Our Lady of the Lamp and Hammer

It is a dark and drizzly night. The Hennesseys are enjoying a convivial evening, socializing at the home of The Friendly Family.

All is going unusually smoothly. There’s always a hitch when the Hennesseys go a-visitin’. But tonight? No hitch. Just laughter and good cheer.

Curfew looms. Mr. and Mrs. Hennessey check in with each other. It takes only a look. The youngsters have reached the natural limit. Time to wrap it up. Declare victory on this lovely outing and head home.

Air kisses, handshakes, hugs, and goodbyes. “Everybody into the car,” croons Mr. Hennessey, a handsome fellow with a lovely Irish tenor voice. He slips so effortlessly from friendmode to dadmode.

See how he rolls.

Children pile in. The key turns and the engine starts. The Hennesseys wave as their minivan reverses out of The Friendly Family driveway.

Then, on cue, the thumping. Bwap bwap bwap bwap. The unmistakable sound of a deflated tire.

Mr. Hennessey’s lovely Irish tenor voice drops into its base range. “Hello hitch,” he mutters to no one and to everyone. We’ve been expecting you, old friend.

“Don’t worry,” says Mr. Friendly springing down the driveway with a confidence at odds with the reality of the circumstance. This is a sticky hitch for a late hour. Mr. Friendly is defiantly upbeat.

“We can take care of this lickety-split.”

Mrs. Friendly is positively exuberant. She has lately had experience with just such a hitch, changing a tire at the side of a busy road. By herself. Here we are in a driveway surrounded by loved ones and friends. This hitch should be fixed in a cinch.

Lickety split.

The spare is extracted from its hidey-hole. Mrs. Friendly solves the darkness by grabbing a living-room lamp and running an extension cord from the garage. The jack is placed. The bolts are wrenched. The drizzle drizzles. The shirts are drenched.

A few minutes later Messrs. Friendly and Hennessey are on their knees, wrestling with a wheel that won’t budge. The flat tire appears stuck to the rear axle. A hammer is produced. Ting ting ting. Nothing doing. Some WD-40 is applied. Still nothing doing.

The tire will not be moved.

The better part of an hour goes by. The living room lamp illuminates only failure. The baby is still awake. It’s a crazy hour for a baby to be awake. The unexpected reprieve has all the children buzzing. They have what cartoonists call the goo- goo- googly eyes. It’s an afterparty.

“They’re never up this late,” says Mrs. Hennessey. She has been trying to maintain a sense of order. “Tomorrow is going to be fun.”

She doesn’t mean it.

“I’m sorry this is happening,” says Mr. Hennessey. He has been trying to maintain a sense of dignity. Were it not for the presence of The Friendly Family, his beloved wife, and their five frothing children, he would be weeping openly. He knows this.

The adults are all at the ends of their wits. Tires aren’t supposed to be this stubborn. Nights aren’t supposed to be this dark and drizzly. All the things aren’t supposed to go wrong at once.

“I don’t know what else to do,” says Mr. Hennessey. His lovely Irish tenor has disappeared. He makes a new noise. It is the little sound of sad surrender.

“Let’s try one more time,” says Mr. Friendly. He is such an optimistic guy. He does he not know what Mr. Hennessey knows. The world is trying to break our hearts here tonight.

Both men grip the tire with their WD-40 hands. Before he pulls, Mr. Hennessey says a prayer. To himself. In his head. In his heart. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee.”

Boom. Off comes the tire. A cheer goes up among the googly-eyed. The two dads waste no time putting on the spare.

“Mr. Friendly,” says a relieved Mr. Hennessey as they work. “You may not believe this, but I said the Hail Mary just now. And it worked.”

Mr. Friendly not only believes it, he shrugs. He shrugs as if to say, “Of course it did.”

It always does.

From the October 2018 edition of Fairfield County Catholic.

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