80,000 Words

Victoria Maday Matson is buried in a Catholic cemetery on the west side of Wichita, Kansas.

She died February 12, 1972, 45 years ago today. Victoria was laid to rest following a funeral mass, according to her wishes. Her death culminated a yearlong battle with throat cancer. After she was diagnosed with a terminal illness in Bakersfield, California, her son and his wife moved her in with their family in Wichita.    

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It’s an unassuming gravestone, reflective of the manner in which her son related to her. Though he lived only a couple of miles from the cemetery, he rarely, if ever, visited his mother’s grave.

Victoria’s son and my father are the same guy. He died a year and a half ago. His death was not a surprise. He knew the end was near and made it a point to share his troubled childhood with me. Sometime during those conversations, I struck on this notion that maybe I could arrange 75 or 80,000 words about their lives in the correct order and disposition so that complete and total strangers might find them interesting or appealing.

Ergo, Spifflicated.

Among Victoria’s possessions my father inherited is a Bible given her by a priest with whom she was close as she struggled with alcoholism. Fr. Anthony Elzi recognized my grandmother was powerless over alcohol and tried to help. After my father died, his wife gave Victoria’s Bible to me.

It’s a “New Catholic Edition,” published in 1962, and indicative of the times, there are a few pages of pre-game instructions that take me by the hand and tell me how to use it.

Thanks, padres. I got this.

Victoria’s faith was shackled with a couple thousand years of history and tradition. That’s a lot of inertia to overcome. Mine’s pretty simple, grounded in a clear-eyed recognition of God’s grace in my life, manifested in recovery from the exact same addictions that fettered Victoria.

 Victoria in her 20s.

Victoria in her 20s.

There is no blame or judgment here. But there is learning. There is increased knowledge and insight about the circumstances surrounding their lives, gained by time, space and awareness.

So my 80,000 words are about sin and repentance, but they’re also about mercy and forgiveness.

I was just a kid when she died. I remember her 1957 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 with the tuck-and-roll upholstery and the magnetic Madonna on the dashboard. I remember a toy Northrup F-5 Freedom Fighter she brought me on one of her visits to our Rooks County farm, before we moved to Wichita.

I remember our family visiting her in Bakersfield, where she encouraged me to boost a can, any time I wanted, from her entire case of Peer Root Beer. After she moved in with us in Wichita, I remember the cops bringing her home after she got a tad spifflicated and wrecked her car. I remember her pain and suffering in her last months. I remember her calling the priests from St. Jude’s, our Wichita neighborhood Catholic Church, to administer the Last Rites.

Jude, the patron saint of desperate situations and lost causes.  

I remember Victoria’s death, 45 years ago. Writing the book helped me remember her life.