In just a little over a month, on April 5, I will mark ten years since losing my friend Tom. I was thinking about this today, really thinking about it, and I almost started to cry. Ten years of covering up a wound that still seeps. I guess all wounds are like that, there’s something that can still cause them to open up all these years later.
So I started thinking that I wanted to write about Tom for an In Memoriam in the newspaper. That turned into thinking about blogging about him, which I’ve done before, but could certainly do again.
Ten years. The blink of an eye. An eternity. In those ten years I’ve done many things: divorce, move, change schools, run for office and win, lived the curses and joys of parenthood, fall in and out of love, discover new causes, walk away from the Church for awhile, return, make new friends, lose old ones. I’ve experienced more passings, some of people around me, pets, my own little deaths and resurrections. I’m still here. Life goes on.
But I can still think of a man I used to know and start to cry. Most of the time I think about him they’re good memories, ones that make me smile or laugh out loud. I can still work him into conversations and make others who knew him laugh.
St. Rose Catholic Church has a tall addition to the chapel that was built during Monsignior Tappe’s time. The other priests derisively named it “Tappe’s erection.”
You can see part of it here on the left
Tonight I remarked to Fr. Denis that the plans for restoring the old side of the church won’t remove Tappe’s erection would they? He laughed and asked where I’d learned that. “Who else?” He knew exactly who I was referring to and laughed again.
But I’m back to tears.
Random thoughts on Tom, to be turned into something more polished at a later time. Or left to stand on their own, as is.
He was a priest for the people. He had no use for bishops. He was an Irishman through and through (his brother George said the government and the Church got a hold of him early), but he had a Mexican soul. He spoke English, Irish, Spanish and Maya.
He told Mexican men they acted like cats in the nights, and did they learn that behavior from their mothers? They’d curse him and threaten to punch out his lights, but he brushed that away. He’d loan money to Yucatecos going back home for their mother’s funeral, operation, etc. He must have known that there was a slim chance he’d actually ever see the money, or the Yucatecos, again. Nice little old Catholic ladies, taken with his Irish charm and accent, his dimples, would “give Father a little something for his trip home to Ireland,” thus cutting his losses to thieving Mexicans.
He’d drive down from Garberville, visit me on his way to the border to pick up someone’s friend/brother/cousin. The Arizona border, on occasion. He loaned money for coyotes. He’d cut coupons, go shopping at midnight and then deliver food to families in need. If someone was having legal troubles, maybe with a landlord, he’d bully his lawyer friends into helping out the poor Mexicans. He’d hunt for jobs, apartments for people, take them to the doctor.
He gave really bad homilies, read from a magazine for priests. When did he have time to write up something fancy? He’d go on and on and tell you that abortions were a modern holocaust. He put a picture of Bishop Ziemann on the side of his kitchen garbage can “where he belonged.”
He could play the piano. He could dance a jig. He loved music and dancing, though he’d tell you Mexican men wouldn’t let their wives dance with another man, not even a priest. He warned me not to marry my first husband because “those Mexicans lie!” He was, of course, right. He helped me get an annulment. He served the divorce papers to the mujeriego for me.
He invited himself on my post-divorce trip to Ireland. Drove us around for two weeks, staying with his various siblings. He was generous and exasperating. He couldn’t drive worth crap, here or in his homeland. He was always getting in fender benders stateside. He liked to needle the Northern Irish priests, asking them to sing us God Save the Queen. Some were amused, some not as much. He didn’t care what anyone thought about a woman staying at the rectory while visiting him. When I passed on the gossip that he had a girlfriend he visited on his many trips to Santa Rosa, he smiled and said “that must be you.” I told him that Sr. Antonia remarked that someday I’d find a good Catholic man who was strong in his faith (unlike my ex), and he said “like a priest, maybe?” I laughed because that had been my same exact (unspoken) thought when she’d said it.
Tom was a diabetic who didn’t take as good care of himself as he should have. I think he felt isolated and lonely in Garberville after being exiled far from his beloved Mexicans. The white folk didn’t like their priest fraternizing so much with the poor brown people, and they certainly didn’t like them hanging out at the rectory or at the church. So he was sent to Siberia by a bishop who would soon fall from grace.
When Tom died, he had two funeral masses in the diocese, one in Garberville at Our Lady of the Redwoods (where do they get these names he asked), and another one in Windsor at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the beloved church he built. The church in Windsor was packed to the gills, mostly with Mexicans, who came to say goodbye to their priest. The bishop had to listen as person after person stepped forward to tell of his or her memories of Padre Tomás. He finally just stood up and ended the thing. But the people made their point. This priest was of them.
It was the most attended funeral for a priest this diocese has ever seen. I’m sure Tom was very pleased at the size of the crowd and how they made the bishop wait. A nod, a smile, dimples. A quick goodbye and back home to County Laois, accompanied by two of his sisters. This time to stay.
May your laughter in heaven cause the devil to weep