The call came in the middle of the night. Bolting upright, Camille recalled there was only one reason that it would ring then and there.
Just a few weeks before, her elder cousin had asked if she would be willing to come and watch his two young sons if his wife went into labor, especially if the birth pangs came at a late hour. Camille had no qualms about staying with the little guys as they were very well mannered and respectful any time she babysat for them. They each took after their parents who Camille really had grown fond of as they had dated and gotten married. After the wedding day they lived in the same city as Camille while she attended university. “Sure,” she had told Nate that day, “just call me. I will have my phone close to my lofted bunk.” She often wondered up until that night how the event would eventually unfold and how she might become a part of their family life.
Camille’s bunk, as many like it, was one of a pair in her dormitory room. Her roommate occupied the other one, and she was too deep into sleep to be completely awoken by the phone’s ring. “Camille!” Nate’s voice came over the line. “We are calling to ask if you may come and watch the boys. It’s time.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she returned, “I will just have to gather my things and I will be out the door.”
As was her style, Camille only packed her purse with the essential: her wallet, a book, whatever snack would have been easily accessible in the dark, her toothbrush, and a couple of extra layers to put on if Nate’s old shotgun house got drafty. Dressed in bright orange Abercrombie sweat pants and a university hoodie, she did not exactly care to look at herself in the mirror before pressing out into the cold.
Camille was no doubt awake and alert to drive by the time she reached her car in the lot filled with the frigid December air. She would come to think later about how she does not remember even a mile of the seven mile drive to their house. Her mind was too full of ponderings and prayers. How much they must be excited to find out about their youngest son, how Jane must be ready to be at the hospital to deliver, how the boys will be asleep and how will they wake up to find out Mommy and Daddy are away at the hospital to wait for another life that is coming to share life with them…
She pulled up close to their front entrance, parking along the street. Nate and Jane had already loaded their car. After giving simple instructions, Nate drove his wife off into the night. The house was altogether still, save for a few creaky floor boards and the heater when it forced air through the shotgun’s windpipes. Since the boys needed nothing from her for a few more hours, she checked on them in their beds and then lay on the couch to collect herself and to rest.
Nate said something about Aunt Sally and Uncle Peter coming in the morning to take over… Did he say when? No, well.. maybe… what all did he say? Her thoughts drifted away from then on, and she slept soundly until her alarm went off close to nine in the morning. It was the alarm that helped Camille shake off starry notions and think to how she would go to Mass. The boys were slow to stir so it gave her time to think things over. She did not want to be a bother to Nate. It was later that she thought to reach Sally and Peter to ask about their arrival time, but not then. Going back to campus was out of the question as it was too far from the house in case she needed to get back in a rush. What parish was close by? What time would Mass be? Holy Family, Holy Family it was that she had passed by before, at the end of the block celebrated the Latin Mass- the Latin Mass! The Latin Mass when woman where chapel veils and little boys to grown men wear their best pants, suits… Camille knew no other option but to go there if she was to go and to come as she was.
That Sunday of all Sundays, Camille initially was discouraged. How silly of me to forget what day it is, to not pack a bag, to not be ready when the phone call came. All the same, she knew no better way to communicate her thanks for being a help to her family that night. It was not a matter of saying thank you to her cousin or his wife or anyone else around. What a hard thing to explain, she thought, to explain the want I have to say thank you for being able to wake up, for being able to see Nate that night and be of help to Jane. How could I tell the others on campus if they asked how she could be thankful for a little baby she’d never met or carried? Friends had asked her before, “ how can you be happy wherever you go? You honestly could go just about any place and be home.” Either it was time to stay home because of the state she was in or it was time to move, which meant going then and there to do what she really wanted and ought to do- say thank you for all that was happening.
Taking a look at herself, she scoffed at her circumstances. Not in a million years would Camille imagine thinking of Mass in the state she was in. No, not in two million years.
With nothing better to offer, she made the pitch to the two little boys. “Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital and they are going to have you meet your new brother very soon! Grandma and Grandpa are going to stay with you later on today so we had better get ready for the day. We will get ready to go to church and see when Grandma and Grandpa arrive.” They ate and compliantly dressed with Camille’s help, wearing little khakis and button down shirts. Camille washed her plain face and peered at the mirror. It was the poorest she’d ever felt, standing there in her least prized clothes, with no effort put in to style her long hair or to apply makeup as she’d done all those years before.
That was how they left, all three of them ten minutes before Mass was supposed to start. A mother-like looking frame clad in sweats, walking to the Catholic Church at the end of the block with two little boys, who were not quite sure what everything meant. They walked with her to a church community where they had not belonged, though, and stayed close to her in that little Italian Church listening to the ancient hymns. They, no doubt, went understanding nothing. She held onto them and sang what little she could, aware of the side glances of other worshippers.
Who does she think she is? Their expressions posed to her.
Rather than imagining what else may be going through their minds, (Camille herself had wondered what brought others to Mass without caring much for personal hygiene or dress beforehand) she trained her attention on sharing with the boys what she had not accepted up to that point.
My God, how well my judgment may be misinformed when I don’t know another’s affection on sight. What poverty it is to come to say thanks given the circumstances we have! They are presented to us by You… Aware that the reason for preparing for Mass would never be the same, it was then that Camille felt at ease there, really at home with the little ones that December day. The One who met them there at Holy Family provided in the state they were in.
“Look and see, Adam, Seth! Do you see who is here? Do you hear how we sing for Him?” The boys were there and keen on the ritual before their eyes, silent to the closing watching all the time.