"Q and J, I told you, Grandma, those are your hints," Michael says while driving, his cadence crawling and intentional. He is really good when it comes to speaking to grandmothers, especially his own. I am sitting in the backseat buckled up in a seatbelt, watching the sky turn pink and blue over the Brooklyn Bridge. We're headed east on the BQE.
"Queens," she says. "I know we're going to Queens."
"Or maybe Quebec. We could be going to Quebec," I gibe. "Hope you packed a bag."
"No, no, no, Canada?" she says. "Why would we be going there?"
"I can tell you now, we're not going to Canada," Michael assures her before the confusion can settle in.
I know where Michael is taking her and, honestly, sitting backseat in the car has me feeling like a little kid being taken somewhere I don't really want to go. Especially on the weekend when I could be "hanging out with friends! just wanna hang out with my friends. ugh, you never let me hang out with my friends" - not stuck going to Saturday night mass in Ridgewood, Queens. Plus, when you're Jewish, it just feels unnatural. All those chimes. All that kneeling.
But Michael had tucked this surprise up his sleeve for a couple of weeks now, knowing full well how happy this bitter cold car ride to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Parish would make his grandmother. This was where Father Sansone had transferred to after eleven years at Sacred Hearts - St. Stephens. He left two Junes ago, and although the new priest was very nice, he was no Father Sansone. It was a simple act, but a grand gesture for Michael to conceive of reuniting his grandmother with her old priest. I would never have thought of it.
When we get to the church, and it dawns on her where she is, her face lights up like Christmas, an analogy that literally seems appropriate here. We slip into a pew, Michael between us, his grandmother's euphoria spilling out like fragrance, to the point that it starts to feel contagious and all of a sudden, I am excited we are here.
"Do you want me to switch seats with your grandma so she can see Sansone better when he walks by? They're walking now. I see them. See?" I say.
Michael laughs at me from under the whistles of the pipe organ because I sound ridiculous. "Yeah, I see them. No, you don't need to switch."
We stand, we sit, we kneel. In my head, I start the beginning of prayers, but never finish them. I look around at everyone else, in their winter coats and casual shoes, wondering if some of them left the house with a chicken in the oven. Honey, I'm going to mass. I'll be back in an hour. The timer's set for the chicken. Don't touch it."
When John and Anne renew their wedding vows after fifty years, I start to cry, I can't help it. They do it in front of family; they do it in front of Michael, his grandmother, and I. That is a long time to be married. That is a long time to know anybody. I've known Michael and his grandmother for five years. To think that one day I will know Michael ten times longer than that is scary because in fifty years it'll be 2063 and the peace, love, and happiness days will have been 100 years ago. In fifty years, will nights and memories like this one stand out? If I don't write about it, will it disappear?
Michael holds his grandmother's hand because he is not afraid to show love in that way. When it comes time to receive the host, he encourages her to walk up to the front and get it, even though I don't think you're supposed to skip the line. When she comes back, she is really affected by the woman who graciously allowed her back into the pew.
The little things.
As we file out of church, I am nervous Father Sansone won't recognize Michael's grandmother. It's possible, isn't it? Can a priest really keep all his congregants straight?
"Christine!" he proclaims when we shuffle past him. "I thought that was you!"
She is glowing, floating, beaming, gleaming.
It is one of the coldest nights yet, a bitter 20 degrees, but when we get into the car to drive to Jahn's, the "J" of Michael's "Q and J", for an old-fashioned banana split, I'll admit to feeling pretty snug and toasty.