Recycling Day: Searching for God and Underpants

I have decided Tuesday would be a good day to sift through the Archives here and recycle posts I’m particularly fond of. Because it’s my blog and I can. Also because writing something new and fascinating more than once a week is kind of tiresome. (I know some of you think, now that I’m retired, I have nothing but time on my hands. Actually, that’s true, but it doesn’t mean I want to spend all of it creating more stuff to fill this space.) Sometimes Tuesday may fall on a Wednesday. We’ll see.

Searching for God and Underpants
(originally posted 9/23/10)


We baptized Baby Bret recently. He was baptized in the Lutheran church, which was a bit odd for me. My own children were baptized and raised to be good Catholics. They defected, every one, a puzzling thing and still a little irritating. It isn’t that I can’t go with the flow, but excuse me, I must have spent close to $100,000 on Catholic schools over the years, and if I had known how things would turn out, I would have taken advantage of free public education like everyone else.

Gina, who is Baby Bret’s mother, had no problem being Catholic right through her expensive college education with the Jesuits. Then she met Bret Sr. and promptly converted to Lutheranism. My middle daughter, Jill, and her family are some religion I can never remember the name of but they sing really loud. And the oldest, Jessica, who I thought had settled on Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism, is on the hunt for her spiritual home again and presently attending the Unitarian church.

It rankles a little, I must admit. All that money and my grandkids don’t know the Hail Mary.

Moving along… The baptism went well. The service was nice and Baby Bret never said boo, not even when he was passed around like a plate of rumaki. Afterward everyone drove to my house for lunch, simply because adding a fourth person to his parents’ house has made it impossible to squeeze in guests even if someone sits on the diaper pail and someone else holds the breast pump.

Lunch was nice, too, if hectic. Jill had an anxiety attack when she realized five-year-old Grace wasn’t wearing underpants. Apparently Grace sat through the entire church service in her little red sundress and white shoes and no underpants. So I went searching for little girl underwear, couldn’t find any, and ended up pinning the sides on a pair of my own for her. Gracie was utterly disgusted, but I just told her, “That’s what you get for not wearing underpants. You have to wear your grandma’s.”

The weather was good.


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Last One to Leave, Bring in the Dock


We are selling the family cabin this week, the last thing my father left us. He built it in 1968, with the same independence and drive he showed in everything else. He pored over plans for vacation homes, contracted the work himself, and kept meticulous records of it all. I know because forty-six years later, I still have the receipts, stapled together in thick stacks and tallied in his neat handwriting, detailing every purchase from the stones in the fireplace to a 45-cent package of nails.

The plan he chose featured a spacious layout, with huge beams in the living room and a wall of windows overlooking the lake. And although the decor is classic ’70s and the furnishings just as dated, it still stands as beautiful and solid as it did then. Good bones, don’t you know.

On Jan. 4, 1970, at age 45, my Dad died in a horrible accident. He spent one summer at the lake, doing the things he loved and putting up with a host of friends and family. And now that the cabin too is passing away, it seems like someone should tell his story. Not the whole story, but some of it. I wouldn’t want anyone telling my story bit by excruciating bit after I’m gone. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.

dad army

My father’s name was Andrew Simon. He grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, the second of six children of Lebanese immigrants. They owned a small grocery store where all the kids at one time or another were compelled to work. Northeast in the 1940s was a patchwork of immigrant neighborhoods. Dad was the rebellious kid. He ran around with his friends, got in trouble and in general just caused a world of grief for his parents, who weren’t the most patient people in the world to begin with. I’ve heard some stories; there are many more I haven’t heard and never will.

I know Dad was kicked out of a Catholic high school for boys and had to finish up at the public school. I know once he got mad at a streetcar, stopped his car on the tracks and refused to budge, throwing the streetcar line off-schedule and all the passengers into a tizzy.

When World War II came, he joined the army, serving most of his time on steamy little islands in the Pacific. At the age of 19, while still in the service, he married my mother, the smartest thing he ever did. She was a farm girl, sweet, lively, independent and good good good.

Lu-Andy-in car_2

After the war, with a wife and two small daughters, my father worked all kinds of jobs. He had always been smart, but who knew he was industrious and ambitious too. At various times, he sold vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, owned a nightclub (briefly) and a successful insurance agency (for several years). He opened a liquor store. He bought a small plane and learned to fly. Finally, he started a business installing coin-operated equipment in apartment buildings throughout the Twin Cities. The business grew and grew until he became, for his place and time, a rich man.

June 1963 #2

Dad wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a perfect husband or a perfect father. But those stories don’t need to be told here, I think, if ever. He was fair and generous to a fault. He understood human frailties. He took care of us and left my mother well off. Well, she never loved any man but him her entire life. With only a grade school education, she kept the business running for 25 years after he died, always underestimating her gifts.

And Mom kept the cabin. In the summers we raised our kids and grandkids there, watching them swim and ski, fish off the dock and paddle around in the paddleboat. We cooked, played games, sang along to country songs and watched hundreds of sunsets.

At the cabin there is a little Jesus shrine near the lake with a plaque engraved with Dad’s name. I imagine the new owners will take it down now. I have no desire to go back. Losing the cabin is a hard, hard thing, but let’s face it, families are about loss and families are about building up. Memories fade, memories are made. Really, that’s all it’s about.

June 1963 #2

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Keep the Faith, Baby

We baptized Baby Lee last Sunday. By we I mean one Lutheran minister and the religious consortium that is now my family, including Lutherans, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, a Baptist, a Humanist, a few Jewish friends who showed up and one resigned Catholic.

Baby Lee didn’t care. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an infant so unflappable. Through the pre-baptism photo session, the long church service and the even longer luncheon that followed, he never made a complaint. He was passed around, bounced, kissed and had children stick their noses in his face. I think he flinched once. Obviously the child knows already: This is my family. Resistance is futile.

We gathered at my house after the baptism for lunch. It was no less chaotic than usual, what with the five grandkids and two little friends running around, up the stairs, down the stairs, indoors and out. At one point I saw Toddler Bret, who is normally restricted to a sippy cup, walking across the porch with a glass of pink lemonade. It was a plastic glass. I turned and walked away.

And God said, “Truly I say unto you: it’s all good.”


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Holy Cripes


I was born, baptized and raised Catholic, and although I don’t show up at church very often, I haven’t heard that I was excommunicated or anything. The reason I seldom go to church is because I went to Catholic schools for twelve years. I am, however, always polite. Anyway, being Catholic is what I know, so I’m thinking I’ll just go with that for the duration.

Fortunately, my God happens to have an excellent sense of humor, because there’s been so much odd news lately religion-wise, it’s almost impossible not to make jokes about it. “Go for it, Judy,” He/She said.

Not the way I remember things
You may have heard about a church in Cincinnati offering drive-thru ashes on Ash Wednesday and figured it was some jivey young Catholic priest wearing an earring who came up with the idea. Actually it was the people at the Mount Healthy United Methodist Church. (Mount Healthy?)

I may not be the holiest person in the chapel, but I’m pretty sure receiving ashes is supposed to symbolize your repentance for the year you just spent sinning and/or generally goofing off. If you can’t take the time to park the car, walk into church and spend ten minutes being anointed, how penitent can you be? Not very darn penitent.

Why would anyone want that?
The heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of Dublin, was reported stolen recently from Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. The holy relic, all that was left of the sainted man, had been on display there since the 13th century. A little morbid perhaps, but so be it. This was the second inexplicable burglary of a Dublin church this year. In January a thief made off with the jawbone of St. Brigid, an Irish abbess who died in 525.

While I’m no theologian, I do recall Sister Olivia telling us that relic stealing is a sure path to hell for all eternity. And why would anyone want old body parts anyway? Isn’t it weird enough that people once thought it was a good idea to cut up dead saints and put pieces of them in a box? How insane would you have to be to want to keep them to yourself?

Don’t like your clergyperson? Do it yourself.
So I was reading about the mysterious Irish relic thefts when an ad popped up for StartCHURCH, a website where you can go to do exactly that, i.e., set up your own tax-free religious institution. Apparently some rather pesky tax laws, along with recent court cases, have made launching your own church “very complex” nowadays. The folks at StartCHURCH will help you with everything from filling out the federal application [form 501(c)(3)] to ordaining your own ministers. “Let Us Do the Work For You!” it urged.

Out of work? Struggling to make ends meet? StartCHURCH may be the answer. How attached were you to that soul anyway?

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Phone-It-In Confession


I imagine by now you’ve heard about the new $1.99 “Confession” iPhone app Catholics can get to keep track of their sins. I’m kind of Catholic; i.e., I’ve had plenty of first-hand experience with the confessional, although not for a long time because frankly I haven’t had any sins for a while.

I’d like to have some sins, but occasions of sin just never seem to present themselves anymore. Unless you count bad thoughts, but personally I never bought into that particular no-win-ology. Or unless neglecting things is a sin. I guess that would be the sin of sloth, but I wouldn’t need an app to keep count. I’d just tell the priest I’ve been sloth-afflicted every day for most of my adult life. Of course, then he might not give me absolution, because the whole point of the Sacrament of Penance is promising to go forth and sin no more, and any priest worth his collar would be suspicious of someone who’s been committing the same sin every day for years.

So you see, there’s really no reason for me to go to Confession and I certainly don’t need an app.

Anyway, Bishop Rhodes of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has given the Confession app his blessing, which must make it the first mobile app officially sanctioned by the Church ever. I hear it’s been selling well, too, which makes me wonder what kind of person needs a special tool to keep a handle on these things.

Is there a killer out there thinking, “Let’s see, did I kill just the one person last month?” Thieves don’t go to confession (they might have to give something back). People who covet their neighbor’s wife seldom think it’s wrong (unless you’re Jimmy Carter). And if you committed adultery more than a dozen times last year, you might as well throw yourself on the mercy of the College of Cardinals right now.

But I don’t care. If you think the Confession app will help you be a better person, $1.99 is a small price to pay. As for me, if I ever get the chance to commit a sin worth confessing, I’m not likely to forget it.