Lilly’s Big Day

Poor Lilly Grace. She was only trying to enjoy a Saturday afternoon in her own backyard. It was the day of her first Holy Communion, a blessing that comes but once in a lifetime. And it wasn’t the only blessing.

The sun was shining, kids like her were being left to their own devices, and no one was guarding the cake. How often does that happen?

On such an occasion nine-year-old Lilly deserved every blessing that the Lord had bestowed upon her. She didn’t deserve to have old Mr. Hennessey trying to ask her questions for his newspaper column.

“I’m going to try to interview Lilly. Is that okay with you?” I asked her mother, Maura.

She is the kind of Yonkers-Irish hostess who makes you feel like you are the only person at the party who matters. She also knows a few Wolfe Tones songs, which earns her a double shamrock in Hennessey’s book.   

“Okay with me,” Maura replied. “If she’ll talk.”

“What do you mean, ‘If’?” I said. “She knows me. I’m not scary, am I?”

I looked to baby Billy, bouncing in my arms. He has only a month for every one of Lilly’s years. I wanted him to sleep so I could do the interview.

“I’m just saying,” Maura shrugged. “It’s a free country is all.”

My plan wasn’t to corner Lilly with a bunch of questions about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This child comes from a superb Catholic family, as well catechized and as exemplary of the living faith as any I’ve met. I was going to start with a few casual inquiries about the party and then sidle on to more pious things.

“Do you think she’ll talk to me?” I quizzed her father, Eddie, a man whose unflappable good humor is legendary in the parish. Though surrounded by strong women, he bears up manfully.

In addition to Lilly and Maura are the 12 year-old twins, Anna and Noelle, die-hard Giants fans who possess a remarkable inner light in the way that twins, who are never alone, often do.

“I don’t know,” Eddie said. “She might. Give it a shot.”

I was starting to think I should have planned a backup column.

Funny how this racket works. So much of what ends up in the newspaper under Hennessey’s name actually belongs to someone else. The columnist can’t help taking and using what he sees and hears. Sometimes he does it without permission.

It’s a wonder he hasn’t been punched in the nose. The day may yet come.

The problem is that while newspapers are published on a deadline, the best ideas pop up out of nowhere, like rabbits vamoosing from their holes.

When a nine-year old makes an offhand philosophical comment at a backyard party, you know you’ve got the makings of a column. When you’re running around trying to manufacture philosophy, well, the magic just isn’t there.

As expected, Lilly played it close to the vest. We go way back, having met when she was two. I’d hoped our long history of high-fives in the narthex meant she’d open right up to me about the quiet grace that came over her as she received the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.

We may have gotten to that, but I made a rookie mistake. I started with a yes-or-no question.

“Were you excited when you got up this morning knowing that you were going to have such a special day?”

“Yup,” answered Lilly. And then—zoom! swoosh!—interview over. Off she flew, a vision, all wild-haired and barefoot. Somewhere a tray of watermelon slices was waiting. A frog had reportedly been discovered down by the brook.

It’s a free country is all.

I went back to bouncing baby Billy on my lap, and wondering what I was going to write about. The whole thing served me right.

I don’t know what I was thinking, poking around, trying to make rabbits jump up out of holes. It was Lilly’s day, not mine, and some things are so beautiful and so right that they can’t be put it into words.

Or, maybe they can, but not if you have to force it.

From the May 2017 edition of Fairfield County Catholic

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