Advent: In an Age of Uncertainty…(December 11, 2008)

   We are not one. We are individuated, often isolated beings, human, requiring socialization but unable to overcome the equally great need for private "space."

   We are not many. Mass movements are historically religious or racial, not as often political in the sense of seeking government or liberty from government and even less united as expressed by economic need.

   We are alone. Your private demons are the means by which you people your own private hell. Your angels? They are fewer and harder to find.

   We are together. That is, we are imbedded together on a planet in space/time; the planet itself seems to want to rid us from its immune system. Perhaps this is an act of self-protection on the part of the planet.

   We misunderstand the infantilism of our faith, as well as in faith in general. Childlikeness is not childishness, though it has some of the qualities of childhood we remember fondly; trust, security, belief in the goodness and wisdom of authority figures.

   So, what is an inveterate "joiner" to do? My generation, the Moderns, are joiners. We get involved. We take it to the street. We get involved. We can make a difference.

   Then, suddenly, we can't. The saddest thing about experienced ministers today is simply this; we got to the experience level everyone told us we needed only to find our experience counts for nothing because all the rules changed.

   We didn't even get a memo.

  What do we do?

   Long ago, as the earth's crust began to cool, I was a boy in Joshua, Texas. Main street in Joshua, Texas was about the only hard paved street. All the stores, the Owl Inn and the Post Office grouped on one side of Main or the other within one block of each other.

   Our family owned the hay and feed barn. We all worked in the family business because we all ate at the same table. I longed for the days when I could keep the office because the office was air conditioned and I studied just how to run the office to secure that vital sinecure from my older brother.

   Among other things, the office job allowed me the privilege to walk a hundred feet up the street on Thursday at noon to the D'Angelo Store. Mr. Leon D'Angelo ran a general mercantile store with a hamburger grill behind the counter. You could get face cream and hamburgers at D'Angelo's, though he started out as a hardware store.

   Don't ask me to explain that one. We were a small town in Texas in the sixties. We intended to stay that way.

   Mr. D'Angelo believed, deeply believed, in animal fat. His hamburgers were the size of hubcaps. He was also deeply devoted to sodium. D'Angelo burgers took both hands to hold and a wide mouth to eat. You could literally hear your arteries clog as you walked up to the General Mercantile and Hardware Store and Grill.

   I never saw Mr. D'Angelo unhappy. Mrs. D'Angelo handled all the unhappy in the family. Mr. D'Angelo was a right jolly old elf. Next to D'Angelo, Santa Claus is a sourpuss.

   One Thursday, I encroached on Mr. D'Angelo's airspace early. He had learned to fry onions beside the grill and the aroma was not so much intoxicating as irresistible. I watched entranced as Mr. D'Angelo pounded out the patties and popped them on the grill, stirred the onions, dipped the fries and salted everything in the area.

   On Thursday, you got five huge hamburgers and fries for the extravagant sum of $1.25. For this, you also got a running discourse of all that is going on in the world according to D'Angelo and a bright, bright smile.

   "It's all comin' out good," Mr. D'Angelo told the air. "It's all comin' out good."

   I nodded in voracious agreement.

   "Ya, man, I'm jus' a-tollin' you," he beamed and flipped a giant hamburger patty, "it's just a-flat comin' out good."

   I did not know if he meant the cosmos, human destiny or the fries. I was 11 then and as long as the hand-cut, curled fries with the skins left on them and deep fried in oil fetched from the seventh level of Dante's inferno turned out right, I was ok with the rest of reality.

   "Hey," he said to me, "you wan' some extra fries today? You always like de fries."

   My head was nodding so hard my teeth hurt.

   "Yeah," he said, "you da one who always likin' de fries."

   The very thought he was going to give something extra to someone who really liked what he was giving seemed to make the day for Mr. D'angelo.

   I have never forgotten that Thursday encounter. Fried onions make me think of this big old Italian man, smiling and singing over a blazing grill, surrounded by hamburger, face cream and nails. There is no way to put it all together without the Improbable Proprieter in the Store of Mixed Images, beaming with delight because he remembered the skinny Davis kid liked the fries.

   The man gave me a double order.


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