Now for something completely different… I’m sharing a very, very short story written for a writer’s group that I joined last year. Each month, we’re given a prompt upon which to write. The given prompt for this particular story was “obsolescence.” What follows is based on a true story.
What Lasts Forever
Edouard sat bolt upright in bed, the vague thought that had been nibbling him all day now grabbing full hold.
“Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” his startled wife beside him asked, half-asleep but fully-alarmed. What’s happening?
“Toinette …” he was struggling with the idea in his head. “Toinette … est-ce que Sam est catholique?” Is Sam Catholic?
Antoinette sighed wearily, settling back onto her pillow. “Pourquoi demand-tu une telle chose?” Why do you ask such a thing?
“Quand Françoise nous a montré l’invitation de mariage…” Edouard said slowly, remembering the silent question creeping in when their daughter had shown him her wedding invitation. He didn’t know English, but there was something about that one word on the pretty white paper …. “Toinette, qu’est-ce que c’est, ‘Chapel’? C’est Protestant, non?”
Smiling in the dark, Antoinette reassured her husband. The “Chapel” where their daughter was going to marry Sam Stevens was part of Manchester’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral. It was definitely Catholic. She had worshiped there herself when she had lived with her American cousins for six months and worked with them in the mills, earning money for her trousseau. Edouard nodded and breathed relief, lying back down beside her.
Antoinette softly chuckled at her now peaceful husband, his big hand resting on her hip. How she and her cousins had giggled and blushed when they spoke of Edouard, his deep set blue eyes, his strong shoulders … He could have married anyone but had chosen her, the rather plain girl with whom he had grown up in their village. She remembered her cousins and she going to the Pictures on Saturday nights and declaring that Edouard was much more handsome than Rudolph Valentino. That city life, the brief independence she had known had thrilled Antoinette — but not as much as her thoughts of Edouard waiting for her back home in Canada.
After forty-six years of marriage and fourteen children, the thrill seemed to have been replaced by tiredness and affectionate exasperation — but not regret. Love endures. Françoise, her second-youngest child, was certainly in love. Her life was already different than Antoinette’s had been. Having emigrated to America, she was choosing to remain in Manchester, where she was a successful hairdresser, always smartly dressed, living in her own apartments, and now about to marry a dashing young man who had never lived on a farm or worked in the woods. Antoinette thought of Sam with his natural good humor, helpful ways, and obvious love for her modern daughter….
Of course Sam was Catholic. Didn’t Sam come to Mass with them when he drove Françoise up to visit, knowing exactly when to stand, kneel, and sit? He was very American, of course, and didn’t know French, but he would follow along as best as he could. True, he didn’t receive Holy Communion, but that was probably because of the language difference. He probably didn’t feel right receiving the Sacrament if he couldn’t recite the prayers — or if he couldn’t communicate with the priest and receive absolution first. He was a young man in love with a young woman, after all, and Antoinette would understand if he had some impure thoughts that needed to be properly confessed.
Yes, surely, Sam is Catholic…?…
Edouard was snoring beside her, but Antoinette could not close her eyes for the rest of the night.
In the morning, she pulled her daughter aside. “Françoise,” she began, looking into her daughter’s eyes, so like her own, feeling unable to ask the question. Three of her youngest daughters had already married Americans who were known Protestants. But each one of these men had to convert: the first, before dating could begin; the second, before engagement; and the third, before the wedding. But now Françoise … and Sam … six weeks before the marriage date… “Sam … est-il catholique?”
Françoise put her hand up. “No, Maman.”
Sam isn’t Catholic.
Françoise was prepared for the expected question, explaining that she had discussed it seriously with Sam. He considered Catholicism, but couldn’t do it. He didn’t believe that someone should be forced into a Faith that he didn’t hold as true, and Françoise agreed.
Antoinette looked surprised, but a light of understanding also came upon her face. She and God both valued the truth, and conversion hadn’t been genuine in her youngest’s husband, as evidenced after the honeymoon. But here was Sam, who desired to promise love and fidelity to Françoise … Sam refused to make a promise that he couldn’t keep.
Seeing Antoinette’s fears softening, Françoise told her mother that she had consulted a priest who stated that there was no reason in 1970 that she couldn’t marry a non-Catholic in the Church, in true Sacrament. All that was required was Sam’s agreement to raise their children as Catholics. Sam had already wholeheartedly agreed to this, Françoise reassured her mother, because he admired the rituals and traditions of the Catholic Church — even if he couldn’t profess the Faith for himself.
A Catholic priest had given permission, Antoinette thought. That would satisfy Edouard. As for herself, she wondered … would she have shunned Françoise if she had married Sam outside of the Church? … No. Never. She already loved her daughter’s choice of husband.
Antoinette would make sure that she and Edouard prayed for Sam. Perhaps the taboo of interfaith marriage had become obsolete, but she knew that hearts joined in shared pursuits were the strongest and the most joyful. She would pray that Sam would continue to love her daughter fully and have his mind and heart opened to the fullness of truth. Then the Truth would set him free for eternal bliss with his wife and children.
The churchgoing ways of her youth were deemed more and more old-fashioned, but, even if others let the power of prayer fall into disuse, Antoinette would faithfully continue to pray fervently for those she loved. If need be, she would carry her loving prayers with her into the world without end.
And she did. Less than five years after Françoise and Sam were wed at St. Joseph’s Chapel, Antoinette died at the entrance of her own village church, Edouard looking tearfully down into her big brown eyes. She died with prayers on her lips, prayers of love.
In the 20th year of his marriage to Françoise Grandmaison, Sam Stevens personally asked for baptism, honestly desiring to be received into the Catholic Church.
© 2022 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.