* * *
Jim Mason cracked the windows of his car as he followed the highway
down to the Big Sur, occasionally consulting the map he'd made with
Catherine MacKenzie's directions. The clouds had dissipated even
down in the Big Sur as he'd been driving, and the temperature was
The priest hadn't had a day off for a while, and was really looking
forward to spending some time with these blended families. It had
been clear to him from the day he'd met them that they all liked each
other a lot, and all the boys seemed to get along well without any
conflict. One of the high points of his life as a priest thus far
had been to anoint Kevin Stoltz and Mark Carson for healing after Kevin had been beaten and Mark had been shot,
and against all odds, see them recover. He smiled with
satisfaction about that.
The MacKenzie--Stoltz--Emrick--Carson--Hernandez young people would really add to the success he was hoping to achieve with
the youth group trip to New Orleans. He wanted to expose these kids to a culture
and economic circumstances very different from their own. He had talked with the rector of
an Episcopal parish in New Orleans. After listening to the man, Mason knew that the TV news, although graphic,
apparently did not begin to convey the tragic circumstances in which
many of the people who had returned to the city were living, and their psychological depression in doing so.
He remembered the televised sight of thousands of blacks trapped on the
overpasses in the downtown area of New Orleans after the levies broke. They had
been trapped because they had no transportation out of the city when
they needed it most. And if they'd indeed owned automobiles but
hadn't left in a timely manner, they didn't have cars now. They
were under water.
The priest had heard criticisms from some political quarters that those
left behind in the city were there because they had been robbed of
initiative by the so-called "welfare state." Talk about blaming
the victims! The truth was that the city had always had a larger
proportion of poor people than almost any city in the U.S., and that
the blacks, in particular, if they were indeed paralyzed, were in such
a state because for a long time they had had no hope that things would
ever get better for them. The pre-Katrina public educational
system had been a travesty for years, turning out uneducated young
people, many of whom might well have one future:
wealthy New Orleaneans sent their own sons and daughter to private
schools, as they had since school integration had been mandated in Brown v. Board of Education.
And he knew that next to the Roman Catholic church, the Episcopal
more private schools than any other group there. That was both a
and a blessing for the community, because although such schools
provided a first rate education, it took the pressure off the public
schools to improve because most of their students were black and poor.
Following the map, Mason turned off the highway on to the road leading
to the Carsons' cabin, driving west toward the ocean. He reached
the end of the road very quickly, and turned into a paved driveway at
one end of a squat, sprawling house with a pool. He left his bag
in the car, but picked up the sack of T-bone steaks he'd brought to help out
with the food. Walking toward the fence surrounding the pool
patio, he opened the gate and let himself in, spotting Kevin Stoltz
sitting in a deck chair holding Casey. No one else seemed to be
"Hey, Kev," the priest said.
"Father!" Kevin said, obviously glad to see the man. Still wearing
his damp running clothes, he struggled to stand up while holding Casey.
"Don't get up," Mason said, going over to him and shaking hands. "You have precious cargo."
"I know it." Casey had had his bottle and had started sawing
wood. "Hold on a second, and I'll put him down in his crib."
"Let me hold him for a few minutes before you put him down."
"Sure," Kevin said.
"Listen, I have some steaks here that need to go into the freezer."
"Go right through that door and you'll see the fridge."
"OK," the priest said. "Where is everybody?"
"They're running down on the beach."
"Darn. I should have gotten here earlier," Mason said from the kitchen as he put the steaks in the freezer.
"No worries," Kevin said. "We'll run your butt off in the morning. We're all in peak condition, y'know."
"Talk's cheap, man," Mason said, rejoining Kevin and Casey on the patio.
Father Jim held open his arms, and Kevin carefully handed Casey over to
the priest, who sat down in a deck chair. In slumber, the baby's
face was perfect. Beautiful. Garden of Eden perfect.
No sin here.
"He's grown since I've seen him," Mason said.
"I know it," Kevin said, smiling. "And he's starting to let us
get more sleep at night. Things are definitely moving in the
"Have you thought any more about when you want to have him baptized?"
"When Cam and Catherine get back over here, we'll set a date," Kevin promised.
"Good," Mason said. "Be thinking about godparents, too."
Kevin groaned. "That's gonna cause trouble," he said. "If I
pick some of the boys and not others, there'll be some hurt
feelings. How many godparents can I choose?"
"Usually, three. One the same gender as the candidate for baptism, and two of the opposite sex."
"All right," Kevin said. "We'll work it out."
"Cool," Mason said, making Kevin smile.
"You're so 'with it,'" he told the priest.
"Me?" Jim Mason said, laughing. "Ten minutes with you and Cam and
the guys, and I'm automatically up to date on the latest language. I have to be
able to speak your language to communicate, y'know. It's all in the idiom."
"Maybe it's better if you don't use all the words we do," Kevin observed.
"Probably nothing I haven't heard before," Mason said.
"Maybe not," Kevin conceded. "By the way, I don't know whether
Catherine mentioned it to you or not, but Cam's dad and his dad's
partner are here. Their cabin is only a couple of miles down the
"Wow," the priest said. "And everything is peaceful?"
"That says a lot about the kind of people you all are. Especially Catherine."
"You're right about Catherine, at least," Kevin said. "See, some
people really do pay attention to your message in church."
"I hope so," Jim Mason said, gently caressing Casey's face with his
thumb. "Anyway, I'm looking forward to meeting your in-laws."
"And we're all looking forward to the New Orleans trip," Kevin said.
"I am, too. What are you doing about Casey?"
"Mary is allergic to mold and can't go anyway, so she, Yolanda and Rosa are going to take care of him while we're gone."
"Excellent!" the priest said. "I'm gonna work your butts
off. This is going to be a great experience for all of you."
As if on cue, the sun burst from behind a cloud, and Kevin and the
priest holding the little boy sat enjoying the warmth and the light
sparkling on the surface of the pool.
© 2006 Don Hanratty
My thanks to Dan, Craig K and Mike G for their expert proofreading.