I have not been able to stop laughing for two days.
And boy did I need that.
Every time a glimmer of this story flickers in to my mind, I feel the grin creep out of my insides sometimes expressing itself in to a full blown snort.
I haven’t written for awhile–my mind has been taken up with so many other things like traveling, having my purse faux stolen and engaging in my summer of fitness in all it’s ways. More on those things later.
Today, I have to share this story because it’s just too good to keep to myself.
I’m sure many of you readers remember my friend Max (formerly known as Jordy). The world was kind of introduced to us through our haphazard celebrity via the Scott Peterson trial. This is a good read about it actually. We’ve been friends for over a decade now and been buzzing around the country with many adventures near and far.
Three years ago Max decided she’d had enough of city life and decided she wanted an entirely different style of living. Through a series of serendipitous events, she packed up Taylor, her little Boston Terrier and landed in Holly Springs, Mississippi making it their home.
She is doing very well in this small town I call Mayberry. Max is an esthetician and body worker so was able to settle, again by good luck and magic, in a gorgeous historic home owned by family of Jerry Lee Lewis. She set up her spa on the second floor and her roots in the soil. She and Taylor have a quiet, sweet family life there and are very happy.
When Max moved to Holly Springs and started acquainting herself with the culture there, something else unexpectedly grabbed her. She, an eclectically spiritual person who was raised by a mother who was both acutely mentally ill and a spiritualist; decided to become a Catholic. She explained to me that she loved the rituals and just felt a calling.
So, a Catholic she did become.
With a twist.
Because you see, Max is a fully out lesbian. Well, she was fully out before moving to Holly Springs where, wisely, she has been judicious about who she shares this detail with. It’s a small town you know. A small town in Mississippi.
Now add Catholic parish to a small town in the Bible belt.
Homegirl has balls.
Parish council–Max is Vice President
Max has really blossomed in Holly Springs. She has settled down, her mind and body have become healthier (just last year she had to get a new pacemaker as the one she’d had for fifteen years; the one that was supposed to last six years tops; had failed) and she’s found a community there. A sense of family.
She has developed her amazing line of skin care products that she sells online here and a strong client base for her facials and body treatments. Included on that list are the town prosecutor and her Priest.
Yes, you did read that right. This little blond newbie Catholic lesbian has formed a tight personal relationship with the town’s Priest. The stories I’ve heard about their relationship and adventures are the stuff they make reality shows about. Or movies like Fried Green Tomatoes.
From what I decipher, looking from the outside, it seems they’ve both filled a void for each other. Max was seeking spiritual development and Father Leonard was needing a friend. A friend who didn’t only relate to him as a role, someone to lean on, someone to perfectly guide them as the voice of God. But someone he could just be himself around.
Max once told me he’d said “no one talks to me like you do Max”. Because to her, he’s a human being as well as her Priest. What a relief that must be for him after a lifetime of living as a personification and all the facades and expectations that go with it. I can only imagine how she talks to him because she can tell it straight, so to speak. Sometimes the only way you can grow as a person is just that: someone who cares about you having the nerve to tell you what’s what.
This unlikely pair has enjoyed installing a fence around Max’s house together, Fr. Leonard helped her move, helped her install her new bed and gratefully accepted the gift of her old one. Yes this Priest sleeps in a lesbian’s former bed. How about that? He has helped her with countless odd jobs around the house and she has helped him with some pretty serious back pain.
In fact, the genesis of their friendship started with just that: back pain. Apparently Max caught wind that Father Leonard was not going to be able to stand up to perform Mass one Sunday because he was taken down by an acute bout of sciatica. Max has taken a couple of courses in Myofascial Release and just generally has a good understanding of healing in the body so offered to help him. Imagine this scene: Max leading Father Leonard to a meeting room, having him “take off his alms” (robes) and laying him down on a long conference table to check out his back and attempt to work on it (she ended up sending him to a chiropractor who helped him).
In walks Sister Julene, naturally horrified to see her Priest disrobed on a table laid out like that with someone actually touching him!
Well you can see now how they became fast friends. Pain tends to break down most any barrier.
Theirs is a love story without the romance. But endearing and charming nonetheless.
Now the story I’m about to tell you has to do with one of Max’s, and now Father Leonard’s favorite past times: fishing.
In the Spring of last year an offer she couldn’t refuse landed right in the lap of Max’s bait stained shorts: an old, badly in need of renovation, pontoon boat for sale. One she could afford.
On a bright Spring day, Max and Father Leonard were out fishing on Snow Lake in a borrowed bass boat “at a spot I knew was good near this man’s dock”. When she saw the man on his property, she cheerfully waved to show respect and he waved back. A few minutes later he called out to her “young lady! young lady!” with excitement and told her he’d just found his wedding ring in the dirt the very second she waved to him.
As it turned out this man is a Baptist minister (how ironic right?) and had lost his wedding ring the day before while potting plants for his wife. “There has not been one day in 33 years I’ve not had this ring on my finger” he later told Max.
Something about the magic of this moment; of finding his precious ring just as she waved created a spark in this man to offer to sell her his old pontoon boat for a mere $500.
And buy it she did. Just as she breathed a new vibrancy in to Father Leonard’s life, she revived this boat which she has now named MAXed Out.
She renovated that boat within every inch of it’s life and I know the perfectionist that she is so I can imagine she’s got that thing like it just floated off a showroom. I think it looks beautiful in the pictures, don’t you? Can’t you imagine sitting on one of those front seats just tooling around on that peaceful lake? Me too.
Max is out on her boat every weekend and often she brings guests. Always she brings Taylor. She either just goes on pleasure cruises or she takes part in her true love: fishing.
Not that she loves to eat the fish mind you. In fact I don’t know if she’s ever eaten one of her catches. But she shares them with friends or throws them back. I think mostly she catches catfish.
pretending to eat a worm
Well, now we enter our story. One day in June, Max and Father Leonard were out on a day off enjoying the beautiful afternoon and fishing together. It was just one of those perfect days. Right up until the moment she felt that tug. No, harder than a tug, she felt a downright yank! That strong and powerful fish (or whatever it was) dove deep and she could feel it swim under the boat!
Father Leonard yelled “it’s going to break your pole! You better let it dive…let it dive!”. I guess he forgot who he was dealing with there for a minute because there was no way Max was gonna let this fish win that one. She yelled back “this is a catfish pole! It’s made to bend!” as she fought that huge fish right on to the boat. A funny moment in the story was when she talked about how Father Leonard caught the fish in the fishing net after she’d wrangled it on board.
“It’s already in the boat!” she laughed.
I think he just wanted to feel a part of this big catch.
Well Max sent me photos of her catch that day. She recalled as she pulled it in that she thought “what IS this monster?”. It was more huge than anything she’d ever seen come out of that lake. It was a fisherman’s dream.
She pulled out the poisonous horns with her pliers and gifted that fish to Father Leonard who took it home, fileted it (I assume) and put it in his freezer. I don’t know if he ate any of it fresh that day but I hope he did.
So, ok, let’s fast forward to two weeks or so later.
Now let me just interject for a moment that Max told me this story two days ago, not as a funny story but as something entirely serious that was really bugging her. That she had to get off her chest. I mean who do you go to complain about your Priest? Me, I guess. 😉
Last weekend Max was at her usual Mass and enjoying her church community. One of the fellow congregants, making friendly conversation, asked her if she’d been out fishing recently.
Max naturally responded “yes! And I caught this huge fish, in fact it’s in Father Leonard’s freezer right now!”.
Well, apparently the Bishop was nearby — the Bishop who shares that home with Father Leonard–and he overheard those remarks. Max proudly reported this again to him telling him that fish in his freezer was the big one she caught!
Here’s where the worm turns.
Bishop Joe then turns to Max and delivers this tiny alarming phrase,
“Father Leonard told me he caught that fish.”
Max was incensed! How dare he lay claim to her fish? She caught that fish fair and square all on her own! His participation was only just being there and trying to grab it unnecessarily with a net after the fact! The audacity to try and usurp her big fish story and claim it as his own! Something had to be done about this and right now!
She was so mad she went home and wrote him an email that, at least partly, went like this:
“I was showing Donny the picture of my fish when the Bishop came up. I told him it was in his freezer. Imagine my surprise when the Bishop said that you Father Leonard had told him YOU caught that fish. I asked the Bishop several times if he was razzing me but he assured me he was speaking the truth. So, then let me ask you, why did you do that? And I will allow you to answer”. (let’s not forget she’s writing this to her PRIEST)
Father Leonard in his attempt to explain, replied:
“As you know, I have a habit of saying ‘we’ for me, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Sorry for the confusion.”
And this, the words I’m about to share right now, are the chestnut of this whole story, the place where I lost it in spontaneous hysterics.
Max then replies to this well respected Priest:
“None of which caught my fish.”
You know how someone is being funny but they think what they are saying is serious? Yeah, it was like that.
I immediately burst in to gasps of hysterics hearing that and let me tell you, that was just the medicine I needed that day.
Max then started hissing on the phone hearing how funny her own words were reflected back.
In one fell swoop she semi-dissed the Priest, Jesus AND the Holy Spirit over a fish!
“NONE of which caught MY fish!”
Max kept trying to explain to me how upsetting this was to her but this hilarity was having none of that. It had just taken possession of the whole story.
Once I could breathe again and wiped the tears from my face, I told Max what my interpretation was of what had occurred.
I think he did say “we caught that fish” so the Bishop naturally thought he’d caught it or was at least part of the catching.
And I don’t think he was referring to himself, Jesus and the Holy Spirit either in my humble, un-Catholic opinion.
What I do think is whether you’re a Priest, a Nun, the Buddha or the Pope, everyone kind of wants to belong to someone. It feels good being a “we”. It’s just human.
When you are single and hear that “we” identification all around you, it just feels lonely at times. And you want to feel that sense of belonging. It’s human nature and just as Max sees Father Leonard as a human being, this kind of thing goes right along with it.
Maybe Max is his “we” person. And could you blame him? Look how cute she is and she’s funny and she gives him a break from his pedestal, out on a boat on a sunny day reeling in a fish and sometimes throwing back a Mexican beer.
We never know where we will find our connections, our real connections in life. Sometimes they show up where we least expect them.
Jesus had his loaves and fishes parable. Well Max, Father Leonard, me and now you have a catfish parable.
I suggested she put a punctuation to this story by showing up at the rectory one day soon with a huge loaf of french bread saying “here’s the loaf to go with my fish”.
Although in my perfect scenario she says “our fish”.
Because ya know, every romantic tale and every fish story needs it’s embellishments.