By Nathan Bogart
I could not imagine drinking my morning coffee without the sound of Luigia’s prayers. They became to me as ordinary and routine as the morning news. Somehow, strange to say, they brought a brighter tone to my day. I was never a religious person myself. My parents never attended church. It was simply irrelevant to us. My exposure to faith came largely from the whispers emanating from Luigia’s garden next door. When my parents died, I inherited their house. Which is to say that I witnessed her daily gardening ritual for over three decades. Nothing too out of the ordinary. She’d plant seeds. She’d water the plants. She’d weed. The only odd thing is that she’d have long conversations with a statue of Saint Francis.
She would ask for his prayers. Ask for him to watch over her family, both here and back in Italy. Sometimes these conversations would stretch for hours. Sometimes she’d briefly whisper his name and carry on with her day. She seemed to think that Saint Francis himself was in the garden with her. Sometimes, strange to admit, I thought he might be.
I knew very little about her. She had come from a large impoverished Italian family, I knew that, and she was a widow of an Irish war vet who worked the assembly line. He died in the seventies. For over a year she wailed in the garden. I recall it vividly. She shouted the name of Francis through her tears. The loss of her husband was only the first of many blows for Luigia. All of her five children left for Texas when they reached adulthood, and none of them visited her. They didn’t need Luigia or her ramblings in the garden. It was just her and Saint Francis:
“Saint Francis, it is me, the humble servant of the Lord, Luigia.”
“Saint Francis, good morning, may you pray for me, humble Luigia.”
“Francis, beloved saint of our Lord, be with Luigia on this fateful day.”
“Saint Francis, watch over my family. They no longer know the way of the Lord. They have fallen from Him. May you teach them of His compassion.”
“Francis, dear, be with poor little Maria.”
“Saint Francis, be with Eddie. He needs you and our Lord.”
“Francis, Francis, be with those who have nobody to pray for them. Show them the love of our Lord.”
“Francis, thank you for your prayers. Julia has recovered from the flu.”
You would think she was talking to an old friend. Someone she had known her whole life. Her conversations with the statue brought me some strange comfort. Even if she was a bit mad, her madness had the quality of an unending childhood. Her prayers rang with youth and innocence, despite her advancing age. At times, I even felt a feeling of nostalgia when I heard her mutterings. Nostalgia for what? I cannot say.
And then the prayers stopped. I looked over at her garden, and Francis stood there in silence. Luigia wasn’t there. The next day, I saw her family show up to the house. It was the first time I had seen them in years. Soon a For Sale sign was put up in the front yard. Luigia had died. I only spoke to her children briefly. They told me there was going to be an estate sale, that I should come by. And I did.
I was curious what kind of things she had in that old house of hers. I had lived next door to her all of this time without ever seeing the interior of her home. There were many crosses and picture frames and a couple of rosaries. There were old VHS tapes that she must have bought for her grandchildren who never visited. There were coffee mugs, and quilts that I imagined she had knitted herself. And on one table in the back, there was a garden gnome, a small fountain, and Saint Francis. In front of them was a sign that read “Lawn Ornaments: $5.00.”