Polonia’s closed to the general public the afternoon of Father Jack DuMont’s funeral, for the express purpose of handling the after-funeral arrangements. To the waitresses he’d showered with compliments and smiles, the friends he’d made at St. Florian’s, and the close proximity to his general ‘stomping grounds,’ Polonia’s was the perfect spot to have the traditional luncheon following the internment at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. If Father Du Mont had been Irish, the affair would have been called a wake.
His mother had come up from Windsor, Ontario, up being the correct direction, though most assumed that Detroit was south, it was actually north. Pattie Cleary had taken charge of Mrs. DuMont as if she were a frail and broken hatchling, when in reality, Georgette DuMont was as strong and determined a woman as you might ever meet. She stood five feet, ten inches tall and had the strong but mature body of a lifelong swimmer. In fact it was she, not Jack’s father, who had taught him the game of hockey. As for drowning in sorrow, Mrs. DuMont was a strong Catholic and a realist. She had lost a young daughter, a husband, and now her only son, but she trusted that God had a plan. She also knew that tears in the privacy of her bedroom, though sometimes necessary, would never change what had already passed. Only the good Lord could do that. So in her own words and to the surprise of Pattie Cleary, she said, “Please pour me a vodka, Pattie, and let’s get done with what must be done.”
By one thirty Polonia’s was packed, probably beyond what the fire marshal would have allowed. The entire bar and three tables lined up end to end were filled, buffet style, with the restaurant’s specialties. The first table was filled with traditional Polish dishes: stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce, pierogies and sour cream, Polish style kraut (kapusta), Polish potato noodles (kopytka) and cucumbers and sour cream. The second table was filled with assorted salads: coleslaw, pickled beets, tossed salad, red cabbage, dill pickles. Three kinds of bread, butter and Polonia’s special bread spread (bacon, bacon crumbs, fried onions and spices).And he third table was filled with assorted meats: fresh and smoked Polish sausage, beef goulash, City Chicken, meatballs with mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. And even though it was Lent, an exception had been made and the bar was filled from end to end with a sweet assortment of desserts to choose from, including crepes floating in a sour-cherry syrup, five-layer chocolate cake, NY style cheesecake, and crepes filled with either strawberries, raspberries, or apples.
Walking into the restaurant unprepared for such a sight was enough to cause temporary culinary spasms from even the most sophisticated of diners. Those who were familiar with Polonia’s offerings, however, simply took it all in stride, filled their plates to the brim, ordered a Sobieski vodka from the bar and found a seat.
Which was exactly what Marie and Alex Khirshon did, making sure to fill their plates to maximum capacity. After all, there was no reason to turn down a free meal, and wasn’t it important to support Father Cass in his grief? Nevertheless Marie’s ire was raised when Alex insisted on paying for a shot of vodka in the middle of the day, but like he said, the meal wasn’t costing them anything, so what was four-and-a-half bucks for a vodka? There was no need to go to the funeral mass; after all it wasn’t as if this Father DuMont was their friend. But the luncheon was an entirely different matter. They made their way to the table near the window where Emily was sitting with Pattie and a woman that Marie felt like she had met, but she just couldn’t remember where or when, perhaps she had just seen her somewhere.
“Hey, Emily. Boy what a crowd! This place is packed. I had no idea that this Father DuMont guy even knew this many people, did you?”
Pattie’s face flushed deep red and she looked as if she wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole. But instead of fading into the woodwork, she straightened her back, cleared her throat and spoke, a bit louder than any of them had ever heard her previously, “Marie, oh good. I see you’ve filled up your plate nicely. Have you had a chance to meet Father Jack’s mother? May I present Mrs. Georgette DuMont? Mrs. DuMont came up from Windsor yesterday to bury her only son. She lost her husband last year and her only daughter when she was sixteen. She’s alone now. Mrs. DuMont, this is Marie Khirshon and her husband, Alex. The Khirshons have four children, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, two grandchildren, and another one on the way. Some people are truly blessed.”
Marie just stared at Pattie. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times, resembling a fish after it’s been caught. Open, close, open, close. Finally she stood up and mumbled something about the ‘ladies’ and beat a hasty retreat. Alex stood, offered his hand to Mrs. DuMont, and by way of apology said, “I’m so sorry for your loss, Mrs. DuMont. Father Jack, Father Cass, and I went to a lot of basketball games over to St. Florian’s and sometimes came back here to throw back a few Heinekens and argue the finer points of the game. He was a good man and he did some good work with a lot of troubled young men in the rougher parts of the city. The way I heard, he died trying to save one of them. I’m awful sorry about what Marie said, but that’s Marie and she ain’t never gonna change, so again, I’m sorry about her and I’m sorry about you losing your son. If you want, we can find another table.”
Mrs. DuMont reached out and took Alex’s hand in hers and said, “No apology necessary. Sometimes our mouths open before our brains know what’s happening. Sit down and enjoy your lunch. That’s what I’m intending on doing. Do you think Marie will stay in the ladie’s all afternoon?” She had a glimmer of amusement in her eyes.
“No, ma’am,” he answered. “She’s hungry. She’ll be out soon enough. But don’t expect an apology, that’s not her way.”
“All right, then. So, St. Florian’s has a good basketball team?”
“Fair to middling, I’d say. They’ve got a ringer; he’s tall as a beanpole and graceful as a ballerina. Hey, look. He’s just come in with his folks. Would you like to meet him? I mean, if you like basketball?”
“Actually I would. I’m quite tired of thinking about the reason we’re all here. So a distraction right now would be lovely. Thank you. Pattie, would you mind saving my place?”
“You go ahead, Georgette. I’ll be right here.” Alex and Georgette got up from the table and headed over to where Randy Horchow boy wonder and his family were standing talking to Father Cass.
Emily scooted over so she was sitting next to Pattie and put her arm around her friend’s shoulder. “Pattie Cleary, Jackie would be so proud of you right now. I know I’m proud of you. I know how hard that was for you to talk to Marie like that, but oh my God, I was mesmerized. You were wonderful, and she deserved to hear every word that you said.”
“I don’t even know where that came from.” She looked at Emily with the tiniest hint of a surprised smile on her face. “All of a sudden I just felt this ball of anger and injustice bubbling up inside of me, and then it popped and instead of anger out came exactly the right thing to say. That never happens to me. Oh sure, three hours later I can think of what I could have said or should have said, but never right then when it’s happening. I feel so good. Oh, I hope she isn’t mad at me. I didn’t mean for her to be mad at me. That wasn’t why I said it, not at all. She just needed to understand what she did.”
“I know, honey. You did the right thing, and if she’s mad, she’s just going to have to get over it.”
“If who’s mad?” Marie had walked up to the table and was standing in front of them.
Emily spoke first, “You, Marie. We’re talking about you.”
“Why would I be mad?” She sat down at her place and started in on the meatballs.
“Why do you think?” Pattie was back to her normal quiet tone.
“No reason I can think of. So where did Alex get off to?”
At that moment Pattie decided to let this particular sleeping dog sleep. He went to talk to Randy Horchow, the basketball’s rigger or whatever he is.”
“Ringer, Pattie. He’s a ringer. That means he’s really good and the other teams don’t know about him.”
“Oh. Thanks. How’re the meatballs? My stomach’s been a bit on the jumpy side the last couple of days, so I’m trying to avoid anything that might be greasy.”
“Greasy? Are you kidding me? There’s not a drop a’ grease in Polonia’s meatballs and the gravy’s as smooth as silk. What’s going on with your stomach?”
Pattie sighed. “I don’t know. It’s probably just nerves, you know? All of this with Father Jack and all. I’m so worried about Father Cass. I’m having trouble sleeping too. I dozed off yesterday morning at Mass during the sermon and that’s just not like me.”
“Why are you worried about Father Cass? Has he said something?”
“No. Not exactly. You know he was there when Father Jack was killed.”
Emily’s face paled, but Marie’s antenna perked up and she dove in. “What do you mean ‘not exactly’? Did he say something or didn’t he? You know, Pattie, we can’t help you help him if you don’t tell us everything you know. And we want to help, don’t we, Emily?” She shot Emily a conspiratorial glance and lightly kicked her.
“I want to help you if you think there’s anything we can do, Pattie.” Emily moved closer to Pattie and slightly further from Marie.
After a moment a tear slid down Pattie’s face and she said, “You’re right. Besides we all know what Father Cass can do, so it’s not like it’s a secret or anything. And I would feel so much better if I could share this with someone. I can’t hold this by myself. He was in such a state when he got back to the rectory. He was covered in blood, he was, you wouldn’t have believed it. I can still see him when I close my eyes. Well I didn’t know what to do, I was that shocked. So when I finally got him to sit down, which took some doing, I can tell you, I poured him three fingers of whiskey. He said he didn’t want any, but I just told him to drink it. And he did, all at once like it was orange juice or medicine. About fifteen minutes later I told him he should go up to bed and try to sleep, but he said, ‘No, I want to talk to you. I have to tell you.’
And then he just started talking and talking. He told me that when it happened, I mean when Father Jack died, he had gone into the bathroom to get the first aid kit for the other boy, I think his name was Derrick. Anyway, he said that he heard the gun shots, but he didn’t come out right away because he knew that although he could have saved his friend, he also knew that it wasn’t in God’s plan that he do it.”
Emily spoke first. “Why not?”
“He said it wasn’t in the plan because it wouldn’t have been a healing. It would have been a raising of the dead, because Father Jack had been killed instantly. He said that now wasn’t the time for that, but that the time was coming. Then he said, ‘You’re not ready. None of you are ready.’ Then he began to weep. I figured it was the whiskey, so I helped him up the stairs and got him into bed. He never said another word about it since. I don’t know if he even remembers any of it. I don’t know what to make of any of it. I only know that when I remember it, I feel very frightened.”
“Are you sure that’s what he said?” Marie was speaking louder than necessary and people were beginning to notice.
Emily grabbed her hand and turned her toward the window. “Calm down, Marie, and lower your voice. People are paying attention to us. Go back to eating your meatballs. Do you want some more coffee? Let me get one of the waitresses.”
Pattie tapped Emily on the shoulder. “Do you know those two men that are walking this way?”
“Aren’t those the guys we had lunch with last week after church?”
“Hi, ladies. Are those two seats taken?” Mitch Zeminick, holding a full plate in one hand and a glass of beer in the other, took their silence as a yes and slid in next to Marie.
Dr. Frank Zolnierczak, bringing up the rear, pushed in behind him, carrying a plate of chocolate cake and a hot cup of coffee. “Thanks. I wasn’t sure we’d find a seat at all. But here we are and lucky us, we found friends. We were so sad to hear about Father DuMont. When we read about what good friends he and Father Cass were, well even though we’re new to St. Florian’s, we just felt we should be here to show our sympathy and support. What a lovely turnout.”
Mitch, a bit flushed and looking as if this might not have been his first beer of the day, turned his attention to the ladies and said, “Did you know him well? The deceased, I mean?”
Emily answered. “I wouldn’t say you would call us friends, but Father Jack had joined us for lunch a few times over the years, and Marie’s husband, Alex used to go over to the school and watch the basketball games with him. He was a different sort of priest, rough around the edges but a good man where it counted. He’ll be missed.”
“I’d say any time we lose a priest, we’re down a good one, don’t you think? So he and Father Cass go way back, I hear?” Frank had finished his cake in what seemed to Pattie like only three bites. She’d never seen such a slightly built man manage to put so much into his mouth at one time. She found him fascinating.
“Hmm?” she said.
“Father Cass and Father Jack…I heard that they’ve known each other a long time. Is that right?”
“Oh, yeah. They went to seminary together, though Father Jack was seven years older than Father Cass. I guess it doesn’t matter now.” She paused and then went on. “I guess it never mattered really, but Father Jack was married and divorced twice before he entered the seminary.”
Marie sat up straight and actually sputtered. “Pattie Cleary! You never told me that!”
Apparently once Pattie had found part of her backbone, she hung on to it. “Well, Marie, you never asked me. Anyway, Father Jack was apparently in the NFL. No, that’s not right. He played hockey, so he was in the NHL. Yes, that’s it. He played with a team in Toronto.”
Frank Zolnierczak broke in. “Do you mean the Toronto Maple Leafs?”
“Yes, that’s right, the Toronto Maple Leafs. I think he played with them for five or six years. That would have been in the early ’80s, because he entered the seminary the year after Father Cass did, so that would have been 1989.”
“But why would he have done that? Why go from being a hockey player to a priest? It doesn’t make sense.” Mitch Zeminick apparently wasn’t buying what Pattie Cleary was selling.
Frank looked as if someone had just hit him over the head. “Oh my God!” he said, “I know why. Because his little sister was tragically killed in some senseless accident and he had a sort of spiritual epiphany. I remember reading all about it at the time. Father Jack is Jaques DuMont, of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Don’t all of you remember this? It made all the sports pages. He was amazing. He was at the University of Windsor playing with the Lancers, and the NHL scouted him. In one game, he scored eight points, with five goals and three assists. U of W won the game eight to three against the University of Toronto. DuMont ended the season with fifty-five points, unheard of in college hockey. He signed with the Maple Leafs and left college at the end of his second year in 1983. He played for six years and then shortly after his sister was killed, he quit and entered the seminary.”
“What are you-the hockey almanac?”
“No, Mitch. I’ve just always liked the game, and DuMont was an amazing player. If he put that kind of drive and energy into being a priest, he must have really made a difference. What a loss.”
“Did you know that he was shot?” Marie had a penchant for gory details and for being the center of attention.
“Excuse me?” said Mitch, draining the last drops of beer from his glass.
“Father Jack was shot by one of those thugs that he was supposedly doing so much for. They just shot him right through the heart. I heard he died instantly. I guess he wasn’t so stupendous with that kid, was he?”
Pattie felt her heart begin to pound and her blood pressure rise. “That’s enough, Marie! What on earth did you put in your coffee, because I’m sure that cream and sugar wouldn’t make you say something so awful.”
Emily chimed in, “If you think I’m coming to your rescue, think again. You’re on your own, Marie Khirshon.”
“What? What did I say that the rest of you weren’t thinking?”
The table was silent. No one moved, no one blinked. All eyes were on Marie.
“Fine. I’m going to get another shot of Kahlua for my coffee. Try not to talk about me while I’m gone.” She attempted to get up and out from the booth before Mitch and Frank had a chance to get up and subsequently managed to fall, stumble, crawl over the two of them, finally ending up being caught by Frank, who assisted her in standing upright, whereby she headed in a somewhat straight line to the bar.
“Please excuse her,” Emily murmured. “She’s not usually like this.”
“No,” Pattie agreed, “not usually.”
At that moment Father Cass arrived with Georgette DuMont on his arm. “Room for us?” The question asked by Father Cass seemed irrelevant as they slid in beside Pattie Cleary.
“Of course. There’s plenty of room. Besides, I promised Georgette that I’d save her place for her. Although I’m afraid your lunch is pretty cold and unappetizing now. Would you like me to get you another plate? It’s not a bit of trouble.” Pattie’s default position was mother to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and she went there now.
Georgette smiled at Pattie and shook her head, “No, thank you. Dear, dear Pattie, you have made up a lovely guest room for me, unpacked my bag, fixed me a pot of tea last night, and even ran to the druggist for headache powder, which I could have managed on my own. You have run yourself ragged for me at the expense of yourself. You are most gratefully appreciated, but you must stop and let me care for myself. Besides, I need to keep busy. I think it will help. Go back to fussing over Father Cass, my dear. I think he needs it more than I.”
“But really I don’t mind, and it’s not a bit of trouble…”
“I know, dear. But we women are hardheaded are we not? Do I make my point?”
“Alright then. But you’ll let me know if…”
“I will indeed.”
Mitch Zeminick looked at both women and then at Father Cass and said, “Did you understand all of that?”
Father Cass grinned. “No, and I don’t believe I was meant to, so I’ll just leave it at that. Young man my advice to you is this: never try to understand something that isn’t necessary for you to know-such as the inner workings of a woman’s mind. Incidentally, I’ve been remiss. Mrs. Georgette DuMont, allow me to introduce Mitch Zeminick and Dr. Frank Zolnierczak. Both of these young men are new to St. Florian’s but they seem to be fitting in nicely. Gentlemen, Mrs. DuMont is Father Jack’s mother. I don’t say ‘was’ because she will always be his mother, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
Georgette turned to Father Cass and for a moment put her hand on his cheek. “Thank you for that, Cass. Your mother would be proud.”
“I hope so.”
Then she turned to Mitch and Frank and asked the obvious, “So what brings you to St. Florian’s?”
Frank answered first. “My mom and I lived in a little apartment on the outskirts of the parish until I was eleven. I think it was on Jos. Campau, but it may have been on Mitchell, I’m not really sure. It was a long time ago. Anyway, every Sunday we went to St. Florian’s and I just remember loving everything about it. I made my first Holy Communion there. So when I got the job at Children’s Hospital, I thought to myself, why not? I found a nice little house to rent and here I am.”
“So was everything the same?” Emily asked. “When you walked back into St. Florian’s, did you have the same feelings?”
“At first I thought I might be disappointed, but I wasn’t. The church is still the same beautiful, peaceful place that I remember. I’m really glad I came back.”
Before anyone could ask Mitch to expound on his reasons for being there he jumped in with, “You know, that’s pretty much my story. The only difference is that my family lived in Detroit, and since we were Polish we always came into Hamtramck on Sundays to go to St. Florian’s. But my dad was transferred to New York when I was nine, so that ended that.”
“That explains your accent,” Pattie said with a smile.
“What accent? I don’t have an accent.”
“Right,” agreed Pattie. “Me neither, dearie. Here, love, have a slice of cake, and we’ll pretend it was never mentioned.” With that the whole table broke into fits of laughter and the afternoon, which began in sorrow, ended on a high note.