An Appalachian Angelus

An Appalachian Angelus May 4, 2021


Rosie came with me to run errands.

We run errands in a car now. For the first nine and a half years of her life, she was bundled onto the bus, but we’ve had a car for six weeks. I am getting used to driving.

“Can we try to go through the bank drive thru?” Rosie asked.

I’d been nervous about driving through because maneuverability was the reason I failed the driving test the first time. I still tend to park at the far end of the parking lot where it won’t matter if I’m crooked or clumsy backing out. But I have been driving my own car for six weeks now. I went through the drive thru. I managed to make it with no accidents. Rosie enjoyed watching the container with the check in it go up and down the plastic tube.

“Can we go trough the drive thru at Wendy’s next?” she asked.

I’d just deposited a check: the best day of the month to be foolish with money. I got through the drive thru only hitting the curb once. Then we sat in the parking lot, eating our lunch and chatting, as if we’d always done things like this.

We drove to the library after that. You have to make a big left turn in a busy intersection to get to the library, which scared me to death as recently as two weeks ago, but I found myself doing it without anxiety. Signal, mirrors, over-the-shoulder, into the protected lane. Watch the left turn traffic signal. Take the intersection and go. Into the parking lot at the library instead of hopping off the bus in front.

“Do we have to park at the far end of the parking lot?”

“No.” I parked in the middle.

We took our time at the library. They haven’t put back the toys or crayons yet, but  they have a tank with two turtles who are fun to watch. We decided that our next biology unit study would be about reptiles, in honor of the turtles, instead of birds like we planned. We can go and see the snakes at the Pittsburgh Zoo for a final project– or maybe even the Columbus Zoo, twice as far away.

Rosie asked to play on the library steps for a few minutes before we went shopping, and I said “yes” since we didn’t have to hurry to catch the bus. Then we drove across the street to Aldi and went shopping. We didn’t have to pack everything in double bags and hope they didn’t break on the bus. We only packed one careful bag, and threw the rest of the food in the trunk. And then we drove all the way downtown, the back way, through the woods past the shale cliffs and the creek, that one part of Steubenville that actually looks like Appalachia. While we drove, I found I didn’t have to grip the steering wheel with white knuckles and pray all the way through. I had breath to talk and tell her stories– about her ancestors who settled in a different part of Appalachia. They were Irish Catholic immigrants in the heart of Protestant West Virginia, oddballs perpetually out of place, just as their descendant is in Steubenville now.

I told her about the family that moved away to all different parts of the country, about the summers the enormous gaggle of grandchildren came back and stayed in the state parks, the times when a creek just like this one had flooded and washed away the bridges,  the time they had to drive to high ground in the middle of the night. And then we popped out of Real Appalachia into Steel Valley Appalachia again,  at the south end of downtown with the derelict mill and the steel workers’ memorial. We drove to the north end, were the church is, to hand the neatly packed bag of groceries to the Friendship Room. And after that we tried to go pray in the church. They’d just locked the door because it was six o’clock, so we prayed the Angelus in the parking lot.

Angelus domini nunciabit Maria, et concepit in Spiritui Sancto. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of Grace. It should have been Regina Caeli letare, alleluia,  but I couldn’t think. The bells were too loud. This was all too shocking and new. I was downtown after six o’clock, not because I had missed the bus and would have to hike back but because I had driven there and was going to drive home with fresh groceries.

I am the servant of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word. Hail Mary, full of grace. I stared at the white plaster statue of the Virgin Mary on the south side of the great big red brick edifice, and realized I never had to go here again. I didn’t have to hitch a ride to any church I could on a Sunday and try not to have flashbacks. I could drive somewhere else. Outside the diocese where nobody knows me. Somewhere in over in Pennsyltucky or all the way in Pittsburgh. I could drive to the diocese of Columbus if I wanted to. I could drive to another Byzantine Catholic church, just to sit in the back and listen to the chants. I could go to a different church every time so I’d never have to fear being humiliated by a pastor. I could bring groceries to another food pantry and make my pilgrimage to another adoration chapel. Nothing had to be tainted by the Charismatic Renewal, Sister Angeline or Franciscan University ever again.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwells among us. Hail Mary, full of grace.  I could seek the Lord dwelling among us elsewhere: not here, in this particularly poisoned and noxious corner of the valley.  I could go anywhere I wanted.

Rejoice, Queen of Heaven, Alleluia. For Him for whom you were worthy to become a portal, Alleluia, has arisen as He promised, Alleluia. Offer now our prayers to God, Alleluia. I didn’t have to recite my angelus here, staring at this particular statue, constantly bombarded by a thousand terrible memories, plagued by the fear that Steubenville really was perfectly right and Jesus and Mary really did find me an obnoxious burden. I could go and talk to Jesus and Mary somewhere else. I’ll see what they say somewhere else. Steubenville doesn’t own God. They believe that they do, but they have never owned God. They don’t even know Him.

O Mary don’t you weep don’t mourn. O Mary don’t you weep don’t mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep. 

Moses stood on the Red Sea shore
Smotin’ the water with a two by four,
 Pharaoh’s Army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t you weep.

One of these mornings, it won’t be long
You’re gonna call my name but I’ll be gone,

Pharaoh’s Army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t you weep.

One of these days, in the middle of the night
People gonna rise up and set things right.

 Pharaoh’s Army got drownded,
Oh Mary don’t you weep.

O Mary don’t you weep don’t mourn. O Mary don’t you weep don’t mourn. Pharaoh’s army got drownded, O Mary don’t you weep. 

We drove home, on University Boulevard, where I walked in pain and exhaustion so many times, and it didn’t hurt.

I really could get out of here.




Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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