Red Bank (2)


Before long I noted that the venezolanas did not seem to go to church on sundays.  Via delicate inquiries I learned that Ligia was catholic, and indeed would like to go to church, but she had no way to get there.  She relied on Jelitza for transportation, and Jelitza, an adherent of the Seventh-day Adventists, would not take Ligia to church on sunday, nor lend her the car to go on her own.

Now we could reflect extensively at this point.  On how two girls could be best friends and housemates if they were divided on such a fundamental subject.  On how Jelitza’s family ended up adventist in such a catholic country as Venezuela.  We could digress and ask what is the motivation of those who go into catholic areas to start protestant sects, and of those who fund them.

But we won’t, not today.  We will just note that I invited Ligia to go to mass with me, and she accepted, and we went.

At the central Chattanooga parish I occasionally served as organist, covering for the regular man when he went to football games in Knoxville.  I was on the bench the first time I took Ligia with me.  But on subsequent occasions, in deference to her mother tongue, I took her to the spanish mass, largely attended by working class, unassimilated recent hispanic arrivals.

It only took once for me to be hooked on the spanish mass.  I found in the spanish liturgy, and its manner of celebration, a depth, a fervor, that simply was not present in the english masses.  Even gringo celebrants, not known for good liturgy in their english services, acquired new sobriety, gravity, when they offered the sacrifice in spanish.  The songs that were sung made up in the devout way they were sung what they lacked in musical quality.  And there was, from everyone around me, a warmth, an intensity, simply absent from the english mass.

What can I say?  The experience confirmed me further that I was on the right track in believing that I belonged among hispanic people.

My immersion soon deepened.  Within two or three weeks Ligia had made the acquaintance of the monjas [nuns] who ran the hispanic community ministry, and she got herself put on the roster of lectors, to read a lesson at mass for the first time in a couple of weeks.  And then her work schedule changed, and she could no longer go to the spanish mass.

Well, I had brought her there; and I felt responsible for her having taken on an obligation that, although for no fault of her own, she could not fulfill; and I did not want to inconvenience anyone by Ligia’s dropping out.  But these thoughts were just an excuse to cover the fact that I was so drawn to this group that I wanted to jump right in and read Ligia’s lesson.

I did.  Not without preparation.  For at that time I had only the little spanish I had picked up in our weekly afternoon lessons.  But with two weeks to practice I thought I might handle it.

Now for english speakers the single most difficult part of spanish is the rolled R.  I know several americans who lived in Latin America for many years without ever learning to roll an R.  These were priests and nuns.  Perhaps they went there to impose changes on lesser breeds, with no thought of being changed themselves?  But I digress.  I found that with some concentration I could roll an R.  And after maybe a hundred readings-out-loud of my lesson I was rolling it pretty well.  Thus I first spoke spanish before a large crowd; and being well prepared, I rather enjoyed it.  And I enjoyed being told by several people afterward that I had done well.

About this same time, one evening there came a knock on my door.  I opened up and there was Jelitza.

And a few feet behind her was a tall, solidly built lady, with intense, liquid black eyes set against a complexion with just a whiff of moorish shadow.  Her eyes were shaded by bangs of pure black, rolled in such way that they formed a sort of visor.  Her remaining hair was gathered and tied exactly at the top of her head, and fell across her right ear and shoulder to its magnificent below-the-waist length.  She wore a deep red, sort of velvet dress, heavy, dark, but with transparent sleeves that exposed well turned arms.

Her name was Aura.

And she was standing there in the dark!


© 2004 Joseph Mansfield