Grin and Bear Them
February 21, 2014 18 Comments
Once a month some of the men of my parish meet for breakfast and discussion. The discussion centers around various “projects”; books we’re reading along together; Christian documentary films; that sort of thing. Breakfast is provided by two members who volunteer (or are volunteered if they seem to have forgotten to do so for awhile), and the details of which are worked out between them. I was one of those men at the last meeting I could attend.
The other was George; a kind man who is old enough to be my father. (In fact I am always the youngest person of the group by at least 25 years.) George is always about doing things for others. He likes Habitat for Humanity, food drives, toy drives, city missions…projects with real physical results for people; the Body doing bodily things. This is an excellence in him. For that reason he was excited to prepare breakfast, and immediately had in mind breakfast burritos.
This was good news to me because I really just cannot stand eggs, and breakfast is always some egg dish. I don’t like them scrambled. I don’t like them fried. I don’t like omelets. I don’t like them in a casserole. I don’t like them on a plane. I don’t like them on a train. Having warned him of my infirmity, we agreed to split up offerings: He would bring beef and egg along with some orange juice, and I would bring chorizo and potato to be chased with muffins. For some reason–whatever else we have–there are always orange juice and store-bought muffins; probably for people who don’t like eggs. They appear to be only and all the members under age 60.
The plan was to make the burritos myself. I’d get up about 5:30am to start. It was a good plan. Satisfied that the plan was good enough as is, I slept in until nearly 7:00am.
I arrived at the church about twenty minutes to eight, and started the big cylindrical stainless steel coffee pot. The organizer was there, and he directed me to the platters and whatnot I needed to lay out the burritos and muffins. Having done that, I went outside to smoke a cigarette and wait for George to show up. A few minutes later his wife pulled up to drop him off. As he was getting out I could tell they were having a disagreement; something about how to organize their day. When he shut the car door it was hurried and relieved. It sounded like he was closing that one back closet; the one that is embarrassingly overstuffed with the things a man hates for his wife to keep, and that are all jumbled up with the things she won’t forgive him for not throwing away.
We set it all up and when everyone showed we said a prayer and dug into food.
“Hey! Real muffins!”, someone exclaimed.
“Yeah, Evie made them. She loves to do that stuff.” Evie is my third daughter, and almost eleven.
“So, what are choices here?” someone else asked, wagging a finger at the two platters of burritos. George replied,
“Well, those are the ones I brought, and they’re egg and cheese. The other ones are Cane’s, and they’re…?”
“Potato and chorizo.”
“You guys made these?”
“I did, yeah.” George said.
“Mrs. Caldo made mine.”
“Really!” There were low whistles and exclamations out of each of the twenty or so men in the the room; all 60 or over.
“Yessir. I got up this morning, and found her in the kitchen. She said she had got up at 5:00am, went to the store, bought the ingredients, came back, and was cranking them out.”
“Boy, are you spoiled!” and other heckles were thrown at me, as men do.
I nodded and grinned, “She’s all right for a girl.” The room exploded in loud disbelief.
“You better not let her hear you say that!”, someone belted out.
Several others sang the harmony, “Yeah, really!”, “No kidding!”, etc.
Each of them thought I was getting away with something; that I had spoken out of turn. Some of them laughed with embarrassment, like I had told a dirty joke. Some of them suggested caution in a way that approached sincerity. For my own good, you see. A couple gave me looks of disgust. I just shrugged and again gave them the grin that so often at home had earned me a whippin’, in school had landed me in detention, and in the office had cost points on my reviews. But, look: I can’t let them get me down. Then where will they be? Eventually those grins invite people to investigate you because grins mean something. They have a way of confronting people that a smile just doesn’t. Nobody every heard of a blank grin.
By the end of that meeting I had one confederate. Ralph’s in his 80s, and his wife died this past year.
 To give you an idea: In January we had a diocese-wide gathering attended by about 120 men. They had us all stand up, and then sit down as our decades of age were called out: 80s, 70s, 60s, and so forth… I was one of three remaining when he called out 30s. There was one in his 20s; a priest. The gathering was a troubling experience which I would like to write about, but I am not sure what about it I want to say. Suffice it for now that I was the only person to get actually yelled at, more than once by more than one man, over the two days.
 In a previous post I estimated they were 55 and above, but I’ve since found out they’re all over 60.