September. It’s that special time when the temperatures cool off, the kids go back to school, and football season starts. It’s my favorite time of year.
Last September, my wife, Jenni, and I traveled to Charlotte, NC to watch the Detroit Lions play against the Carolina Panthers. As it turns out, September is not fall in Charlotte, North Carolina where the average September temperature is 81 degrees with 73% humidity. I was born and raised in Michigan. I am a northern boy with thick skin and thick blood. 81 degrees with 73% humidity might as well be hell.
On the Saturday before the game, we went out to explore the city. This being fall (I thought), I was wearing blue jeans. I was also wearing a black Detroit Lions tee shirt and baseball cap. This would turn out to be a bad move. Walking around Charlotte, sweat streamed off of my head, down my back and into places better left unsaid. I don’t remember Andy Griffith or Aunt Bea sweating the way I sweated on that day.
I have to take a moment to tell you about Jenni. She is a wonderful person. A devout Catholic who teaches catechism two nights a week and aspires to be a nun after I’m dead. Ninety-nine percent of the time Jenni wears shirts that have a religious saying on them, or are from the Vacation Bible School she runs every summer. However, on this particular Saturday, she wore a concert shirt from the band Styx that happened to feature a picture of the Grim Reaper, rowing a boat across the river Styx.
As we explored the city, and sweated profusely, Jenni wanted to check out churches. There are over 300 churches in Charlotte and every one of them was locked, except for one. It just happened to be a beautiful, old, Catholic Church. The door opened to Jenni’s pull, and music emanated from inside.
“We shouldn’t go in there,” I said.
“They’re having mass,” Jenni said. “We should go in.” There has never been a mass she didn’t want to attend.
“GO IN?” I thought. We were not dressed for mass. I was sweating through my shirt and she was wearing a picture of the grim reaper!
But, before I could get the words out, Jenni was in the church and an usher was leading her to a pew about three-quarters of the way back in what I now saw was a very full church.
What could I do? I took off my hat, slicked down my sweat drenched hair, and followed.
We got to our pew just as the congregation was kneeling for the first time in preparation of communion. I obediently knelt next to the future nun.
Angry eyes descended on us from every angle. I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, fearing I’d be turned to stone. Jenni was oblivious. She was in her element.
I noticed that these were some very nicely dressed people. There were coats and ties and dresses everywhere I looked. And then there was us.
I whispered, “We need to get out of here!”
Jenni responded, “No. It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” I said. “You’re wearing the grim reaper!”
“I’ll cover it up when we go up to communion.”
I sighed and relinquished myself to my fate.
As I knelt there, I realized it was just about noon, on Saturday. That seemed like an odd time for mass. I grew up in the Catholic Church and didn’t remember ever hearing of a Saturday at noon mass. And, as I said, these people were very well dressed. They took their church serious down here.
The time finally came to go up to communion. I stood in line, head down intent on not making eye contact with anyone, while Sister Jenni hid the grim reaper between her boobs.
Somehow, we managed to get through the communion line without incident. When we got back to our pew and knelt Jenni whispered, “This is not good.”
“Ya think?” I said.
She picked up the flyer that she had received when we entered and pointed at the front cover. It said, “Funeral Mass for Charles Turner.”
I sighed. We had crashed a funeral. And one of us was wearing the GRIM REAPER on her chest!
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Wouldn’t it be rude to get up and leave?”
Before I could answer an old lady stopped at our pew. “Uh oh, here we go,” I thought. And then the old lady, probably Charles Turner’s widow, stuck out her hand to shake ours and thank us for coming.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Charles Turner while he was alive, but I swear, I’ll never forget him.
Steve Hagood is the author of Chasing the Woodstock Baby
follow Steve on Twitter @authorhagood