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The Red Door Society
Clay Reherman

Selected by Joseph McDonough, Associate Editor

 

To many, the phrase “hard times in America” brings to mind stark images of the 1930s: Ecological and economic disaster, powerful storms following close upon one another, high crime, starvation, despair, societal depression in every imaginable degree and mode. We may thank Mr. Steinbeck for this mental association: His painting of the “dust bowl days” in The Grapes of Wrath has imbued three generations with a notion of what it’s like when a nation is visited by the Angel of Death.

 

1934

Most Americans in those days had an idea that a sentence of doom could be carried out from above, below, or somewhere. While the 1920s had been exceedingly prosperous and “liberating” to most classes of people, there was still an honest fear of God left in this country: Like a thief in the night, the Angel of Death snuck up on folks, and even a proud craftsman like Garv Atwood could be left holding the bag.

Garv was a master planer at a door factory near the wharf section of Boston. He earned $47 per week at his wheel and lived in a fine new walkup in South Boston. He was a genuinely contented fellow, proud of his strong hands and happy with a few strong beers on a Sunday evening. Mostly, Garv was enamored with his magnificent wife, Evangeline.

She was a gem to behold: Thick, auburn hair, soft hands, a mind like a bear trap, and a smiling face that caused the streetcars to slow down for a good look when she glided down the street. Evangeline lived up to her name, keeping alight in her bearing an aggressive enthusiasm for the Catholic faith. She’d even founded a society of Catholic scholars in her parlor.

The South Boston Bible Club was composed of seven middle-class, respectably married women, and its membership was growing all the time: Just 10 months before, they’d been four.—Not only did these ladies subscribe to a well-tried regimen of modern Christian conduct in their spheres of influence—modest dress, polite language, no alcohol in the house, and, above all, Mass every Sunday morning—they devoted two hours each week to the study of Holy Scripture.

“We’ll each of us invest in a copy of the Bible, in the best English, that is not condemned by the Vatican,” Evangeline had ordained to her sister scholars, Mrs. Kathleen O’Sullivan and Mrs. Bridget Lansdowne, at the Club’s first meeting. “Our Mission is simple: We’ll read the words of scripture, whereas others merely stare at a wall of letters, and we’ll conceive of the wisdom of God, whereas others are content to conceive without merit into the very streets.—We’ll stand free women!”

That was two years before. Since then, the Club had added Mrs. Mary Stanley, Mrs. Ruth Rosecrantz, Mrs. Gloria Fuchs, and Mrs. Joan Merriweather.—In the past few months, any further talk of conception or conceiving had become increasingly discouraged in the interest of Club harmony: While six of the seven had given birth to a healthy child in those two years since the founding of the Club, Mrs. Merriweather, despite a great desire to become a mother, had found herself unable to conceive, though she was the youngest and healthiest among them.

Her fellow scholars took great pity on her, especially Mrs. Stanley, who had two sons and a brand-new daughter at home; she encouraged her colleague and offered a new suggestion each week on how she might come to conceive. Still, there erupted frustrated ranting and sobbing on occasion, and only Evangeline’s determined leadership kept some of the meetings from deteriorating into a crying jag.

“Scripture releases us from these afflictions, my dear,” opined Evangeline to Mrs. Merriweather one afternoon after Mrs. Fuchs had brought her newborn into the meeting, eliciting a jarring spate of tears. “Take up your Bible and turn to St. Luke: Let us read the passage on St. Elizabeth.”

And both women again read the passage aloud together for at least the twentieth time:

“And Zachary seeing him, was troubled: and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard: and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son. And thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness: and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”

Evangeline smiled as she closed her Bible. “Didn’t St. Elizabeth know pure joy when she found herself at last able to know the fulfillment of motherhood, Mrs. Merriweather? Won’t you take comfort in knowing the Angel of the Lord looks after us all?”

 

1935

Meanwhile, the country sank further into depression, and horror stories emerged in the newspaper of widespread bankruptcy, mass unemployment, starvation, and a rapid withdrawal from hope among the Christian peoples of the world. Many a meeting of the Catholic ladies addressed with anger the anti-Christian sentiment of the new novels currently leaping off bookshelves in Europe and Canada. “Mr. Joyce mustn’t publish a word of his pornography in this country!” declared Evangeline vengefully. “I don’t understand his celebrity in France, where the authorities know full well this filth has been banned by the Vatican!”

One rainy, miserable afternoon in early November, Mrs. Stanley arrived at the meeting in a terrible frenzy: Her husband, Charles, had been laid off from his newsroom position at the Boston Globe, and there were no other prospects to be found in the city. With his wife and three children staring bleak poverty in the face, Mr. Stanley had no choice but to move them all down to New York City, where they could stay with his sister while he looked for work at one of the larger newspapers.

The other ladies tried to comfort their devastated colleague, but there was no way out of the reality: The Stanleys would lose their home, their children would lose their places in Boston’s better schools, and Mrs. Stanley would never again sit down with her dearest friends for an afternoon of Bible scholarship. She left the meeting little comforted and quite certain the sky was falling.

That night, Evangeline went to bed much troubled by her friend’s misfortune and found it impossible to get to sleep. Garv was nestled in a deep, comfortable slumber when his wife decided to unburden herself.

“Garv,” she whispered, nudging him. Her husband rolled over and groaned. “Garfield Atwood!” she insisted, an octave louder. “You wake up! I must have a word with you!”

“What?” he complained gruffly as he rolled back over and faced Evangeline. “Is the house on fire?”

“No . . .”

“Is one of the children broken out in chicken pox?”

“Garv, really,” snapped Evangeline. “The sky is falling down around us, and you slumber away as though it were the best of times. Well, I can’t ignore what’s going on in the world, and I can’t for the life of me find a wink of sleep tonight!”

“What do you mean the sky is falling?” barked Garv in disbelief. “Our Philip leads the third grade in all subjects; the President has just signed a New Deal to take care of us for the rest of our lives; and Europe is still at peace after fifteen years: How can the sky be falling with all of that going right?—Are you ill?”

“No, Garv.”

“Are the children gaunt and windblown? Do they shiver in the street for lack of clothing? Are they missing shoes?”

“They’re full of ham, quite warm, and sure to be the best-dressed at school tomorrow, but this isn’t about them! It’s about the world! If you’d bother to take a look outside the window once in a while, you’d see what a wicked planet we live on: Mrs. Stanley’s husband has lost his place at the Globe, and tomorrow they must all move down to Brooklyn to live with his sister in her three-room flat.”

Garv shook his head sleepily. “That’s what happens, my dear, when a lad thinks he’s all of Jack London.” The craftsman snorted contemptuously. “Newspapermen: They either bring bad news or are bad news, and every one of them who loses work has answered a prayer of mine.”

“Garv! The Stanleys are our friends! Their situation doesn’t begin to illustrate the danger that awaits all of us out there.” She squeezed her husband’s hand softly. “No one’s heard from Mrs. Merriweather in weeks . . . We’re afraid she may have found her way to the sanatorium.”

“I’m sure she’s alright,” swaggered Garv. “Ain’t her husband a grand, important lawyer up in Superior Court?”

“Who knows? And what does that matter? These are bad times for everyone, Garv, rich and poor—the worst anybody can remember! All those men lost their jobs at the Quincy Shipyard last summer, decent wages and pensions gone overnight: Surely their families are faring poorly . . . All the factories are shutting down, one by one, and a dollar buys next to nothing anymore . . . Coal is up, crime is up . . . If you believe the dailies, no place is safe . . .” Evangeline began to cry into the sleeve of Garv’s nightshirt.

“There, there, my darling . . . A man can do but one thing when the din of the world’s troubles comes knocking at his door like this,” he announced quietly as he stroked her auburn hair. “He puts up a thicker, stouter door.”

 

 

By the time the South Boston Bible Club next met, Evangeline was on fire. She’d studied her scripture nonstop for a week in an attempt to calm her general misgivings, and what she brought out of her reading was an inspired strategy to save the world. She believed in her heart that, just as betrayal by a few might spell doom for large portions of humanity, so prayerful action by a small group of faithful individuals might just call back God’s grace.

“Ladies, we live in a cruel world, amid days so thick with tragedy that neighbor spurns neighbor in an effort to escape destruction. This poverty, the rise of these atheists—it’s as though the Angel of Death has descended among us and enjoys free reign over our lives.” The other ladies grimly nodded their heads. “How long must we live under this yoke? Can we really do nothing to bring back happy days? Has our Lord abandoned us at last?” Flush with emotion, Evangeline pumped her fist in the air. “Our Lord will never abandon us! He promised Noah as much! He promised Moses and all the people, and our Lord is ever true to His word!—Open your Bibles to the Book of Exodus, Chapter 12, Verse 7: Could you read through Verse 14 for us, please, Mrs. O’Sullivan?”

Mrs. O’Sullivan straightened her eyeglasses, cleared her throat, and read:

“And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it (that is the lamb). And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce. You shall not eat thereof anything raw, nor boiled in water, but only roasted at the fire; you shall eat the head with the feet and entrails thereof. Neither shall there remain any thing of it until morning. If there be any thing left, you shall burn it with fire. And thus you shall eat it: You shall gird your reins, and you shall have shoes on your feet, holding staves in your hands, and you shall eat in haste; for it is the Phase (that is the Passage) of the Lord. And I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and will kill every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast: and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments; I am the Lord. And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be; and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you; and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt. And this day shall be for a memorial to you; and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations, with an everlasting observance.”

“Praise God!” pronounced Evangeline excitedly. “Here we have a scriptural account of dark, unsure times among a generation of Hebrew slaves: This same Angel of Death walked among them, wreaking havoc, spreading death! Yet he passed over their houses, for they’d marked their doorposts as the Lord commanded, marked them with the blood of the sacrificial lamb.”

“Evangeline Atwood!” scoffed Mrs. Fuchs. “Do you really intend to smear mutton over the doorway of your house, attracting flies, mice, dogs, and all manner of pests?!”

“Not blood, but a gesture, surely,” smiled Evangeline. “We must show Death where the Christians are and demonstrate to him that we are not afraid: We must let Boston and the world know that we trust in our Lord, that we will persevere, as did the faithful tribes of Israel who came out of slavery in Egypt. We will come out the other side of these cruel times free women, victorious women with our families intact and our heads held high!”

“What gesture, Evangeline?” cried Mrs. Fuchs, Mrs. Rosecrantz, Mrs. Lansdowne, and Mrs. O’Sullivan together, their faces tense with glee.

Evangeline glowed with certainty as she declared, “We must all paint our front doors Crisp Apple Red No. 9!”

 

 

One by one they appeared, splashes of deep red amid the drab grays and browns of South Boston. Evangeline herself had picked out the color at the hardware store, paid for the paint out of the South Boston Bible Club’s treasury, and distributed it among her fellow scholars in sixteen-ounce cans. Each woman asked her husband to do the painting on a Saturday afternoon, and, after some initial resistance over the impracticality of such a gesture, each stout oak door—planed, cured, stained, and sealed against decades of Boston grime and weather at Garv Atwood’s factory—was duly coated.

Garv was particularly reticent about the scheme: “I planed this front door myself out of a prize slab of Colorado ash, ever to be a barrier between me and the ruffians out there! Why should I attract attention to it?” Evangeline had to forcibly inject the fear of God into him with a rousing description of roaming devils, civil chaos, and the deep flood of misfortune that was coming: He applied the three coats of Crisp Apple Red No. 9 with an eye on the street for any sign of trouble.

The appearance of red doors where there had stood bland, uninviting doors for as far back as anyone could remember gained immediate notice: Parishioners on their way to Mass the next morning cringed at the doors and dreaded the arrival of yet another butcher, barber, or some worse merchant on their already overcrowded street. The postman more than once approached one of these doors scratching his head and wondering if he’d turned in at the wrong house.

“What’s this?” he mused uncomfortably to a passing policeman, pointing out one of the newly colored doors on his route. “Some kind of red-door cult popped up overnight?”

“It’s the ladies of the South Boston Bible Club,” sighed the policeman. “I caught wind of it last night from Mr. Rosecrantz down at the pub: The wife and her doom-and-gloom crowd mean to chase the devil from Summer St.”

“My, my,” nodded the postman. “Why stop at the devil?”

“And why stop at South Boston?” laughed the policeman. “Let’s throw up a long line of red doors on Prince St. in the North End as well!—If only it was that easy to chase the riff raff from a town . . .”

 

 

Over the next few months, good things began happening to those who’d taken the red paint from Evangeline.

One of Mrs. O’Sullivan’s children found not one but both of the gold earrings she’d lost at a church picnic on Revere Beach three summers before.

Mrs. Lansdowne miraculously escaped injury when the city bus she was riding one morning blew a tire and smashed into a utility pole: The driver and two front passengers were killed in the accident, and sixteen other persons were taken to the hospital with head and neck injuries. Mrs. Lansdowne, meanwhile, was the only passenger to step out of the wreck without a scratch.

Mrs. Rosecrantz’s chronic back pain cleared up, and Mr. Rosecrantz was so impressed at his wife’s improved mobility that he painted their back door red, too.

Mrs. Fuchs’ recipe for apple strudel was published in a prominent New England lifestyle magazine, and she became somewhat of a minor celebrity in South Boston.

Garv Atwood’s door factory, heretofore hovering on bankruptcy due to competition from the new mills down South, received an order from a waterfront hotel for 1,352 fancy guestroom doors. The work meant at least four months of sixteen-hour days, including Saturdays, for the master planer. “Never mind if you see me not but on Sundays, my dears,” he smiled to his wife and children the night before the job was to commence, “for when we do meet, we’ll eat and drink well.”

 

 

Fr. Mark, pastor at St. Vincent de Paul, brought up the appearance of the red doors with Evangeline as the parish families came streaming out of Sunday morning Mass.

“Your gesture hearkens me back to my year abroad in Warsaw, where, at Passover, the Jewish women would drape strings of red wool over the doorposts of their apartments to commemorate their rescue from Pharaoh.” Fr. Mark paused. “Did you plan to leave your door this color? I can’t recall any instance of such a permanent homage to Passover.”

“Yes, our doors will stay red, Father,” replied Evangeline sweetly. “Colors and symbols are very important in our impressionistic world, and my colleagues and I want to remind people that Jesus will deliver us no matter what! We must take steps to save ourselves from the wickedness and snares of the devil, for we fall more of us into the clutches of the Angel of Death every day.—It’s time for us Catholics to stand up, show ourselves, and welcome Jesus into our homes.”

Fr. Mark puzzled over the unlikely image of a red door swinging open to reveal the politely visiting form of an earthly Jesus. “I can’t quite get my mind around your initiative, Mrs. Atwood,” he finally admitted. “While I can’t for the life of me determine why this activism might prove objectionable to our Lord, I can’t spot the steadfast Catholic virtue in it, either . . . I suppose it’s a noble enough gesture.”

Evangeline smiled broadly and left the priest with a comment that would ring in his ears all week. “It may not prove outside the realm of possibility that the doors of this church should also be painted red in the near future, Father.”

 

1936

More good fortune continued to shower over the little circle of Christian ladies. Mrs. Stanley’s husband was called back to work at the Boston newspaper, and soon Mrs. Stanley was in attendance again at the weekly meetings of the South Boston Bible Club.

“New York was awful,” she shuddered over a cup of tea in Evangeline’s parlor. “Everything was drab, gray, and wet, and then the wind started blowing and put a layer of black soot on us. Charles came home literally black and blue from Newspaper Row every night: They had him crawling around among the press rollers like an immigrant from dawn ‘til dusk! A more foreign, inaccessible, unfriendly place I’ve never seen than New York City.

“As soon as we were back in South Boston and moved into our new flat on K St., the first thing I did was have Charles paint our front door the infamous apple red, just as Evangeline advised.—Don’t you know that within six days, Charles had two pieces printed up in the Globe, and I came across the most unlikely person at the Faneuil Hall market: Mrs. Joline Merriweather! And surprise upon amazement, ladies, if she isn’t eight months pregnant? She looks like a flower plucked from the desert, quite aglow and grateful, as though no woman in any other place has ever expected her first child.”

“Well, God bless her,” smiled Evangeline with a tear in her eye, “for it’s a miracle to one who’s waited so long.”

Three months later, Mrs. Merriweather herself showed up at the meeting, and an entire coop full of well-preened hens would’ve been hard-pressed to shower as much loud adoration upon her infant daughter as did that group of Christian ladies: There was hugging; there was kissing; there was cooing; there was crying.

“Her name is Joy St. Ann,” beamed Mrs. Merriweather. “Her arrival is more than a blessing: It’s God’s divine grace, truly unexpected and unearned.—She’s brought back to me all the lost joys of my life: Sunshine, birds singing, walks by the ocean . . . And how I’ve missed all of you!”

Evangeline, flush with a deep, emotional satisfaction, embraced Mrs. Merriweather and whispered in her ear, “Welcome back, my dear.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Atwood.—You know, I heard about your initiative to paint the ladies’ doorways, and, indeed, I had our man paint the doorway red, as you’ve suggested to those looking for grace, and, three weeks later, to my infinite surprise, I found myself expecting Joy St. Ann!”

“Heavens be praised,” nodded Evangeline. “Forever and everywhere: Heavens be praised!”

 

 

Ecstatic with the measure of success her red-door initiative had found, Evangeline kicked off a publicity campaign for the “Cause”. Meetings of the South Boston Bible Club were converted into letter-writing shifts: Mrs. Stanley, Mrs. Rosecrantz, Mrs. Fuchs, Mrs. O’Sullivan, Mrs. Lansdowne, and Mrs. Merriweather were put to work writing out a form letter on red notepaper describing the biblical importance of their mission and offering advice on where the proper color paint could be bought for the best price. These letters were distributed by the dozen into the mailboxes of the parish and the next few parishes over from theirs. Also, stacks were left on the counter in the dress shop and the market, and customers picked them up out of curiosity.

As news spread among the residents of South Boston of the improbable instances of benefit and blessing in the ladies’ homes, more red doors began to appear. From broad city thoroughfares to quiet country lanes, the phenomenon became so pronounced that Mr. Stanley’s newspaper assigned him to write up a piece on it. His first move, of course, was an interview with Evangeline Atwood.

“Time and again,” ran Evangeline’s testimony in a page-two feature the next Sunday morning, “over the past eighteen months, reports have come to me by both visit and letter that those who’ve painted the main door of their dwelling the color Crisp Apple Red No. 9 have experienced a grace and peace that’s been missing from their lives for an awfully long time. It’s as though God has made a new covenant with those who would offer this gesture. The uplifting stories are endless; all you need do to corroborate my claim is approach any red door in South Boston and ask what special grace has befallen the household lately: What you hear will contrast starkly with the rest of the terrible news your newspaper is printing these days.”

Evangeline’s words, along with accounts from five other women who’d taken her advice, were printed under the title “The Red Door Society.” The piece caused an immediate sensation, and red doors began to appear all over Massachusetts and even as far away as Rhode Island.

The article eventually crossed the Archbishop’s desk, and, as he read the claims of “red door miracles”, he grew increasingly perplexed. He finally telephoned Fr. Mark at St. Vincent de Paul and demanded more information about his parishioner.

“She’s always been a first-rate Catholic,” insisted the pastor, “and her discussion of the red door effect I’ve considered altruistic enough to be harmless.”

“But have you personally heard this woman endorsing to your parishioners a special indulgence if they but paint their doors red?”

“Indeed, yes,” replied Fr. Mark. “As a matter of fact, she’s advised me to paint the church door red on a number of occasions . . . She even presented me with a gallon of her red paint.”

“Really?” scoffed the Archbishop. “And did you oblige her?”

Fr. Mark was silent for a time. “I did, Your Excellency,” he finally confessed.

The Archbishop hung up the telephone and immediately set to work on a pastoral letter to be posted in the next issue of the Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper.

 

 

November 3, 1936

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

In the spirit of respectful reverence, some of you lately have been signifying an important biblical event—the Passover—by painting the doors to your homes red. This gesture is no doubt intended to announce to the world and our Heavenly Father that good and faithful people live in Boston’s neighborhoods and should be spared harm by the evil passing through the world.

You would seem justified in this gesture, given recent history: Who can be blamed for seeking a respite from the grinding unemployment, hunger, foreclosure, bankruptcy, crime, atheism, and general dark night hovering over our world? Furthermore, even if I wanted to, this office has no power whatsoever to dictate to you what color you paint your doors or any other part of your houses!

But I’ve read the article penned by Mr. Stanley in last week’s Globe, and, though I do not enjoy taking on the role of grump amid this outpouring of joy, I do feel compelled to warn those caught up in this phenomenon, not a few of whom are ordained and respected clergy, of the unintended consequences of such a gesture.

Let me draw on advice offered in St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. At the time these letters were written, 20 years had passed since the Ascension of our Lord, and some of the new Christians were impatient for the Second Coming of Christ and the Final Judgment of the world: It seems St. Paul’s new converts were weary of the evil passing through their hemisphere at the time and had complained to know exactly when Christ would return. St. Paul responded, “Be spiritually vigilant! As our Lord teaches, we must be found ready when He does come!” Similarly, I must ask all of you who have painted your doors red: Has God asked you to do this? Where in the Bible or the catechism does it advise the marking of your doorpost into posterity? Who is this new Moses who has heard from God that we should do this? Aren’t these leaflets, gossips, and cans of crimson housepaint really the hallmarks of Thessalonian impatience? Hasn’t St. Paul advised us against this type of jitteriness before? “Work!” St. Paul advises us. “If anyone will not work, let him not eat!” Is this red-door business really the work of Christ? Is it really anything one could call holy? I don’t think it is: It doesn’t add to the peace of our world, and it doesn’t feed the poor. If anything, it feeds idleness, no matter how well intended!

We all need grace, my beloved, every day of our lives, and God’s grace comes to us wholly unearned, a phenomenon free of man’s will. Grace is not “switched on” by a particular gesture. If you would truly seek grace in your lives, follow the path our Lord has shown to us: Behave in a humble, Christian manner; give to the poor; seek the Sacrament of Confession; and, above all, acknowledge Christ’s kingdom in the celebration of the Eucharist! Through the Eucharist do we honor the victory of God over the devil, our Lord’s triumph over death, and the salvation of the world!

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, I offer you something more meaningful and thrilling than the color of a door: I show you the power of the Eucharist and promise each of you eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Faithfully,

The Reverend Archbishop of Boston

 

When Evangeline read the Archbishop’s letter the following Saturday, her expression soured. She was defiant against the Archdiocese at the next meeting of the South Boston Bible Club.

“We must continue our crusade to paint red all of Boston’s doors, despite what the Chancellery says,” she announced testily to the group. “The Archbishop can have no clue of all the blessed things that have happened among us! Mrs. Lansdowne’s escape from that horrific crash; the birth of Mrs. Merriweather’s daughter: There’s every reason to see God’s grace in our work! Besides, he admits he has no power to dictate to us what color our doors should be.”

Mrs. O’Sullivan sat frozen in a perplexed trance as Evangeline escalated her diatribe against the archdiocesan officials. As soon as she found an opportunity to speak, Mrs. O’Sullivan blurted skeptically, “But what purpose do we serve by coming down on the wrong side of the Archbishop, Mrs. Atwood? And since when did this arts and crafts project become a crusade?”

 

1937

The letters and visits that had so buoyed Evangeline’s red-door campaign slowed to a trickle following the Archbishop’s letter and finally stopped altogether. It seems the populace opted to give His Excellency the benefit of the doubt and not risk looking like cultists: Parishioners no longer read her group’s missives, and shopkeepers refused to let her leave the leaflets on their counters. “Folks ain’t findin’ the red-door trick helpful no more!” was the common complaint. Evangeline’s campaign for reform and grace had officially become the latest crackpot idea.

The members of the South Boston Bible Club were stung by the sudden rejection, but no one expected the bad things to start happening.

There passed a scorching summer and several months of nothing happening at all to anyone, a rather boring interlude during which the streets were empty and the pubs were overflowing. Then, one hot day in August, Mr. Stanley lost his position at the newspaper a second time, and it was clear there would be no reconsideration: “I’m still getting flack over that red-door thing,” complained his editor. “Why don’t you go work for the Pilot? Their circulation is way up lately!”

When she heard the news, Evangeline was mystified. “Mr. Stanley must have done something to offend the Lord,” she opined broadly as the ladies sat around looking gloomily at one another the week after the Stanleys had tucked tail back to the black hollows of New York City. “He must’ve painted the door some other color!”

“Nope,” sighed Mrs. O’Sullivan. “It’s still bright red this very day, despite the arrival of a family of Chinese immigrants into the Stanleys’ old flat. It’s not that they could care less about Passover, either: It seems red is an Oriental color of good luck.”

In the fall, Mrs. Lansdowne caught tuberculosis and nearly died. Her permanent installment in a sanatorium wrecked her family and led to the fleeing of her husband out West; her four children were taken in by the Archdiocese.

Next, Garv Atwood’s door factory caught fire one night and burned to the ground in a terrifying inferno along the waterfront. While this blaze resulted in no deaths, the news from management that the factory would not be rebuilt threw 281 men out of work. “I saw this coming,” admitted Garv as he picked over the charred ruins of his workshop. “We weren’t competing with the Carolina mills anyway.” Shaking his head at the wrecked, buckled mess of black brick and metal, he confirmed morbidly to himself, “It’s Carolina or the rock-breaking crew for us, Evangeline.”

The announcement that the Atwood family would depart for North Carolina of course disbanded the South Boston Bible Club, and the few remaining ladies’ last meeting brought the worst news of all.

“Mrs. Merriweather’s baby has caught pneumonia and died in the Children’s Hospital,” shuddered Mrs. Rosecrantz with a deathly pallor. “No amount of nursing or medicine would bring her back, and the tragedy has left me unsure of the existence of angels anymore . . .” Tears spilled down her cheeks as she described her recent visit to the Merriweather household. “I’ve never seen a woman so thoroughly crushed, sunk on the floor, wasted away and shivering, staining the boards with her tears: If there was a way she could flip a switch and end her life, I’m sure she’d flip it without hesitation. — The whole affair has made me doubt my faith in God these past few days . . . I’m sore afraid now of the way I’ve become and where we’re all going. — What have we done to draw the devil’s ire? Was the Archbishop right after all? Was there no good in this red-door business? Was it truly an ungodly farce in the end?”

Mrs. O’Sullivan shook her head; with Evangeline gone, she’d become the unofficial chairwoman of the group. “You say ungodly, but let me remind you of something, Mrs. Rosecrantz,” piped in Mrs. O’Sullivan with feeling, “if anyone should know the Bible, it’s us, and shame on us for not seeing all along that the stock market crashing, the men thrown out of work, the women and babies sick and dying are hardly the vicious tales of Old Testament woe and Mosaic horror you make of them. Rather, it’s all about the New Testament: Agony in the garden, scourging at the pillar, crowning with thorns, carrying the cross, crucifixion.” She sighed and looked away with a wry smile. “We’re the Holy Women of Jerusalem, for crying out loud! When will we start reminding people there’s a resurrection to be had above all the rest of this disaster?”

 

1939

One bright Sunday morning in May, the same day the parish was to assemble and say a rosary for peace round the alabaster statue of Mary in the courtyard in front of the rectory, Fr. Mark made a few announcements from the altar at the conclusion of morning Mass.

“Remember we’ll all gather at 11:45 AM at the statue, rosaries in hand.—And yes, there will be Fenway red-hots and cake afterward.

“Recently a few of you have informed me of some rather wonderful developments among several of our parishioners who’d left the area a couple of years ago, and since we all shared in those sad times, I thought we should also collectively share in the good news together this morning.

“First, Charles Stanley has published his first-ever short story in a farmer’s journal out West. I haven’t seen it; the title of the story and the journal both escape me, but I believe Charles’ sketch had something to do with strapping cowboys, wild ponies, fishing, and great adventures . . . Anyhow, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley send their best and hope to return for a visit very soon.

“Mrs. Bridget Lansdowne has recovered her health enough to leave the hospital and take a flat in Dorcester. She’s even collected her children from the temporary home provided for them by Catholic Charities and has registered them in our parish school for next autumn. I understand she plans to resume Mass here at St. Vincent de Paul once her strength has returned fully. I expect you will all give her and her children a warm welcome when we see them again!

“Garv Atwood has taken a lucrative job as master planer in a coffin factory in North Carolina, and he sends us his best.—Mrs. Atwood also sends her fondest wishes . . .”

“Finally, you’ll remember the unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding the Merriweather family and the passing of their infant daughter, Joy St. Ann. Well, it seems Mrs. Merriweather is expecting again, and so we must all pray for the safety and health of mother and child.

“Oh, yes—before I forget: The front doors of the church are to be repainted a pleasant, dark green Tuesday morning, by decision of our new janitor, Mr. Kirkpatrick. Please use the side entrance through all the rest of this week, and we’ll see each of you back here next Sunday . . . May the Lord be with you!”



Clay Reherman is a graduate of the University of Louisville (BS) and Boston University (MS). He is an engineer with the US Department of Transportation and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two boys.

 

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