A SCENT OF BABY POWDER
Every Sunday morning, my brother and I went to church with Miss Aggie, the short, plump, fair-skinned, freckled neighborhood religious devotee. She bustled everywhere in a perky little waddle like Wiggles, our well-fed Pom-Pek, with its vigorously wagging tail. Her entire face was crisscrossed with wrinkles, but was
neither drawn nor sunken, so you couldn’t tell her exact age. Our guess was sixtyish. When she smiled, her amply padded cheekbones became more prominent, her ebony eyes beadier, her crow’s feet more deeply creased. Her coarse, glossy, bone straight hair framed her face in a blunt Amerindian cut that hid her ears and forehead with neither a bounce nor a bang. Either she had the blackest hair I had ever seen or used “a good dye” as Mother observed. She smelled of the Johnson’s baby powder she dusted like flour-coating on her already mottled neck, chest, and wrinkled cleavage.
Miss Aggie lived alone and spent much of her time going to, in or coming from church, attending prayer meetings, pilgrimages and funerals. She only had to hear of a death to exclaim, "Dios Mio! Choko se murió! Mamacita, lewwe go!”
When Mother politely declined, Miss Aggie would pass by afterward to announce gleefully, "Paulina, girl, you miss a nice funeral! Everybody was there!"
She loved Fr. Fennessey, whom she called "me boy.” She
baked bread for him every Saturday. Childless and many years a widow, Miss Aggie still wore nothing but mourning black with fake pearls and matching lace mantilla about her neck, instantly identifying her as a “porto l’église,” first in church and last to leave. She carried a lined, black macramé old-lady handbag with round, clear-varnished, wooden handle. It bulged with her indispensables -- house-keys, mints, handkerchief knotted with collection money, chaplet, crucifix, well-worn novena booklet, Missal, her very own bottle of Holy Water, and always some religious paraphernalia for Father to bless.
She said her biggest pet peeve was the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came door to door. “They think they could sell enough book to get into heaven? Is not so it does work, you know!” Another was what she called “the C and E crowd” – those who attended mass only at Christmas and Easter, but “full up the pews before the regular churchgoers could reach.” So every Sunday morning, without fail, she took us to Mass to save us from becoming C and Es.
Mother was only too glad to surrender us into her keeping. In church, she mouthed every word of the Mass along with Father, even the Latin parts. We dreaded Sundays which brought us her wet kisses, smothering busty hugs, sweaty little palms gripping ours, and above all merciless pinches if we giggled, yawned, or mispronounced something. Her annoyingly high-pitched voice would screech, "Is ‘who art in hea-ven’ not ‘waaart in hevv’n’!” We just knew she’d be up there nagging the angels, saints, and all the faithful departed. We unanimously opted for the other place.