My pastor’s name was Dino Valentino. I say was because he isn’t my pastor anymore. I’m done with him. He made a deal with the devil. That’s what I told him last Friday morning when he said he wasn’t coming with me to stop my daughter’s wedding. It was 10am, and we were standing on his front doorstep. He was wearing a bathrobe. For a supposed man of God, he sure does get a late start. My father, the Reverend E.V. Ward, used to be up every morning at 4:30am. He took a cold bath, got down on his knees, prayed for an hour, and studied scripture for another hour. He had a simple breakfast of oatmeal and black coffee. Dino couldn’t even shave by 10am! No wonder he lacked the moral fortitude necessary to come with me. I myself was up at 6am–since I’m a poor sinner–praying, asking God for wisdom, singing the old hymns: Be Thou My Vision, What a Friend We Have in Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers. Then I got out the road atlas and planned the route. The wedding was at the Holiday Inn off 322 in Harrisburg. I was going to take 72 West. It went right by Dino’s house.
    “How many times do we see God’s law so openly flaunted?” I said to him. “How can we stand by and not do anything? I have a duty as a Christian and a Mother to stop this wedding.”
    I told Dino I needed him by my side. I needed a man of God to give me strength and courage and wisdom.
    He said he had a dentist appointment.
    “A dentist appointment?” I said. “I’m telling you there is a Sodom and Gomorrah over at the Holiday Inn off 322.”
    “It’s a bad cavity, Darlene.” He was touching his cheek. “But it’s not just that.”
    Oh no, it wasn’t.
    “I’ve thought on this since we last talked,’’ he went on. ‘‘Do you really think that this is going to be the best and most effective way to help your daughter? Pray for her, talk to her, but I don’t think you’re going to change anyone’s hearts or minds by causing a scene at this wedding.”
    “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” I said. Matthew 10:34. We’d studied that verse together recently.
    “Darlene,” he said, holding his jaw. “Don’t do this.”
    He looked so helpless standing there. I always worried about him. He’d lost his wife about the same time my husband Charles passed away. But I’d prayed on this many times and knew what God had put in my heart. I was sure of it, and angry Dino didn’t see it.
    “Get behind me, Satan,” I said.
    “Darlene.”
    “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” I said.

As I drove, I tried to forget about Dino. I couldn’t let that bother me now. Instead I was thinking about a news story I’d heard. Those people were having children. They were adopting or one of them was getting pregnant, God knows how. It’s not enough for two people to live in sin, they have to bring an innocent child into it. A child needs a mother and a father. Charles always said that, whether it was about divorced parents, or anyone else. The woman in the news story said all it really took to raise a kid was love. Sure they need love, but they need plenty of other things too. They need to know right from wrong, for one. And who’s going to teach them that?

I wondered if my daughter Patty and her friend Cynthia were thinking of having children. Patty never really struck me as the maternal type. She never really played with dolls much as a kid. I should’ve known then, but how could I? She was a tomboy, always wanting to play with her brother Andrew and his friends. When they called her a sissy girl, she came right at them, fierce as anything, giving one of them a black eye and Andrew a bloody lip. After that they’d let her play. But I’d known tomboys who grew up just fine. Even I was a tomboy, and look at me. Thirty-one years with Charles. If Patty had kids, I knew I’d have to see them. To teach them. They had to have someone in their life who knew what the heck was going on. I could even baptize them one night when I was giving them a bath. It would be a powerful symbolic gesture. That’s how Dino described baptism. I would not most likely be able to do full immersion, which is most symbolic, but a few sprinkles on their head as they played with their duckies. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, amen. Now let’s go read a bedtime story.

Well, I got lost. It would’ve been nice to have someone along, if only to help with the directions. I missed the turnoff to 322. The sign had been removed or flattened by a car crash. If you told me the devil or one of his minions had done so, I wouldn’t be surprised. By the time I got back on track, I was hungry. I hadn’t packed anything, I don’t know why, and the only place around was a diner. I ordered the sausage gravy and biscuits, even though God knows how much fat is in there. But I get it only occasionally–usually I’m very strict with my diet. I asked the waitress if she could hurry my order up, since I was running late. She said usually the cooks take as long as possible, but in my case they might make an exception. I thanked her, and tipped her poorly. That kind of sarcasm will not work on me, young lady.

I got to the Holiday Inn right as it was supposed to start. I prayed, Lord Jesus, give me the strength to do was is right.
    Andrew saw me near the entrance. “Mom, what are you doing here?” He eyed me like his father–no trust.
    “I was invited to the wedding,” I said.
    “By Patty?”
    “Cynthia,” I said. “Cynthia sent the invitation.”
    “Mom?” It was Patty. I hadn’t seen her in four years. She’d put on weight. She was pudgy. Maybe it’s what they like. Cynthia came over. She was taller but skinner and more feminine. She put her hand on Patty’s back.
    Andrew had me gripped on the arm.
    “Yes, Patty, I’m here, I’m here.”

I sat with Andrew. He had released his grip but I could still feel him sitting tense beside me. First he told me it wasn’t a wedding, it was a ceremony. Legally, they couldn’t get married, so this was a commitment ceremony. “What’s the difference?” I said. “It’s still not right.” He told me to lower my voice or he was taking me out. The service started. A small girl with a long ponytail came down the aisle scattering petals. Andrew said it was Cynthia’s daughter from a previous marriage. “With a man?” I said. He glared. Patty and Cynthia came down the aisle holding hands. Andrew grabbed my arm as a precautionary measure. I knew I should have done something, but I didn’t know what. Patty and Cynthia wrote their own vows. When they started crying, I couldn’t help myself, I was crying too.

The reception was held in the next room. They had wine and cheese and finger food. I was feeling nauseous from the sausage gravy most likely so I followed the Apostle Paul’s advice and took a little wine for my stomach. As I was praying silently asking God whether I should stay or go, a large red-faced man came up to me. His name was David Gutterson. He was Patty and Cynthia’s boss from the restaurant where they worked. “Best damn workers I have,” he said. “No one wants to put in an honest day’s work these days. But those two, you can tell they were raised right.”
    Patty and Cynthia were cutting the cake. They were laughing as they fed each other pieces.
    “Ah, to be young and in love,” David said and laughed.
    “There’s nothing so good about being young and in love,” I said. “You end up doing some pretty foolish things.”
    David laughed. He sure liked to laugh.
    “Are you married, David?” I said.
    “Happily divorced,” he said. More laughter. His face was very red. He frowned. “Patty of course told me about your husband. I know it’s been some time but I’m very sorry for your loss.”
    “It was a difficult time,’’ I said. ‘’So sudden. One day he was walking out the door, to work, then he’s lying on a hospital bed. But you never known the hour or the day the Lord’s going to call us home. Well, we have to hope it’s home.”
    David nodded.
    “You know what I realized, David? I didn’t know CPR. I thought, how can I not know CPR? It could save a life some day. Not Charles–it happened when he was at work–but I decided to get certified. So don’t worry if anything happens to you right now, I’m here. Have you got your heart checked recently, David? People our age ought it get it checked at least once a year–maybe more. You can’t be too careful.”
    “Can I get you another drink?” he said.
    “No, thank you. Two is my limit.”
    “Moderation in all things,” he said. “Especially moderation.” He was laughing again. So much for my dead husband.

“I don’t know why anyone gay or straight would get married,” Andrew said. “It’s all bullshit.”
    “That’s not true,” I said. “Sweetie, why are you saying that? Are you and Margot not dating anymore?”
    “No, we’re dating, alright. She moved in last month. But I’m not marrying her. I told her I’m not getting married and there’s no way in hell we’re having children. Some people shouldn’t have children.”
    “I think you’re drunk,” I said.
    “So what? It’s a wedding. You’re supposed to get drunk.”
    “I thought it was a commitment ceremony.”
    “Jesus Christ, mom.” He walked off.    
    I find it difficult to believe he acts his age sometimes. He’s thirty-one! I felt sorry for poor Margo. She was a sweet girl. What if she wanted to get married and have a little baby? How could he deny her that?

“This is Arrow,” Cynthia said. It was her daughter, the flower girl.
    “Hi, Arrow!” I said. “What a pretty name!”
    I said to Cynthia, “Was her father Native American? You know my husband Charles was a sixteenth Lenape.”
    “No,” Cynthia said. “I just liked the name.”
    “Arrow!” I said. “Are you having a fun time?”
    She nodded. “My tooth is loose.” She opened her mouth and pointed. “See?”
    “My, that tooth is loose,” I said.
    Cynthia and I smiled at each other. What a little cutie-pie!
    Well, Arrow and I hit it off right there. I told Cynthia I could keep an eye on Arrow while she mingled with the guests. I helped Arrow get some food. She said was going to be in first grade. She said her favorite thing in the world was to go swimming. She was taking lessons that summer. She could do the dead man’s float–she was the best in her class. Mara her best friend was in the class too. Their favorite game was Marco Polo. They were going to be in the Olympics when they grew up. “I want to go swimming here,” she said. “But mom says I can’t now but maybe later. I brought my bathing suit, see? I wore it under my clothes.”
    “I have a swimming pool near my house, sweetie. Would you like to visit me and go swimming sometime?”
    She nodded her head vigorously.
    “Well, we’ll have to talk to your mommy about it.”
    “I have two mommies now.”
    “I know,” I said. I rested my hand on her head and said a little prayer.
    The toasts were about to begin.
    “You know what, sweetie? Do you want to go swimming now? I could take you to the pool here. Let’s ask your mom.”

We walked hand-in-hand to the pool. “When you come visit me we’re going to do so many fun things,” I said. “We’re going to go swimming in the pool, for one. And there’s also a lake near me where we can go swimming too. Lake Wenache, it’s called. And we can even play in the sprinkler in my front yard. My, that’s a lot of water activities, isn’t it? Well, we can do other things too. Do you like stories? Have you ever read the Bible? There’s lots of wonderful stories in there. We can read about Adam and Eve, and little Baby Moses, and Jonah and the Big Fish. There’s lots of good stories. And we can bake cookies. Do you like chocolate chip cookies? Yummy! They’re my favorite too. Oh, we’re going to have so much fun!”