Funny that a man who has been homeless, has helped homeless vets for the last five years, and who is technically homeless again, would write about a long-ago challenge in buying a house, but there it is. When my wife and I moved into our house in 1989, we were faced with a problem. Neither of us is Catholic, but the house at 16 Fowell Avenue had a betubbed BVM, a Blessed Virgin Mary, in the yard, protected from the rain by one end of a bathtub sunken in the ground, a sort of Mother of God on the half shell. The BVM sat on a solid granite base, testimony to her New Hampshire residence. Although the house was being sold because of a divorce—as would happen with Cindy and me 15 years later—I knew through some kind of closing gossip that Richard, the husband in question, was a fairly serious Catholic, one who went to Mass in the mornings instead of simply meeting his weekly obligations. The problem we faced, then, was how to get rid of the BVM without offending the previous owner. Or other Catholics. Or God.
If Richard had collected garden gnomes or bunnies, it would have been easy enough to simply place the items at the bottom of the weekly trash, and let the city cart them off. The BVM was way too large to hide among our trash, and sacrilege seems the only word to describe taking a hammer to Mary and nestling her pieces among the empty beer bottles, egg shells and used toothpaste tubes in our can. We may not have been Catholic, but we weren’t heathens either.
I thought of decorating her for each holiday—spray-painted red for Valentine’s Day, bunny ears for Easter and witch-like, with a small cauldron in front of her for Halloween. This tickled me greatly, but a friend pointed out that making a yard pet of the BVM dishonored Mary even more than iconoclasting her. Destruction would at least suggest we recognized the power of what we were doing, while transforming the statue into a mere decoration would be thumbing our nose at its sacred intent.
I tried to look into having Mary decommissioned, contacting Catholic friends to find out how to take a blessing off something. Unfortunately, these conversations headed one of two ways. Either the friend told me ways to remove a curse—and I didn’t suspect the statue was going to kill us in our sleep or render Cindy unfertile—or they suspiciously asked if I was a Satanist. (It strikes me the word “suspiciously” is probably unnecessary. I mean, it’s hard to imagine asking about possible Satanic sympathies without some kind of negative tone in the question. The year before this, Geraldo Rivera had aired a “documentary” called Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground, fueling the ongoing Satanic panic. At the school I was running, I’d even interviewed a girl for admission whose mother claimed Martina had been rescued from a Satanist father. Later conversation with the girl revealed he’d been a Mormon.)
I could find no clear explanation of the church’s means of de-blessing, so I moved on to the plan that ultimately worked. In those pre-internet, pre-Craig’s List, pre-Facebook days, looking for a BVM recipient meant telling people you had a statue you wanted to give “to the right home” and asking them to spread the word. Eventually, an older Polish Catholic woman, whose name may have been Guziewicz, but could just as easily have been Nowakowski, sent word through an acquaintance that she might be interested in an adoption. I called her.
“Hi, Mrs. Guziewicz. My name’s Keith Howard, and I heard you might be interested in a BVM.”
“A what?” she croaked. “I don’t need a car, especially a German one. My husband fought against them, you know.”
“No, no, not a car. A Blessed Virgin Mary statue. It’s in my yard, and we don’t really have any use for her.”
“No use for the Virgin? What kind of talk is that? She can intercede for you with the Father. She can comfort you. She can dispense grace. Of course you have use for her! She’s the Mother of God.”
“I didn’t mean her, exactly,” I tried to explain. “I don’t have any use for the statue of her in our yard. We’re not Catholic.”
“Whether you’re Catholic or not, She is the mother of all humanity. You must respect and love her. Even if you revile her, she continues to love you.”
“I’m sure she’s great,” I said, “but would you like the statue?”
“Of course I would,” said Mrs. Guziewicz. “I’ll send my grandson over for it.”
We worked out the details, but before we ended the conversation, Mrs. Guziewicz had one last detail to work out.
“You said you’re not Catholic,” she said. “Are you Protestant?”
“Not exactly,” I half-truthed, having left the church a few years before.
“Are you a Jew?”
“Nope. Not Jewish.”
“I’ve been watching a lot on television,” she said, “and this one group has been causing a lot of problems. Are you a Satanist?”
“Nope,” I replied, tasting the suspicion in her voice.
The space that had held the BVM never grew grass, which you may believe is a sign of a curse. I think it’s because Mrs. Guziewicz’s grandson didn’t bother to dig out her granite base.