By Bruce Mastracchio
Well, I’m back. And, this time with the story I was going to start this all off with.
But, before I get started, let me say, that one of my former characters in these stories is being written off. Pretend he drove his ’56 Buick off a cliff. Or, left for Hawaii. Or, whatever. He has reached old age and says he never participated in any of the adventures I write about. Guess he has achieved respectability, or so he thinks. Anyway, with the swipe of the keyboard – POOF – he is gone – just like perspiration.
Sooo, my new kemo sabe in all these adventures will be Roberto Giuseppe Tabarano, also known as The Tabby Cat, or Tab Cat for short. He always loved excitement and will be my new partner in adventure, or crime (not really) as some would say.
Which brings us to the next story. This is what I call a stretch. The basis for the story is true, but I use some real and some alias names so as to protect the innocent, or the guilty, and some dialogue is patched in. This story is titled, “The Hawkman and The Nun,” and centers around one of the most common experiences of we Italians, Irish and French in East Greenwich – growing up Catholic. Weaned on the knee of Mother Church, with all the ritual, pomp, circumstance and superstition that entails.
I suppose it was fitting that they both died in the same year. The Hawkman and The Nun. For a brief while their stars crossed paths in the skies and they jockeyed like pilots flying two fighter planes, trying to get into position for the kill.
Neither would give in to the other and whenever they crossed paths the angels held their breath.
She was a Catholic nun from the Order of the Sisters of Mercy and was one of the first teachers at the new Our Lady of Love and Mercy in our small town, in the center of the smallest state, in the greatest country on the face of the earth.
He was one of her first pupils and they never saw eye to eye from day one.
She was a stern taskmaster and he battled her from the start. Though she wore a long, black habit and looked angelic, she played a hell of a game of softball and could match the boys in most other sports too.
Hawkman never really understood that. Someone in a dress who could hit a ball harder than he could, and sink a 20-foot set shot from deep. He definitely did not like her.
It didn’t help when she broke the broomstick over his back just because he was making the “bell noise” (to advance the slides) during the Jesus slide show. It also didn’t help when she rapped his knuckles for not knowing the Ten Commandments.
Hawkman told her he didn’t care about the Ten Commandments. He had his own he said. And, I suppose, the final straw came when she broke a record album over his head because he was talking during one of Father Joe’s lectures.
I guess none of it ever helped. He just hated her, and I didn’t suppose she liked him much either. Anyway, they battled for four years. Hawkman went on to public high school and Sister Mary E. was reassigned. Then, just the other day, I saw her name in the obituary column. I called up a friend and we went to the wake.
She went quickly they said. An aneurysm, they said. Went to the kitchen for a glass of water and Whammo! She went to the place she had devoted her life to. To Heaven and God. At least we want to think so.
Hawkman would have said that he hoped they both existed. Sister Mary E. probably didn’t know it, but Hawkman died before she did. He had a hard life and finished out his days in a mental sanitarium. I visited him frequently. I think I was his only visitor.
When he died I called Peanuts and told him. He said he was sorry to hear it. I called Tabby Cat. He said it was too bad. I called The Preacher. He liked Sister Mary E. but he was not fond of Hawkman.
They had all moved on and had other agendas that took them beyond the times they shared with Hawkman, with Sister E., and with OLOLM.
Hawkman always felt he would be the “rainbow warrior,” ridding the town of all threats, both real and imagined. He had this private, little wish, that he shared only with me. He wanted to get all the yuppies, developers and RBs together at their favorite eating spot and throw a grenade through the window.
It would be better than that fairy tale, he said. The one where the tailor got “seven with one blow.” He had his own private agenda, I guess. I used to humor him when he had these fantasies. “Eat the rich,” he used to say and some other unkind things. He even had a t-shirt with that saying, and others just as strong.
Still, when he died, it was sad. He really was an alright guy. People just didn’t know him, and they never took the time to, either. Most people were just scared of him. He was big, 6 foot and 190 pounds with a fullback’s build and the rugged arms, chest and forearms like cords that come from “working the water,” plying the quahaugger’s trade of his father and grandfather before him.
In his last days he didn’t look so scary though. He looked rather mild. Maybe “spent” is the word. No one would have been afraid of him in his last days. Not even the yuppies.
There were only a few people at the graveside. The priest and me and the gravediggers, a few distant relatives and someone from the sanatarium.
The service was short. I didn’t want to cry, but my eyes felt a little wet a couple of times. Maybe it was some sprinkles from the dark clouds overhead.
After the service everyone else left quickly. I stayed behind. I wanted a few last words with The Hawkman.
I wasn’t there long when I sensed someone come up beside me. It was the guy from the sanitarium. He held out a package. “I was told to give this to you,” he said.
“He said you’d understand.”
I did not open the package then. I waited until I got home. Later that evening I undid the brown string and elastics that bound the paper package. Inside was a layer of comic paper. Typical Hawkman. That was how he liked to wrap his Christmas gifts. “My own special wrapping paper,” he used to say.
Laid out before me was a stack of letters. I couldn’t fathom why he had left them to me. I grabbed the one on top and started to read. The letter bore a familiar postmark. Dear Hawkman, it began.
I read and read. Through each letter. It was then I began to understand. About destiny. And fighter planes, and pilots, and such. About respect. And love. And the twists and turns our lives take and the entanglements with the people we meet on our journey from birth to death.
All the letters started the same way. All of them had a lot to say. All of them must have been good for The Hawkman. All of them must have bridged that gap which had existed for so long, oh so long ago. All of them were signed:
With His Holy Love,
Sister Mary E.
Author’s note: I had planned to keep the identity of Hawkman secret until my own demise, with instructions to read a letter at my graveside telling who he was. But one of my buddies, The Preacher, pestered and pestered so finally I told him.
Sister Mary E. was real and all about her true. The Hawkman is a composite of several people who were students of hers either at OLOLM (really OLM) or in the summer, Sunday and Wednesday religious programs run by the church. All the incidents dealing with them are true.
The physical description of Hawkman was drawn from a non-Catholic who was a quahaugger and did harbor those secret dreams.
Hope you enjoyed the “stretch.”