On a bookshelf in my home office, in the room where I am writing now, there is a set of rosary beads. They belonged to my father's mother, and to other family members before her. Family legend has it that, before my family came to Canada, they belonged to a Dion who was laid out for burial, with the rosary in his hands, back in France. One of his sons, desperate to remember him, stole the rosary from between his father's dead hands.
The rosary made it to Canada on a sailing ship, and down to Massachusetts on a train. My father carried that rosary to Maryland, to Missouri, and left it to me when he died, after he retired to Massachusetts, dying maybe two miles from where his mother died.
The beads on the rosary are as big around as a dime, carved out of wood. An antique dealer I used to know said they might have been carved from Jerusalem olive wood. There is a brass crucifix attached and, in the old-fashioned way, there is a skull and crossbones above the head of Christ. My French-Canadian grandmother said she clutched it in the pain of childbirth. Maybe that's why it's clumsily mended in one spot with a bit of brass wire.
When I was a little kid, we would come to visit that grandmother, and we would stay with her in the small tenement apartment where she lived for the last 30 years of her life. We'd stay for a weekend. My parents would sleep in her bed, and my grandmother and I would sleep on a pullout sofa in the living room. She had 13 pregnancies in her life, and seven of the children lived, but she was a small woman, under five feet tall and less than 100 pounds. I was 7 or 8, and there was plenty of room for us on the pullout sofa. She always smelled like peppermints and chewing tobacco and strong tea, because she used all three from when she woke up until she fell asleep.
And at night, after my parents went to bed, she and I would settle in on the lumpy old pullout bed, and she would say the rosary. She never said the words out loud, but her lips moved, silently mouthing the French prayers she knew by heart. Whatever words she knew she knew by heart, because she couldn't read or write.
I'd hear the beads clicking in the dark after she turned out the light, a drowsy little sound that lived far below my father's snoring from the next room, a sound drowned out by the noisy plumbing you could hear through the whole house when the people on the second and third floors used their toilets.
The sound of the toilet would end in one last "whoosh," and there would be the sound of a Massachusetts mill town wind, or the sound of a car going by in the street, or the shouted slur of a drunken argument on the corner as the tavern a block away closed for the night.
But the "click, click, click" of the beads was there, and it could be heard again as the noise in the building or in the street ended.
I put myself to sleep listening to those drowsy clicks. I still do sometimes, and I can still smell the big pink peppermints, and the strong tea, and the snuff she packed under her lower lip during the day. And I can hear car doors slamming just after 11 p.m., when the men on the second shift at the carpet mill came home.
That's where my Catholic church lives. Despite everything, it lives.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com Dion's latest book, "The Land Of Trumpin," is a collection of his best words. It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle, iBooks and GooglePlay.