It started a few months after we moved back to Jackson. Early 2016. Our good friends, Fred and Diane Smith invited us to a Friday night fish fry. (A tradition during Lent in the Catholic Church). Jackson has a boatload of Catholic churches. According to Diane (born and raised Catholic her whole life) Our Lady of Fátima makes the best fish. Plus it wasn’t very far from our house. Sold. Let’s go. It was very good. And just packed with people. Packed.
|Our Lady of Fátima, Michigan Center…|
This amazing group of volunteers run their fish fry like a well oiled machine. The first time we went, the line was at least 75-100 people long. Hordes of folks hustled past us, going in the opposite direction. To the overflow dining area, meaning their enormous Parish Hall was already full. The line always kept moving. A catchy sign stating, “We don’t want to insult you. Don’t make us guess your age. If you’re over 65, please just say, senior and save yourself a buck.” When it’s finally our turn (didn’t take but a few minutes) the lady running the cash register had a stack of criss-cross dollar bills by her side. Because 90% of the customers are senior couples who pay with a 20 dollar bill. Thus she has 2 ones together lined up to give back. Which we turn over immediately to the next guy for 2 cans of pop. In between these 2 is the most important gal. She’s the lady with the golden tickets. OK, they’re not really gold but we are now entitled one dessert each from the large variety on the table at the very end of the Hall.
|A table of religious information on activities as you wait to pay…|
But first the food. One guy hands us each sturdy, divided paper plates, then we pick up napkins and silverware (plastic, a bummer but I understand). Our Lady of Fátima’s weekly Lenten tradition serves over 1,000 fish suppers per Friday night, between 4 & 7. Imagine the silverware and plates they would have to hurriedly push through the dishwasher throughout the night. Over and over again. Still, I love real silverware.
First on our plate is an ice cream scoop of great cole slaw. Then there’s 3 kinds of fish to choose from, or some of each. Regular deep fried, spicy deep fried and baked. John says it’s ocean perch. I don’t know, but it’s good. Long, slender fillets, coated with just the right amount of stuff. I say no to the green beans (something about canned green beans sitting in quarter pan of hot water for several minutes, just not very appealing), no to the fries, but ask for a half baked potato.
Turn direction for the condiments. First dude is a royal pain in the ass. (Sorry God and the Catholic Church). I should say, the only downer besides plastic silverware and not serving real butter for my spud. He’s the man in charge of THE TARTAR SAUCE. He takes his job seriously and does not hand out tartar sauce willingly. Ever. So here’s the deal. I’m not a big fan of tartar sauce, but the Hubs loves it. Prit-near douses each bite of fish in this glop. If he gets any. The sauce comes in 2 ounce disposable containers which THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY has in a large box right in front of him. (Pretty sure it’s homemade). John politely asks for an extra container. THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY hems-haws, starts sweating, mutters something like, “I have to be so careful so we don’t run out. But, I suppose. Here.” Insanity. Hubs feels like an ass, holding up the line for a fricking 2 ounce container. I swear the last night we go this year I’m gonna hand him a jar of Hellman’s for all the grief we caused him this Lenten season. But what about the grief he caused us?
|Jesus, praying for me…|
Funny thing about tonight though. On the way to the church, John says, “I’m not asking for an extra tartar sauce tonight. Guy makes me feel bad. If you aren’t going to eat any could you take one anyway and give it to me?” Should have just said sure, but my finicky taste buds are just beginning to like the taste of tartar sauce. I just sort of hover my forkful of fish above my gigantic 2 ounce crater of tartar sauce and see if any of the flavor reaches my fish. “No problem, I’ll ask for extra tonight and let him embarrass me instead,” chimes the martyr wife. I will say, THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY is consistent. Gives me the same song and dance, trying to get me just to move along. I stand in front of him longer than it took giving birth to Adam, my breech baby, smile sweetly, and wait. Finally the impact of that 2 ounce extra container weighs in on my plate. I offer him a heady, “thank you, thank you,” and move forward, holding up my hand as a stop sign to his equally big box of tiny sour cream containers. Yes to a dinner roll, no to cornbread, and no to all the free drinks offered if you didn’t spend that extra buck on pop.
|Some of the stained glass windows, always 3 in group…|
I can’t tell you how many tables they have set up, maybe 40. A couple are rectangular, but the majority are round, each seat 8. We always head towards the back of the room. Since most nights it’s just John and I, we have no trouble finding 2 seats together at a table. Tonight there’s only one other couple at our table. We exchange pleasantries as we sit down. I hand over the extra large, certainly priceless tub, sure to make them run completely out of tartar sauce before the last 700 souls get some for their fish and say, “holy shit, did you hear that guy? I honestly didn’t think he was going to give me an extra one!” The other guy at the table busted out laughing and says, “you must be talking about THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY! We were just laughing about him!” I thought I was being quiet and discreet, but hey, I’m deaf, so I probably talk louder than I thought or should. (Sorry about the holy shit too God). But enough jokes about the guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders over doling out just enough tartar sauce to feed 1,100 tonight. And Jesus thought it was tough with 4 fishes and a piddly crowd of 5,000.
|The windows of Our Lady of Fátima…|
Because it seems as though God has appointed the Catholic Church, my 2 amazing nuns at our daycare and Our Lady of Fátima in charge of saving my soul since we moved to Jackson. Since Lent started about the same time as I started working at Felician’s Children’s Center 2 years ago, I’m not really sure if it was an accident or they’re in kahoots together. God works in mysterious ways. If you’ve read my blog over the years consistently, you’re aware of my issues with organized religion for the last decade. At least. But there is no way you can convince me that Sister Vicky and Sister Carolyn aren’t concerned about saving my soul and getting me to heaven. I frequently hear one or the other say, “you’re in my prayers Denise. Everyday.” A few days before Lent started, Sister Vicky (she’s in charge of religion. It’s true, she comes in every Monday morning and tells the babies a story about Jesus. Songs included, the babies love it. Jonah and the whale last week, the whale burped him back out, ha-ha) walked in the infant room and chimed, “I’ve got a book for you Denise.” Handed me this little black book, 6 Minute Reflections on the Passion, according to Mark. Then added, “I’ll bring in the rest of your Lenten material, The Path to Peace, soon.” She did not forget either. Naturally, she had our names on the top of the booklets, which I failed to notice. Brought home Marty’s copy instead, then had to make sure Marty took my copy home or Sister Vicky would be crestfallen in my backtracking. (And nobody else got a copy of 6 minute reflections but me). She knows I need help.
|Our Lady of Fátima poster celebrating 100 years…|
The second time Hubs and I went to the fish fry, we meandered through the round Sanctuary after eating. The building is relatively new, quite big but not overly pretentious. Beauitful oak, curved pews. As we were admiring the stained glass windows, a guy comes over and explains the 14 stations. Stained glass storytelling really, depicting events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Fascinating.
|Covered statue until Easter Sunday…|
Last year, we’re leaving after eating and run into a nice guy near the sanctuary. (This happens when we park in back lot. It’s closer and easier to get back to the car if we use the door off the Sanctuary. (One of those mysterious God thingy’s). He starts a conversation and mentions he’s from Detroit but is an organist at Our Lady of Fátima. He woos us in the Sanctuary to spotlight a beautiful organ off to the side of center stage. Sits down and just starts playing for us. Why? No idea. He was very talented and friendly. It must be something on my countenance. Crying for help. Talks about an upcoming weekend concert and personally invites us. But we truly have a conflict (think it was Hubs birthday and the kids were all coming home).
|The covered crucifix on the altar…|
Still, there’s just something about the people and this church. After the conversation in the car about THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY, I told John I was going to take some pictures of the church for my blog post. He was embarrassed and wouldn’t walk near me when my phone was out. As I walked in the Sanctuary to get pics of the stained glass windows, I noticed the first big statue was completely draped in gorgeous purple cloth. There was a lady standing nearby. I stammered, “Umm, I imagine this has some special significance?” “Yes,” she replied. “All of our statues are covered during Lent. Even the crucifix on the altar. To remind us something’s different, give us heightened awareness that something’s coming.” “I don’t remember any of them being covered the last time I walked through the Sanctuary though. It’s quite noticeable, think I would remember that,” I replied. “It’s only the last couple weeks of Lent. You probably walked through during early Lent last year,” she said. After I walked through the circular Sanctuary, snapping pictures we had a 20 minute conversation with her, though I didn’t get her name. (John joined me by then because I had put the camera away). She lived in Red Oak, Iowa for 3 years early in her marriage, and had just finished taking care of her grandchildren for a week while her daughter traveled on business. Grandma was pooped but exhilarated. Talked about how much more we worry about our grandchildren than we worried about our kids when they were little. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Strange. All in all, my experience with Our Lady of Fátima has been an incredible one. But I’m not ready to get any rosary beads just yet.
|There’s a lot of stained glass in this circular Sanctuary…|
Let’s do the math. To round things off, we’ll call it an even thousand suppers per week. Again we’ll say the average cost is 9 bucks. This year I believe that’s 7 Friday’s. (They don’t serve on Good Friday, but do have their last supper (no, it’s a different one, nada to any last supper humor attempt) the Friday after Easter. All help is volunteer. Let’s round it off $58,000 dollars. I’m not very good at costing food out, so I could be way off, but let’s say 4 grand (which I feel is generous) a week for the actual cost of the food. Leaving about $30,000 profit. For the love of all that’s holy, please, please spend an extra 30 bucks a week on Mayonnaise, mustard and pickle relish for THE TARTAR SAUCE GUY. Dude, you gotta lighten up. I fear for your sanity if you have to go through this ordeal for every other person another 7 Friday’s in your life. You’re not getting any younger…