laughed. He would not let me leave until I considered his question seriously and answered him with compunction.
Your father’s respect for all living creatures showed in his hands. His large hands ministered to all babies, human and otherwise with the tenderness of a deeply loving father. Though his hands were large, his gentleness calmed all living beings into a state of trust. He told you many stories about horses. There were times when horses who had learned to distrust any human would allow your father to touch them and bring them to rest and reassurance.
I feel very proud of my Dad for that reason. He could fix anything. He could fix all sorts of equipment, machinery, plants, animals or people situations. He could fix my heart in seconds.
Your father demonstrated over and over again, that all people were worthy of respect unless they were harming some person, place or thing. He taught you that everyone has value. He also taught you about taking care of whatever is your responsibility.
I am grateful for many things my father taught me. Perhaps they will come out in story form.
We anticipate they will.