It all started with El Santo Niño de Atocha, although I didn’t know it at the time and I thought he was someone else. Anyway. And this is not ultimately a tragic story, in my mind, although depending on your aesthetic sensibilities you may think so when you see the photos.
My Mom was an alcoholic. At some point, after years of Alateen and Alanon, we did an intervention. We worked hard at it too – we hired a great (and expensive, although we were all fairly fresh out of college and some of us were in grad school and none of us could afford it) counselor and spent months planning and practicing and researching live-in treatment facilities. We did it. She said no.
We weren’t planning to stop seeing her but one by one we did, gradually, because we were ready to live different lives, and she wasn’t, and once we’d had the “I wish you’d stop drinking” “I don’t want to” conversation a few hundred more times we couldn’t think of anything else to say. On the day I decided to stop seeing her for a while I was wandering through San Francisco’s Mission District, where I lived at the time, and found St. Jude. Actually – actually I’ll get back to that later.
I was raised Unitarian, a non-religion born of the American Enlightenment, where my mother, a Presbyterian minister’s daughter, and my father, an unrepentantly lapsed Jew, found common ground, as well as some decent jokes. (One of my Dad’s favorites involves a bunch of people walking along a road who come to a sign with two arrows pointing in opposite directions – “This way to Heaven” and “This way to a discussion about Heaven.” How do you tell the Unitarians? They all head for the discussion, of course.) St. Jude is, of course, a Catholic saint, but as the patron saint of lost causes (or, more colloquially, of “things despaired of”) he’s kind of available to all – newspaper classified ads used to be full of notices thanking him.
So I saw this little dashboard saint labeled St. Jude and bought four – one for me and one for each of my sisters. We all stuck them to the dashboards of our cars to remind us of what we were leaving behind (at least that’s how I thought of it) as we moved ahead, as well as to commemorate our hope that one day she’d rejoin us (she didn’t). And we moved on. During the two years I did not see my mom (even though she lived just across the Bay) I learned to dance, developed a great relationship with my Dad, and met my husband.
Who asked about the saint on my dashboard, and, when I told him, said, “I don’t know who that is but it’s not St. Jude.”
My husband is Jewish, but went to college in New Orleans (where the saints are as important as the Saints) and it turned out he actually knew what he was talking about. St. Jude is always standing. He carries a seal and has a little flame coming out of his head. My dude was sitting down, holding a bag tied to a pole. He is, in fact, El Santo Niño de Atocha. So I went out and found the real St. Jude and bought one for each of my sisters. They stopped there. We didn’t. Instead, we started collecting. We’re still not Catholic, but we have shrines all over the house and so many antique saint statues in the window we’re told our neighbors call our house “The Sanctuary.”
It’s not just the saints that fascinate us, obviously; it’s the STUFF that goes with them – the St. Jude spray, the Jesus Saves air freshener, the St. Expedit powder, and all the other little things people invoke to help them find their way through this crazy world.
And then there are the grapes. But I’ll save those for another post. So far the only collection that’s going to the Schoolhouse is vintage globes, but… we’ll see. It couldn’t hurt to have a saint or two around.