Garry was working weekends that decade, so whatever stuff happened on Sunday was part of his beat. This particular Sunday, mass at the old catholic cathedral near our condo in Roxbury was being conducted by His Eminence Bernard Francis Law, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston and cardinal of the Roman Catholic church. It was a big deal for the neighborhood’s shrinking Catholic population.
It was a grand dame amongst local churches.You could see her former grandeur, though she was currently in desperate need of restoration and repairs to just about everything. When the Archbishop says Mass anywhere, it’s an event. We lived a short block away from the old cathedral. The neighborhood was buzzing.
Roxbury was an almost entirely Black neighborhood. It had previously been a Jewish neighborhood which was red-lined by real estate brigands in the 1960s. We were among the first two or three middle class mixed-race couples to move back to Roxbury. We hoped we’d be the start of an upward swing for the neighborhood, including how it would be perceived by media and Bostonians. We had chosen it less out of sentimentality than because it was a wonderful location. Convenient to everything with lots of green space, lovely neighbors, and affordable, a combination almost impossible to find in Boston or any major city.
Despite rumors to the contrary, it was not crime central. You could leave your car unlocked on the street and no one would touch it. I know because my neighbor tried desperately to have his cars stolen, going so far as to leave the keys in the ignition for weeks. Not a chance. People watched out for each other in Roxbury. I never had better neighbors, or felt safer.
The morning on which Cardinal Law was due to visit, Garry called. “I was telling Bernie (Cardinal Law) that you used to live in Israel and are really interested in religion and stuff.”
“So he’ll be dropping by for a visit.”
“I think he’s on the front steps. Yup, there he is. Gotta run. Love you. Have a great day.”
BING BONG said the doorbell. I looked at me. At least I was not still in my nightgown. The house was almost acceptable. Thanks for all the warning, Gar, I thought. Showtime! And in swept His Grace, His Eminence, wearing the red skull-cap and clothed in a long, black wool cloak. Impressive.
Big Guy stretched. Our Somali cat — the best cat in the world and certainly the smartest, sweetest, and gentlest — was our meeter and greeter.
I offered the Cardinal the best seat in the house, the blue velvet wing chair by the bay window. Big Guy promptly joined him. We chatted for almost an hour. Israel, the church, whether there was any hope the old church could raise enough funds to repair and upgrade the facilities.
We talked about the neighborhood. A bit of church politics. Although Bernard Cardinal Law was ultimately blamed for the long-standing and terribly wrong policy of the Church in concealing the misdeeds of child-molesting priests, this was years before that story came to light. The man I met was wonderfully intelligent, friendly, witty, and a pleasure to spend time around. Which was probably why Garry was so fond of him and considered him a friend.
When it was time for the Cardinal to depart, he stood up. Big Guy left his cozy spot on the warm lap of the Archbishop. That was when I realized the Cardinal was coated in cat hair. Big Guy’s hair.
Exactly what does one say or do in this odd circumstance?
“Wait a minute, your Eminence. Let me get the pet hair sticky roller and see if I can get some of that hair off your long black cape?” I was pretty sure the cloak needed more than a lint roller. It was going to need dry cleaning with muscles behind it.
So I shut up and we parted company. As he and his retinue swept out my door, I pondered how life’s journey takes strange side roads, unexpected twists, and turns.
“Meow?” questioned Big Guy. Clearly he liked the Cardinal and it had been mutual. I believe Big Guy came away from the experience with some special, secret understanding of Truth. I, on the other hand, felt obliged to call my husband and warn him that Cardinal Law was dressed in more than he realized.
“Oops,” said Garry, master of understatement. He fully understood the implications of Big Guy, cat hair, and black wool.
“Yup,” I said. I’d wrangled with Big Guy’s fur and knew how bad it could be.
Some weeks later, when Garry, in the course of work, again encountered the Cardinal, he called my husband to the side for a private word. The other reporters were stunned! What scoop was Garry Armstrong getting? Rumors ran rampant. Armstrong was getting the goods and they were out in the cold. Mumble, mumble, grouse, complain.
“Armstrong,” murmured the Cardinal.
“You owe me. That was one gigantic dry cleaning bill!”
“Yes sir, Your Eminence,” Garry agreed. “Been there myself.”
“I bet you have!” said Bernard Cardinal Law. And the two men shook hands.
When the other reporters gathered round and wanted to know what private, inside information Garry had, he just smiled.
“I’ll never tell,” he said. “Never.”
But now … YOU know. The truth is finally revealed.