Our Lady of Victory

Rains in central California’s Sacramento Valley conquer winter’s oppressive tulle fog. The rains also dampen the hot summer’s bluish smog. They give license to the brilliant pink and white camellia blooms and give residents a view of the stunning Sierra Mountains for all who would look east.

Gayle Garrison looked up briefly to admire the snowy peaks of Donner Summit before ducking through the church’s double doors. She would have to hurry to ready the altar for daily Mass.

For the last two years, Gayle shouldered the responsibility of preparing the church for Friday morning Mass. She vacuumed the altar’s crimson carpet, replaced the white votive candles, placed flowers and incense in the appropriate places. She dusted the brass relief forms of each of the Stations of the Cross and made sure the sacristy and the vestibule were tidy.  Being in the church alone was overwhelming – even creepy at first. Two years later, it was sheer pleasure. The quiet of the sacred room filled her with calmness and confidence. She was proud of her work.

Gayle tried other volunteer posts at Our Lady of Victory. But helping with the annual festivals was too political. Serving as a Eucharistic Minister was too intimate. She shuddered at the memory of singing in the adult choir – sandwiched between the frail woman with the thin vibrato and the over zealous tenor with the bad breath. She’d volunteer at the local hospital run by the Carmelite Nuns in their flowing white robes but this job suited her best. The meditative, quiet housekeeping of the church never felt like work. She finished by straightening the purple and silver wall hangings, made sure that the holy water bowls were filled, crossed herself and then took up her spot in the fourth row on the left hand side. Releasing the upholstered kneeling bar from under the bench in front of her with a gentle thud, she settled down to pray as worshipers filed in for the morning service.

As usual, she began with the Lord’s Prayer; Our Father, who art in heaven, Hollowed be thy name.

She prayed the familiar words, but her mind wandered.  She thought about her husband, of course. Lately, more distracted than usual, but otherwise fine.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.

Her son, his wife and the two beautiful grand kids, also healthy and happy She was eager to visit them in Portland next month.

On earth as it is in heaven.

Her thoughts turned to her daughter Ann. She sighed and re-focused her energy on her prayers; Give us each day, our daily bread.

Ann. After all these years, still caught in that seething pit of lecherous, larcenous, vipers at the racetrack.  Gambling, drinking, drugs – and so much danger. Her darling, kind, and stubborn Ann in the middle of it all. Ann was turning 40 soon. This was not a passing phase. Gayle knew she needed to think of Ann as an adult, but why couldn’t she act like one and settle down?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Her thoughts rambled back to Ann’s turbulent adolescence, and the day that she realized that her tiny Ann had run away for good, propelled by visions of being a jockey.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from all evil. 

As a mother, her heart ached with the pain of losing her daughter to a dangerous game, one that had changed her, hardened her and certainly had hurt her, but as a horsewoman, she kept locked in her soul the understanding of the spell cast by the thrill of riding a fast horse.

Amen.

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