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Alan Riquelmy: Just for a moment, listen

My father woke me at what for someone in his early 20s was the godforsaken hour of 9 a.m. on a Saturday.

There were people in our house speaking to my mother about their religious beliefs, and he wanted them gone. Why he couldn’t do this himself, I wasn’t told. Maybe his own religion forbid him from even speaking to these people. After all, he’d been told as a child that he’d go to hell if he touched a Gideon Bible.

We all have our hangups.



So, disheveled and grumpy, I plodded downstairs to confront these Saturday morning interlopers. My mother sat quietly listening to their speech. I stood with my arms crossed, politely listened for a good five minutes, and then ushered them to the door.

No reason for me to be mean about it. This just isn’t a good time for us. And please don’t come back.



I returned to the room where my mother sat and asked, why someone with specific and strong beliefs like hers, she’d bother spending any time with those visitors?

“Because they believe they need to talk to people about their own beliefs,” she said.

That’s stayed with me. She was confident in her own beliefs and knew no one would sway her from them. And she had the time to give to strangers, and did, just because they felt compelled to spread their message.

I have a friend who once compared my mother to the Church Lady, a recurring “Saturday Night Live” skit featuring Dana Carvey as a superior, overly religious woman in caricature.

There’s some truth in that. If you had asked her if it could, in fact, be Satan — one of the Church Lady’s go-to phrases — my mother may have said “yes.” The existence of God necessitates a devil, who actively tempts and corrupts humankind.

Maybe I didn’t agree with all that, but I listened, quietly and politely, just as you would if strangers had come into your home to proselytize.

However, the Church Lady wasn’t a fair description of my mother. Superiority wasn’t her thing. Growing up poor, she helped the poor in her adulthood. She volunteered countless hours at her church, serving on its vestry, in its office, in search committees for new rectors.

She placed doctors next to saints. Watching people get polio in her youth, she ensured her own children received medical care. Maybe too much care. Allergy shots every week. Dentist visits that came all too often.

My mother might as well have put vaccines next to prayers on level of importance. Both were requirements.

Her birthday would have been this coming Saturday. It got me thinking about her, and then writing about her.

Carole Patricia Riquelmy died nine years ago after, as they say, a long illness. A series of tornadoes swept through my hometown shortly after her death, delaying her memorial service a few days. My brother and I read passages from the Bible, and the rector gave a nice speech.

Then it was done. They placed the container with her ashes in the columbarium, and we moved off to the receiving line.

It seems like we’re given weeks, maybe months, to talk about the deceased, then regular life is supposed to take over and we move on. For the most part it does.

Robert Frost has a great line about this in his poem “Out, Out —”.

“And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”

Except sometimes, when a birthday draws close, or there’s someone at my door talking religion or politics — something about which I’ve already made up my mind — her memory lingers.

And because of that I’ll stay silent, just for a moment, and listen.

Contact Acting Editor Alan Riquelmy at ariquelmy@theunion.com or 530-477-4239.


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