Was it St. Patrick’s Day in Sister Rosanna’s classroom when Mary stuck up her hand for a question?

It must have been, because Mary Margaret Keating was wearing her green ankle socks.

Mary Margaret’s Uncle Emmett was a priest over in Cahokia, Illinois. She always wore her green socks on St. Patrick’s Day.

Funny, things one remembers.

So about the question? Mary asked, “What is “re-car-na-tion?”

Sister corrected her. “Do you mean ‘reincarnation,’ Mary Margaret?”

Her question floats back me to now, as it has many times, in little broken pieces.

“My uncle, the priest, said that when we die, we get to come back.”

Sister was always respectful of our questions and gave Mary Margaret a quick, simple, unsatisfying answer.

“Heaven is such a beautiful place,” Sister answered, “why would you want to leave and come back here?”

Good question, Sister. As we were all well indoctrinated little Catholics at that time, we knew not to argue with her. She was a BIG Heaven fan. As we were in the middle of World War II that year, nobody wanted to talk about dying, let alone coming back.

But the word, and its meaning, grabbed me.

Even as a toddler, words were like Easter eggs down deep in the grass, and when I found one, heard or read one, I would impress Sister Rosanna by using it in class.

That afternoon I took it down to the Carondelet Library and asked the library lady, Mrs. Haag, who, at night, was the ticket lady at the Michigan Avenue movie theater, only a block away.

She opened her desk dictionary, found it and showed me.

“Can you read this?” she asked.

I could.

re·in·car·na·tion.

“The rebirth of a soul in a new body; a person or animal in whom a particular soul is believed to have been reborn.” Wow! That was heavy.

Is it possible, I wondered, if I could come back as a dog, a squirrel, a goldfish? I think I drove my family crazy with questions.

As fate would have it, many decades later, She, who resembles Sister Rosanna, and I sat with a fortune teller, a middle-aged blonde lady in a tent at a fundraising party on the beach in Malibu. After two margaritas to our one, the lady revealed our pasts.

I gotta tell you. She scared me with a few accuracies about my childhood, and one that made no sense.

“You will become famous in letters in your later years.”

“Letters?”

“Writing,” she said. “You will become known for your writing.”

You tell that to an actor who wants to hear movies, television, Oscar?

I knew she was a fake. But She, who always hated Hollywood, had her fingers crossed. This is a true story. Ask She, who never lies.

Today, as I tiptoe around death with every step I take in the marketplace, and even wear one of my collection of multi-colored masks to the bathroom at 2 in the morning, I find myself remembering Mary Margaret’s newfound word.

Reincarnation.

Come back? As what? A Republican?

To what? Nine more virus flavors? A Waterville with a two-way Main Street? A local Catholic Church-turned-event-center with a flashing neon sign on the door? Six-buck avocados and sharing a toilet at a nursing home?

Fuddgidaboudit. I’m going where SHE’S going.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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