September 23, 1961

 

for my parents

 

Sister Mary O’Hara dabs at her forehead with a folded white kerchief, trying to recall a recent year when the heat was so oppressive this far into September. The kerchief comes away damp and grey with sweat. Maybe four years ago in ’58, when the Yankees made that great run that ended in Milwaukee with a Game 7 win in the World Series. Sister Mary had said she felt faint during a fundraising meeting, which wasn’t entirely untrue, and excused herself to her convent room, where she peeled off her damp habit and crouched beside her radio, cheering into her palm when Yogi and the boys scored four in the 8th to lock up the title. Her secret got out sometime last season – she suspects Sister Catherine – but Monsignor Scanlon turns a blind eye to baseball so long as God and the parishioners receive first consideration.

Guests filter into the Church of Saint Helena on Olmstead Avenue in the Bronx, waving fans and pulling on collars, unbuttoning sports coats and smiling. The Yankees are in Baltimore, clearing their bench before the playoffs. Sister Mary picks up a program. Barbara Claire Rehman. Thomas Walter Cantwell. Irish and German. Maris will be in the lineup, of course, just one home run short of Ruth’s single season record. The ceremony will begin in thirty minutes, at 3:00. The game started thirty minutes ago. A flower girl walks by, cute as a button and counting the people in the church. She points to each guest but realizes this won’t work, wrinkles her nose and retreats to report back to the bridal party. Sister Mary doesn’t recognize the Rehman name. Probably Lutherans. She wonders how Maris did in his first at bat. Surely someone would have said something if he already hit one out.

By the time all the guests are settled and the last pre-ceremony organ note drones out to silence, Sister Mary has prepared the sacristy, lit the incense, checked in with Monsignor Scanlon, relit a candle to the left of the altar, greeted several families and Sunday school students, and checked her radio just once, only tuning in long enough to hear Mel Allen nonchalantly announcing balls and strikes as if it was a lazy mid-summer game. She goes now to the sacristy and adjusts the altar boys’ vestments with a smile, bowing her head to Monsignor Scanlon as he follows them out to the sound of the entrance hymn. She waits until they turn and walk down the aisle before exiting and taking an unassuming position beside the holy water at the rear of the church.

As the processional starts, Sister Mary is impressed by the size of the family members. The smallest among them is the groom’s mother, who reaches up to fit her arm awkwardly through her son’s bent elbow. Thomas Walter Cantwell is a good-looking young man with dark hair and a big grin. Sister Mary’s admiring thoughts, combined with the shift in music to welcome the bride, cause her to blush as she imagines for a moment that she is the woman who is about to marry him. She will have to confess these thoughts tomorrow. Barbara Claire Rehman is stunning in her white dress, dark eyes focused as she walks forward confidently beside her sturdy father. Sister Mary often gets a hit when she first sees a couple standing together at the altar, whether they will have a happy marriage or not. She feels good about this one, so good in fact that she is genuinely engaged and looking forward to the ceremony, not even thinking about Roger Maris, who won’t tie Babe Ruth’s record for another three days.

 

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