Saturday, February 18, 2012

Goat in my food trap

I have this terrible food trap back in my last two molars on the upper right side of my mouth. I just spent 5 minutes clearing out the goat meat. Goat, it seems to me, is one of the most stubborn food stuffs--requiring picks, and two kinds of floss.

There is a reason I have goat in my food trap--I helped with the funeral of Zenith Punter today and there was goat at the reception after the interment.

Zenith was a couple of years younger than I am. She was married to Vincent and had 4 or more kids, my favorite of which was Keshia, the youngest daughter. There were 450 people at the funeral, almost all of them natives of Barbuda--a tiny island near Antigua.... It always seemed to me that there were as many Barbudans in Waterbury as there were back on the island. I know that's not true, but it seemed that way.

The first time I ever tasted goat--which I like, by the way--was at a Barbudan funeral in my first few years of the two decades + I spent at St. John's. I didn't know what it was--it tasted a bit like pork but not as sweet and was horrified when someone told me it was goat. But I liked it. (It's sort of like when I ate tongue in Israel and loved it until someone told me what it was....)

Zenith was part of a remarkable extended and extended some more family at St. John's. I always referred to them as "The Webber's" since "Mrs." Webber was the matriarch of the whole clan. I always called her "Mrs. Webber" and she always called me "Father Bradley" (though her accent made it "Fadder Bradley"). That was our way. I tried to make her call me 'Jim', but that wasn't going to happen. And I never even considered calling her "Renetta". We were very close, but our closeness was because of our respect for each other.

At any rate, the "Webber Family" was vast and far-flung and occasionally descended on St. John's, like at Renetta's significant birthdays or the baptism of some of the children. An elegant, refined, wondrous family they are. All the men are handsome and all the women are beautiful and all the children are astonishingly well behaved.

Two stories about 'the family'.

Seminarians would come and go at St. John's, and to a one they would at some point ask me, "why do most of the Black people sit together?" like something was wrong. I would say, what it you so 30 or 40 people sitting together, all with red hair and freckles? They would ponder and say--"a family?"

Precisely, I'd say.

Then there were the people with children who would tell me they wanted to come to church more often but 'the children, you know, just can't sit through it'. And I would invite them to watch the Barbudan children who not only 'sat through it' but sat through it with white gloves on the girls and suits and ties on the boys.

This family meant so much to me. I'm sure they don't know how much.

Today, though it's only been two years, when I saw the children I nearly wept and rejoiced all at once. So grown up, the ones I knew as adolescents, so refined, those I knew as grammar school age. Astonishing how powerful DNA is--these are GOOD people.

Good people who eat goat.

There seemed to be one station empty on the endless food line. There was scalloped potatoes, ziti (obviously a food learned from our culture) , green beans, mac and cheese, goat, ham and chicken in two directions. So I handed out scalloped potatoes to half of that 450 group.

Michele, the one who seemed in charged, asked me why I was serving. I told her, "today I am an honorary member of this family."

Raven, who was doing the pasta beside me and is about five inches taller than me though she's still in high school and incredibly beautiful, looked at me and said, "Father Bradley, you've always been a member of our family...."

I could have wept then and there.

May the expansive soul of Zenith and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.