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Tumbleweeds, p.25
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       Tumbleweeds, p.25

           Leila Meacham

  “They’re Latin for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, which means ‘For the greater glory of God.’ It’s the motto of the Jesuits.”

  She cocked a surprised brow. “You know about stuff like that?”

  Her meaning was clear. His hedonistic image did not jibe with someone who would have knowledge of religious matters. When the Internet first became available for home use, Trey had researched the Order of the Society of Jesus and read countless testimonies from ordinands explaining what had drawn them toward the priesthood. It was the celibacy issue Trey couldn’t understand. It wasn’t normal for a man to deny himself his God-given urges. John had as strong a libido as he, if more restrained. Bebe must have thought John had lost his mind when he told her he wanted to become a priest. Or maybe… after Cathy no other woman would do.

  A search through the Internet yielded an answer. Catholic priests were called to be “espoused” to God and the Church, Trey read, “because it frees the individual to concentrate solely on the concerns and needs of the larger family of God without the distractions associated with marriage. This spiritual concept is the reason why family words—father, brother, sister—are used to refer to those in a religious vocation.” One priest wrote: “People don’t choose celibacy because they don’t want to get married. Quite the contrary. They choose to live the celibate life in order to give an undivided heart entirely to God and man.” Trey remembered Aunt Mabel writing emotionally that when John took his first vows he’d said he was aware of the sacrifice of a wife and children of his own for a much larger family in the Church.

  But if John had known the truth, would he have made the sacrifice of his son and the girl he loved to set out on his journey for atonement?

  The years-old question usually kicked in late at night when Trey couldn’t sleep, and there were times he’d be at his computer in the study reading of the order of John’s calling when the sun rose through the window behind him and lit the screen.

  She opened the invitation. “My goodness,” she said in admiration when she’d read it. “Who is John Robert Caldwell?”

  He retrieved the card. “An old friend.”

  “You’ve never mentioned him to me.”

  “I suppose not.”

  “There’s no suppose to it, Trey. You never have.”

  He swiveled his chair away from her and got up. This was the point where his girlfriends accused him of shutting them out. He would lay money on what she would say next.

  “Trey, why don’t you ever share anything about your past with me?”

  He’d have won his bet.

  “Look, Tangi, why don’t you get dressed? There’s no point in hanging around here. I’m going for a run, and the rest of the day I’ve got things to do. I don’t know about tonight, either. I’ll have to give you a call.”

  The look came on her face he’d left on many a girl’s when she knew it was over. “Was it something I said?” she asked, her voice small and hurt, like a child’s.

  “No,” he said gently, drawing her into his arms. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. He’d liked her and they’d had a good time. “Nothing you said or did or didn’t do. It’s… just the way I am… who I am.”

  “A very hollow man,” she said, pulling away, closing her robe. “I’m sorry for you, Trey.”

  “Me, too,” he said.

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Turning her neck with difficulty, Cathy glanced across the aisle to give Will a smile. The aircraft’s wheels had popped down in preparation for landing at the New Orleans International Airport. It was his first plane ride, and he was one year older than she’d been in 1979 when, at eleven, she’d taken her last trip by air. Her son returned her smile and leaned toward her. Nearly six feet in height, he blocked Mabel’s view behind him.

  “How’s the neck?”

  Cathy kneaded the area of her left carotid. She’d awakened with a painful crick in her neck. “Sore, darn it. Let’s hope it unkinks by the time of the ceremony.”

  She did not want to miss a single detail of the ordination service. John would be entering from the rear of the church and she hoped to follow his every step in the procession. She and Will were to be seated in the first row, and to see everything would take quite a bit of neck craning.

  Beside her, Emma said, “John is going to be surprised at how much his godson has grown since the last time he saw him.”

  It had been a year, and in those months time had begun to refine Will’s facial features and physical build. Cathy saw Trey’s chromosomes at work in her son’s dark hair, deep brown eyes, and athletic grace, but missing were the chameleon temperament and cocksure manner that had set his father apart at that age. Though he was already catching the eyes of the girls, was an exceptional student, class leader, and baseball stand-out, there wasn’t anything remotely swaggering about Will. He possessed what his father never had—a rare combination of humility and confidence.

  The June before, John had come home for a couple of weeks between completion of a Masters of Theology degree and a summer assignment to gain pastoral experience at a parish in Chicago. Will had not been able to get enough of his company. Out of school for the summer, he and John had hung out in the school gymnasium shooting hoops and on the baseball diamond, where Will practiced hitting John’s fastballs. John had bunked at Father Richard’s, but he’d spent his days with Will while Cathy ran Bennie’s, the two of them stopping by the café for a hamburger at noon, then taking off again on some outdoor expedition—horseback riding and hiking in Palo Duro Canyon, fishing and sailing on Lake Meridian, the type of pursuits John and Trey had enjoyed at Will’s age.

  The two had turned brown as saddle leather and were thoroughly played out by mealtimes when they sat as a family around Emma’s table, then watched television together until it was time for John to leave for Father Richard’s.

  Will had pined when John had gone, and Cathy had recognized in him the kind of loneliness that only an abandoned and orphaned child can know—the sundown blues, she and John and Trey had called it, because they felt their forsakenness the deepest at dusk. It was another one of those times when she would have gladly wrung Trey’s neck. His name had not been brought up among them for some time, not even by Mabel, and Cathy wondered if Will ever thought of him or fantasized what it would be like to grow up as the wanted son of TD Hall.

  “Will knows that you and Trey grew up together,” she said to John. “Does he ever ask you about his father?”

  “Never. Not once.”

  “Do you ever speak of him?”


  Others remarked to Will on his father successfully leading the San Diego Chargers to the NFL play-offs season after season—some to get a reaction—but Will stolidly added no comment of his own, and after he turned nine Cathy never heard him speak Trey’s name again.

  “He’s come to a realization and accepted it,” Emma had observed.

  “I wish I knew what was going on in his head. He feels deeply and says little. I don’t want him to hate his father or become embittered by him, but what can I say to defend Trey’s denial of him?”

  “All you can do is what you’re doing—adding no fuel to the fire and making him understand that in the long run a person becomes who and what he is because of himself, not his parentage.”

  “I hope it’s working.”

  “It is.”

  There were times Cathy was not so sure. When Will was ten, she’d found a Sports Illustrated magazine hidden under his mattress. The cover featured Trey Don Hall in a classic quarterback pose, arm back to pass, the other outstretched, his uniform showing the ravages of a hard-fought game. One-third of the four-page article was devoted to his phenomenal staying power and luck in having survived seven years in the NFL without injury. Chronicled were his verbal run-ins with the news media as well as examples of his satirical exchanges with female TV reporters who stuck a microphone into his face at halftime and after a game. It was Trey’s opinion that “women have no business on
a football field unless they’re shaking ass and pom-poms.”

  “TD, can you tell us how you feel?”

  “About what?”

  “Uh, about the score.” (Losing or winning.)

  “No. Can you?”

  “On that last play, TD, what was going through your mind?”

  “Beats the hell out of me. What was going through yours?”

  In spite of herself, Cathy chuckled.

  Another part described his freewheeling lifestyle, love of sailing, and penchant for brunette models. It had detailed features of his $5 million condominium in Carlsbad, located thirty-five miles north of San Diego, among the most expensive places to live in the United States. Her son had read of Trey’s three sailboats and multiple cars and seen pictures of him in the company of an assortment of beautiful women. She’d discovered the magazine when the café had begun to afford an increase in their standard of living, but Will could not help but compare his father’s affluence to the years of his mother’s financial struggles when he’d wake in the night to find her worrying over the ledgers at the kitchen table. Out-of-pocket expenses for his great-grandmother’s medicine, car repairs, a new roof for the house, and renovations to Bennie’s left little room for bikes at Christmas and trips to Disneyland.

  And Cathy was sure he had not missed Trey’s preference for tall women. She’d felt a maternal tightening of her chest. How could Will not feel resentment toward a father who favored arm candy in such contrast to his mother and who was earning millions while she’d labored to make ends meet?

  She’d wondered if Will had paid much attention to the rest of the article that depicted Trey as “a heads and tails kind of guy.” Cool thinking, total self-control, and exemplary conduct described him on the field. “Off the gridiron,” the reporter wrote, “he could rival the back end of your most cantankerous farm animal.” However, from a long observation of Trey Don Hall, the writer stated, he had gotten the impression that the San Diego quarterback had gotten tired of his fame, riches, and women but never his game. “On the football field you see a person. Off, you see a persona. It’s like he’s posing for the cover of a glossy, glamorous, in-your-face magazine—this is what it’s like to be me, folks!—about as real a portrait of himself as a woman wearing makeup. One wonders how authentically the Armani suits, Berluti shoes, and diamond-studded Rolex project the image of a man relishing a full and happy life.”

  Cathy had remembered John’s words: “He’ll never know anything is missing in his life until he has it all…”

  She had slipped the magazine back in place and never mentioned it. Afterwards she’d regretted allowing the chance to slide by that might have gotten Will to open up about his father. There had not come another opportunity to penetrate her son’s obstinate silence on the subject of Trey Don Hall.

  The flight attendant came down the aisle for one last pass to collect trash. She was young and pretty and gave Will a special smile. Turning painfully to check if his seat belt was fastened, Cathy caught an amused grin from Ron Turner in the seat beside him, a pleasant sight for a change. Coach Turner hadn’t had much to smile about since his team won the state championship. He’d taken the death of his daughter terribly hard the following fall, and within a few years his wife had died from the heart disease she’d battled for years. His coaching duties began to suffer, and after a number of losing seasons he’d been forced to retire rather than be let go. Loss of income was no problem, but his sense of personal failure and disappointment with life showed in his sour demeanor and devitalized posture. This trip to New Orleans to celebrate the ordination of his favorite player to the priesthood might be just what the coach needed to restart his engines.

  John was waiting for them in the reception area as they deplaned. His tall figure was easy to spot in the crowd awaiting arrivals, and Cathy’s heartbeat stopped when, for the first time, she saw him dressed in the black suit and shirt and Roman collar of his calling.

  “Oh, my goodness,” Mabel said in an awed whisper. Loaded with bags, they all stopped several feet short of him, halted by his priestly beauty.

  Cathy laughed teasingly. “We don’t know whether to genuflect or throw our arms around you,” she said.

  John’s grin broadened, lighting his deep brown eyes. “Hugs will do. Welcome to N’orlins, y’all.” He and Cathy embraced, holding each other without speaking for an exclusive, personal moment before John hugged Emma and Mabel and shook hands with Ron and Father Richard, whom he’d asked to “vest” him at his ordination. Will stood silently behind the group to wait his turn, looking shy and wary of John as if he’d suddenly become a stranger.

  “Hello, Will,” John said in a quieter octave.

  Will seemed not to see his extended hand. “What do I call you?” he asked, shooting an uncertain glance at his mother.

  “What you’ve always called me—John.”

  “Not Father?”

  “Only if you want to. And only after my ordination.”

  “Father. I want to call you that,” Will said, his voice catching, and without another word flew into John’s arms.

  THE MOST HOLY NAME of Jesus Catholic Church was an imposing neo-Gothic structure erected in 1918 and inspired by the Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England. Cathy believed the altar one of the most impressive things she’d ever seen—which wasn’t saying much for someone who had hardly been outside Kersey, Texas, since she was eleven years old, she allowed wryly. Still, the most jaded world traveler would appreciate the ornate sculpture of the pure white marble communion table. John had told her the stone had been chosen by the primary benefactor of the church to represent sugar in honor of his family’s sugar-planting heritage. Surrounded by such gold and red opulence, Cathy imagined Father Richard must think the place a cathedral compared to his modest church back home. Hanging conspicuously from the altar rail was the white stole that he would later place over John’s shoulders.

  She heard a growing swell of voices behind her, a testament to the regard in which John was held. They belonged to his Loyola classmates and professors, scholastics and novices, members of the clergy, parishioners, his students, and their parents. There would be the homeless among them, sitting beside the sheltered; the unwashed, sharing a pew with the freshly showered. They would all come, his spiritual director had told her last evening at a small gathering in John’s honor. John had touched many in all walks of life. He was beloved. “He’s a very gifted scholar,” the director said, “but it’s not academics he’s known by, but his ability to relate to people, to connect with them, whether they’re student or faculty, clergy or laity, lowly or exalted. He has the touch.” With the exception of Father Richard, who would be participating in the processional, the contingent from the Panhandle occupied the first row on the right side of the aisle. Cathy would have liked to sneak a glance at the filling church for someone in particular, but her neck was too sore to make the effort.

  A door opened and the provincial superior of the New Orleans Province, richly clad in the vestments of his office, took his place by the altar. The choir filed in and stood in their nook at the right side of it, an impressive body in white robes and mantles adorned with a gold cross. The members lifted their maroon music folders as the director stepped to his position, and with the sweep of his hands a chorus of voices lifted in the ancient hymn “Soli Deo Gloria” (Glory to God alone) to the resounding chords of the grand organ. The ordination service had begun.

  Cathy glanced at her watch. In two hours, John would be lost to her forever, married to God. From time to time through the years, she had allowed herself to imagine what her life would have been like if she’d accepted John’s proposal the day before he left for Loyola. Of course she did not feel then what she felt now, and in the ceremony today there would be no moment when the provincial would instruct: “If there be any among you with reason why this man should not be joined in holy matrimony to his God, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

  She would hold her peace.
  The procession began. The assembly rose. Cathy saw Will’s eyes grow wide. This was his first time to witness such a display of liturgical pomp and splendor. Followed by the bishop, John was the second to the last in line, simply dressed in an alb, a long, white garment representing the baptismal dress of a new Christian who “puts on Christ.” How handsome he was! Cathy had noticed him draw the eyes of women at the airport as he strode along, curiosity in their gazes as to why such a man would willingly remove himself from the pleasures of the flesh that would naturally be his for the taking.

  At her pew, John stepped from the line and winked to the group as he took his place beside her until an altar server would come to escort him to the bishop to be ordained. Cathy held the order of the service in her hand, and all through the long reading of the Scriptures, the sermon, and the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed she fought the crazy urge to grab his white-robed arm and cry as she’d wanted to do on her grandmother’s porch that Thanksgiving evening in 1986: Don’t go, John. Stay and marry me…

  Her hold tightened on the program when the altar server, a young man in an alb and white surplice, approached John to lead him to the provincial superior, who would present him to the bishop. Do not turn and look into my eyes, John. You will see my heartbreak. He did not. He followed the server without a glance at her or a gentle squeeze of her arm. It was as if he had stepped forth into a new light and left all former things on the pew behind him. Before the bishop, the provincial placed his hand on John’s right shoulder and intoned, “I present for ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament John Robert Caldwell, who has been prepared, examined, and approved for this ministry and who has been called by the Church to this ministry through the Society of Jesus.”

  TREY HAD EXPECTED to tear up. He had to fight to keep his eyes dry during intensely emotional moments. Though most times he subdued it, his tendency to cry had a will of its own. Reporters called it an anomaly, since it appeared contrary to his cynical nature. He sat at the far end of a middle row on the right of the church where he had a clear view of the front-row seats and refused to surrender his vantage point, even stand, to accommodate arrivals. They’d had to step over his feet, casting him dark glances, not a flicker of recognition in them. In the off-season, he wore his hair longer. Its length and a month’s growth of beard and tortoiseshell-framed reading glasses were all the disguise he’d needed to grab a flight to New Orleans, rent a car, book a room, and slip into a seat of the Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church unrecognized.

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