Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oh, They're Still Talking About that Dead Priest. Do You Think He Smells?

Ella Numera Una continues her Eurotrip series today with a contribution to Pseudo's Travel Tip Thursday and Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. The topic: If you had the time and money...what charity would you help raise awareness for?

Baba, my maternal grandmother, lived down the street. She was our go-to babysitter when Mom had to run errands, our after-school picker-upper, an excellent lemon cake-baker, and much, much more. We would go to the park, go to the National Gallery where she worked, go shopping, go to the theater, pretty much go anywhere. We were very well-traveled young women.

Baba was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when I was in high school. We still continued to go on our adventures, but slowly, I began to notice changes. First, she couldn't go to the grocery store by herself. Then, we began parking her car at our house. Eventually, she sold her rowhouse in D.C. for an apartment next door to my Aunt and Uncle. When we would go to visit, she was always the same, bright-eyed and tremendously opinionated, but remembering my age began to become a problem.

You are probably wondering why my relationship with Baba has anything to do with my recent trip to Rome. Actually, a lot!!

We decided to get a tour guide in Rome so we could catch as many sights as possible. We saw Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, the Coliseum. After eating lunch at a cafe ~ mmmmmmmmm, more pizza! ~ we hopped on our "coach," as our tour guide referred to it, and headed for St. Peter's Basilica.

St. Peter's Rome

With a tour guide, you get the complete, detailed rundown of everything historical, worthwhile, consequential or remotely interesting. As we were wandering around St. Peter's, we came across a man enclosed in a glass case, dressed in Papal robes.

The Dead Priest

The exchange between the tour guide and me went something like this:

Tour Guide: "And this is Pope John XXIII." He was embalmed and placed up in St. Peter's shortly after his death. Pope John Paul II will be placed in the Basilica in the fall. He is wearing a wax mask for obvious reasons."

Me: "Wait, this is the real guy? Like the real Pope? Really him? (Obviously confused as to why a man who has been dead for more than 30 years is lying in a glass case next to my leg).

Tour Guide: "Yes ma'am, the real Pope John XXIII. Not the fake one."

I had to take a picture immediately, and upon my return to the United States, this was the first photo I showed my Mother from my Eurotrip.

Me: "Look Mom, it's a dead priest."

Mom: "A real dead priest?"

Me: "Yes, a real dead priest, not a fake one. Baba would be so proud."

Okay, I promise we aren't crazy. We aren't dead people-crazed, nor are we Catholic. So, what's with the fascination with the Pope?

Shortly after Pope John Paul II's death in 2005, Baba was at our house for the afternoon, to give my Aunt some time to herself. After school I came home to find Baba on our couch, watching the news, which was covering Pope John Paul's death. With her age, Baba had become a tad confused, and usually things had to be repeated 3 or 4 times. While my mom made dinner, Baba and I watched the news, which got a little repetitive.

As the newscasters talked about the Pope, Baba questioned things out loud. She repeatedly referred to Pope John Paul II as the "dead priest" and did not understand why the news continued to talk about his death. She also didn't seem to understand why all these people were walking past the Pope, who was lying in state at the Vatican.

In Baba's opinion, "the dead priest" would probably be pretty smelly, since he had died some days before.

I tried to explain to Baba that "the dead priest" was actually the Pope, and it was a big deal that he had just died. But she just didn't seem to care. Every so often my Mom would come in to check on us, and ask what we were watching. The general response from both of us was, "Oh, you know. Just more about that dead priest."

This is one of my favorite memories of Baba in her later years. I don't remember it because I thought she was crazy, but because she was still the same person ~ not ever afraid to speak her mind. It's something that is filed away with the lemon cakes, the shopping trips, and the musicals, and whenever I think about it, I still laugh.

So, to answer the question at the beginning of this post, if I had the time and the money, the charity I'd want to raise awareness for is The Alzheimer's Association. For Baba. And for the dead priest.

The Papal Altar


Tammy Howard said...

This is a beautiful post. Awesome job pulling the charity thing and the travel thing together - kudos! I love that even in the throes of Alzheimer's your Baba never lost who she was.

Susie said...

What a neat story:-)

Miss Madras said...

Just stopping by from SITS.
This is a great post, good story.

June Freaking Cleaver said...

My mom is dealing with Alzheimer's, too. She doesn't live near me anymore, so I am not doing the day-to-day stuff. Now it's just phone calls, where I answer the same question about 44 times in 5 minutes.

She still has her sense of humor. She'll come out with a zinger once in a while. Any filters she had that made her measure her words carefully are gone, so she's liable to comment in oh so many improper ways!

knit1kids4 said...

What a great memory for you... and how very weird that they keep their bodies on view.

Aunt Julie said... odd Vatican ritual. I had no idea! But a lovely story, capturing the laughter and the love for your grandma!

Jenn @ youknow... that blog? said...

Memories like this are the best! These are what we share with our kids, so they get to know their ancestors in some small, personal way.

I love to hear other peoples' memories - great post! My grandmother is 98 and failing - but she was such a great lady in her day. It's sad to see her now, but in the same breath, she has had quite a life.

...Mrs. Southern Bride... said...

Great post! :)

Just stumbled on your blog!

Fer*Cambe said...

I really really love this story, it was a great way to talk about you and Rome! I remember that one day when I was real little, my grandpa took me out to one of the main avenues in Argentina because the Pope and his Pope Mobile were rolling by..

We had to all chant,"Juan Pablo segundo, te quiere todo el mundo".. oh those grandparents and popes!

Raine said...

Thats a wonderful story! Alzheimers Assoc. is a wonderful charity. I work in a lab that researches neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimers. There have been advancements, but hopefully the future will be brighter.

Marrdy said...

What a great story. Those memories of Grandma's are priceless and someday I too want to go to Vatican City!! Great history there.

Tortuga said...

What an awesome story, thank you so much for sharing with us!

only a movie said...

I love this story. Over from Pseudo. :-)

Grammy Suzzy and DJ Doran said...

I just love it when we can remember the wonderful things that make those we love so dear to us. Alzheimers is a sad, sad condition. I know as I age, I feel no different, but I can see less. What a dear lady to have in your life!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Awesome post with a great story! Thanks for joining in the travel fun on TTT's debut ; -)

meandtheblueskies said...

Come by my blog and get your five words for the Meme. I so wanna see what you do with them.

carma said...

Now that is down right creepy - yet oddly fascinating.. Preserved for over 30 years - not too shabby!

Alicia said...

how cool...slightly creepy though :) and baba sounds like such a neat lady!!

Ms Cupcake said...

Awesome photos!

Terrific storytelling too.

Thanks for stopping by.


LadyStyx said...

Very good reasoning for your answer!

Aunt Jo said...

I so enjoyed reading the Tale of the Dead Priest. A great travel story and memory of Baba woven into a beautiful stem winder. Baba being herself is a wonderful picture to think about.. I'm enjoying your travelogue immensely !

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