Late October in the Florida Panhandle
was composed of ashen skies,
& endless gray days.
A Christmas without sledding,
outdoor ice skating,
snow ice cream,
& bone-rattling, teeth-chattering cold
was “fake Christmas,”
according to the Northerners,
& Pensacola was the summer place
that ceased to exist during the holidays.
Our cold was a wet cold
that blew through your clothes,
penetrating the pores of your skin & scalp
so that you wanted to go nowhere,
for there was nowhere to go
Mother had once planned to wear the golden crucifix
she had worn as a child on her wedding day,
but she had put it away
when she had put away her husband & Catholic faith.
That cross with the corpse
had meant more to her than her wedding band ever had,
but David’s diamond solitaire outshone them both,
& in the Church,
there was no place for a symbol of death
to be worn around one’s neck.
Mother & David had been used to having intimate relations
& to put off marriage would be to jeopardize their temple worthiness,
for it was hard to go back to holding hands
after having had carnal knowledge of one another,
so Mother had opted to marry civilly first—
to go & sin no more.
Sister Flossie Snodgrass was a childless widow
whose husband had been killed after their marriage of one day.
He had given her his name for keeps & one night of passion
but not a viable child for years & a will to love again.
Sister Snodgrass’s house was a trailer,
but to Sister Snodgrass,
it was a motor home,
furnished not with vintage-style furniture
but with furniture manufactured 30 years ago,
where every surface was cluttered up with crafts
& a new TV set sat atop an old one.
Sister Snodgrass’s television was on mute
as she fitted Mother’s dress
with pins sticking out of her mouth,
making it look like she had kissed a porcupine.
It all seemed a little backward,
for I would have thought her generation
would be the radio-listening type.
When she offered us a lunch
of soda crackers & Vienna sausage,
we politely declined,
for, according to Mother,
that was food you fed to beggars, birds & cats.
Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley: An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.