On the way home from Thanksgiving we pull off the Jersey Turnpike, take the Garden State Parkway into Paterson, and follow the directions laid out carefully for us by my Aunt Mary Ann. We go right into the St. Joseph's Medical Center Emergency Room parking lot, past an ambulance and cars, and take a right into the Convent parking lot. Then we go inside and have tea with Aunt Kay.
I have been coming here ever since I was little, and not a thing seems to have changed. The wood still smells like church, the cafeteria tables remain eternally set. The piano in the corner of the room looks slightly smaller than it used to.
Aunt Kay buzzes around us, smiling and chattering same as ever, overjoyed at all of our news, no matter how mundane. She saved some hot dogs from lunch which are heating up in the toaster oven, offers pie and Lipton tea, and we visit. Then it is time for Mass, and we join her. Why not? I think. My life took a complicated turn this weekend. A little church couldn't hurt.
The inside of the chapel feels warm and special. Aunt Kay and all of the sisters make us feel warm and welcome. After Mass, we join them for supper: macaroni & cheese, new potatoes, green beans, and cranberry sauce with chicken or meatloaf, if you want it. Followed by ice cream and pie, and the sound of happy spoons scraping the bottoms our bowls.
Time feels frozen in this moment, like we are insects suspended in a chunk of amber. I don't feel older than the last time I came here three years ago, or the time before that, five years prior, or any of the other times I came when I was just a child. I could be 28 right now, or 6. We have a traffic filled hassle of a drive behind us, and a long road home ahead of us. But here we are warmly welcome, amidst ice cream, pleasant chatter, and a vague spirituality.
Part of me doesn't ever want to leave.