Monday, April 18, 2011

Attack of the five-foot-five heathen woman

Dear Readers,

This post is in essence a prequel to the last one, and helps explain what set me off on that particular rant. Recently, my mother-in-law ambushed my husband over a plate of pasta and told him how she was so very disappointed and sad that our children were not attending Catechism, and that--by obvious extension--were not going to become good Roman Catholics and would probably wind up flame-licked in Hell (a place apparently brimming over with liberal-minded American wives). Well, as you know by now, my dear discerning Readers, nothing gives my hackles rise so much as a meddlesome old lady.

This latest family drama was set off by--get this--my knick-knacks...and is otherwise known as the Great Tchotchke Rebellion of 2011.

Of course, I know the Family has always looked at me askance because 1) I'm foreign and 2) I was raised (in decidedly lukewarm fashion) Armenian Orthodox--and fed hefty doses of mom's Presbyterianism to boot. Once, my father-in-law actually asked me if Armenians believe in Christ. I said, "No, we worship a swarthy, hairy-backed guy named Garabed, former rug-dealer and the God of Stuffed Grapeleaves." My ever-resilient husband has always been regarded as a black sheep because he habitually questioned the status quo: he visited the Hare Krishnas at Villa Vrindavan and read up on Scientology as a teenager, while his mother wailed and rent her garments. (The fact that he also insisted on doing his own laundry was, to her, further proof that he had come under the influence of Satan). So, on this particular day, she also expressed concern over the "heathen images" and "oriental gods" I have around my house (i.e. my serene Buddhas and lovely, carved teak Ganesh, etc.) and that we have no inanimate Jesuses or Marys to bring the Lord's Light into our home. Naturally, if I were to point out to her that, compared to ancient faiths such as Buddhism or Hinduism, Christianity is a mere upstart religon with a renegade recruiter as its point man, she would choke in righteous horror. Her repeated attempts to counteract my iniquitous knick-knacks and insinuate the One True Faith into our home by gifting us things like a watermelon-sized Holy Family musical snow globe have met with failure. Every year at Eastertime she tries to bring a priest into our house to bless it (or perhaps exorcise it)--doubtless believing that if he flings enough holy water on us we'll repent our heathen ways and return to the tractable fold.

But her cardinal beef with us is that we are breaking with tradition. She implored my husband that they are of good, old, upright and long-standing Catholic céppo [stock] and we, in following our own mutinous minds, are an unsightly blemish on the Family's clear complexion.


"Bennett looked at him [a Buddhist lama] with the triple-ringed uninterest of the creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of 'heathen.'"

Shortly after this latest example of my mother-in-laws' mosquito-like intrusiveness, I happened upon the above sentence in Kipling's Kim. Why is it that so many pious jackasses, in the name of religion, are willing--indeed happy--to succumb to the evils of ignorance and bigotry? As many of you know, my in-laws are slavishly Catholic--if the Pope told them to smear themselves with goat droppings and light their hair on fire, they'd do it. To them--and many like them, Catholic and otherwise--their faith is an exclusive club to which only an enlightened few are admitted, leaving the rest of us primordial slugs roiling in an ooze of sin and godlessness. The audacity of the institutions of men in asserting their proprietorship over God continues to astonish me.

A piece of the devil's own bric-a-brac

To tell the truth, I've never been much interested in a God that doesn't allow questioning, doubting, exploring, and seeing the good in all faiths. I am of the firm conviction that firm convictions based on untested experience and unentrained thought--a path never struck with tentative footsteps--are but pontifical pinpoints somewhere on the continuum of fanaticism. And, I must say, I'm not much interested in placating a mother-in-law (or anybody else) who thinks I'm only as good as my creed.

I've always admired people of quiet conviction, whatever their individual faith--those undetected souls among us who strive simply and compassionately to be an example merely by the life they lead, as individual drops of water lie peacefully within a vast pond, feeling no compulsion to evangelize the other drops of water. If only my mother-in-law--that nosy, thick-stockinged, champion of Christ--had a martyrs' mettle to speak her mind to my face, I would ask her, in all earnestness: "I may be an American Armenian Orthodox Protestant semi-Buddhist truth-seeking feminist heathen decorator--but if you prick me, do I not bleed?"

Alas, I have a hunch that any such appeal to reason and intelligence would fall on deaf--and unwaveringly parochial--ears.

Yours, quietly,



  1. "watermelon-sized Holy Family musical snow globe" LOL! I'm sure this will be a collector's item in a few years time!

  2. Sounds far too familiar...I once dated a man who told me he was going to heaven because he was born catholic (no, he did not go to church) while I was going to a special lutheran hell. But if I dated him I would be sent to a lesser kind of hell, whatever that means. oh, the things we do for love.

  3. @Isabel: I plan on auctioning it off on E-Bay for a fortune one day! (That is, if the Vatican Museum doesn't want it). @Michele: welcome and thanks for reading and commenting. Isn't it interesting that each denomination has their own reserved pew in Hell's cathedral?

  4. Are your in-laws Florentine? I'm wondering where I went wrong, because mine are (di citta', they like to specify) and though they go to Mass and are active in the Parish are nothing at all like your fanatics.

    Out of curiosity, what Parish do they frequent?

  5. Kyle, welcome and thanks for commenting! My in-laws are definintely NOT "di città", though they've lived here for more than 40 years--they're Mugellani. Their parish is but the tiniest of blips on the Church radar, on the far north side of town.

  6. My father in law used to make concrete statues and now has a foot high Madonna in multiple spots in the yard and house. Trouble is he tried to paint them himself so she is more like a "putana" than the Madonna (something to do with the massive amounts of bright red smeared lipstick)
    I loved your post
    ciao for now

  7. Lisa, thanks for reading--I howled at your comment!!!! The lipstick-smeared Harlot Madonna! Priceless!

  8. I am laughing harder than I was when I read your last post.

    Did you eat lamb yesterday?

  9. Well, at least your MIL is to be loved for the amount of writing material she gives you. How about "Under the Tuscan Mum"? I succombed to taking my son to Catechism, and after the year of HELL getting ready for his commmunion, neither one of us want to attend a Mass for the rest of our natural lives. Grazie mille e bravisssima!

  10. Patti, yes, lamb (secular) was eaten... Papaya: your punning has me grinning like a knave and I am imagining your infernal year of first communion prep with the deepest sympathy. Here's an anecdote, and tell me who's the REAL heathen: when my niece was getting ready for her 1st Communion and my in-laws were planning the huge after-party, my husband and I were TOLD we had to chip in on a DIAMOND-ENCRUSTED PLATINUM NECKLACE (albeit a cross)--the implication being that if we didn't we'd risk eternal damnation.

  11. Oh, yes, with the said necklace being presented at a restaurant where MIL made reservations a year in advance. Frankly, I prefer hell.

  12. Papaya dear, if you think about it, hell is really where all the fun people go.

  13. enjoyed reading this immensely, thanks for the chuckles and guffaws. Hang in there!


Polite comments are always welcome.
Sometimes Blogger has problems. If you don't see your comment, try posting from another browser such as Google Chrome.