Jumbo Feeney and I grew up together in the Bronx, and we have been best friends since “Hector was a pup.” We can go a year without talking to one another and then get on the phone and it is just like we spoke 10 minutes ago. I love the guy. But sometimes he drives me nuts. Why? Because he has an opinion on most things known to man and will never admit he is wrong.
When I see his name and number on the screen of my smartphone, I usually don’t answer right away. I need time to mentally prepare for the impending event. I know that invariably, when I answer, Jumbo will be mid-sentence, having been already talking as if I had been on the phone the last minute or two. By the time I figure out what he’s talking about, he is already four minutes into his conversation. It is a fantastic dynamic we have.
So the first thing I do when he calls is quickly pray hard for all the gifts of the Holy Spirit to immediately explode within me. I need all the help I can get.
Yesterday I saw Jumbo’s name and number on the screen. (If my phone were truly smart, it would wait until I was ready for the call — but it doesn’t care). I immediately violated my own rule and answered the phone. Jumbo was already mid-sentence: “—you know what I’m talking about, Petie, right?”
“Uh, sure, Jumbo. What was that you said first? You couldn’t do what?”
“Oh man, weren’t you listening?”
“I was hanging on every word, Jumbo, but you were talking so fast I missed part of it.”
“Petie (he has always called me Petie), I am going to Mass this Sunday. What do you think of that?”
He paused and waited for my non-reply. Then he hollered into the phone, “Hey, Petie, you there? Say something, will ya? Hope I didn’t give you a heart attack or something.”
Jumbo Feeney had not been to Mass in decades. He would go to church for a social event like a wedding or a funeral, but never on his own.
I recovered and said, “Uh, no, nothing like that. Just some mild chest pains and a headache. They are subsiding.”
I waited a moment and said, “Okay, Jumbo, what happened? It has been many years since you went to Mass on your own.”
“Okay, Petie, here it is. And I ain’t never told this to anyone, so keep it under your hat. Every night when Midge and I go to bed, she grabs my hand and we say a Hail Mary. Then she says, ‘God loves you, Jumbo.’ Then we go to sleep.”
“That’s a beautiful thing, Jumbo. Midge is a great gal. She loves you a lot.”
“Yeah, I know, I know. But I never paid attention and just let her say her prayer and that was that. And she never bugged me about it, ever.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, last night, Midge was acting weird and suddenly passed out. I freaked out. She fell down on the floor and was out cold. Jimmy quickly says to me, ‘Grandpa, it’s Grandma’s blood sugar. She needs something sweet to eat. You have to check her blood sugar.’
“Petie, I didn’t know what to do. She has diabetes all these years and I didn’t know what to do. I went blank. So, my 12-year-old grandson gets Midge’s blood sugar kit out, sticks her finger and finds out her sugar is 39. He gets some OJ and some sugar and some stuff for her to eat and he saved her, Petie. My grandson saved my wife while I stood there like a useless ass. If he hadn’t been there I—” Then I heard my 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound buddy stifle a sob.
It was a startling story, and I didn’t know what to say to him. I could hear Jumbo’s tear-filled voice say to me, “Petie, she came around, and Jimmy and I got her on the couch. She is sitting up looking at me and I’m feeling like a fool. Then she takes a deep breath, looks at me and asks me if I will please go to Mass with her on Easter Sunday.”
“So what did you tell her, Jumbo?”
“I put my arm around her shoulder, looked her square in those beautiful green eyes and said, ‘Midge, I swear to you, I will go to Mass with you every Sunday from this Easter on. I swear it. All those times you told me that ‘God loves me,’ well, Midgie, you were right. He does love me. He gave me you back. I owe him big time.’”
“Hey, Jumbo, give Midge a hug for me, will ya? And, Happy Easter. Love ya, man.”
“Yeah, love ya too, Petie. Happy Easter.”
Larry Peterson recounts this story about a dear friend who is now deceased, but who attended Mass faithfully every Sunday from the weekend of this phone call until his death. Peterson is a Christian author, writer and blogger who has written more than 500 columns on various topics. His books include the novel The Priest and the Peaches and the children’s book Slippery Willie’s Stupid, Ugly Shoes. His latest book, The Demons of Abadon, is due out at the end of March. He has three kids and six grandchildren, and they all live within three miles of each other in Florida.