It’s early December in the late 1990s and my parents, Jack and Betty Kavanagh, have settled into a very comfortable retirement. They live in Ocean City, Maryland in a small home in a cluster of four like it a block from the bay on the west side of the city. They have become very much locals in OC so they are accustomed to Christmas at the beach. They make a trek up to Baltimore every year to see all the kids and grandkids several weeks before Christmas but otherwise they celebrate quietly at home.
Jack has returned from an errand to the post office and entered the kitchen offering the stamps he purchased for this year’s Christmas cards.
“You didn’t get the Christmas stamps?” Betty inquired as she glanced at the stamps then looked closely at a pot of stew she had cooking on the stove.
Jack grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water. “They didn’t have them. They were sold out.” Jack gulped his water down as Betty nodded. “The lady there said they only had the Madonna stamps and I didn’t want those so I got the flag stamps,”
Betty looked at him curiously. “You didn’t get the Madonna stamps. Why not?”
“I told her. I didn’t want that god damn bitch Madonna. I took what they had so I got the flag stamps.” Jack placed his empty glass in the sink.
Betty turned her full attention from the stew to Jack.”You said that? You said that at the post office?”
“Yeah. Why would I want her stamps?” Jack answered.
Betty’s expression changed from bewildered to disturbed quickly. “It’s the Madonna. THE Madonna. The mother of God. That’s the stamps. Those are Christmas stamps.” Her head shook from side to side and she stirred the stew with a bit more vigor as what Jack had done sunk in.
“Oh I thought they meant that Madonna with the dancing and the bopping around.” Jack made an exaggerated gesture with both index fingers extended to indicate some dancing style that perhaps Madonna(Ciccone) might have done. He paused when something struck him. “You know, Betty. The counter lady did look at me kind of funny.”
“She DID? What a surprise! God knows what she thinks of you.” Betty glared at him as she tapped the stew pot aggressively.
Jack stewed in his own way aware that he had clearly made a major transgression here and the Madonna stamp thing had gone right over his head. This was bad. This might be a mortal sin but he was not concerned with God’s judgment right now because he was face-to-face with Betty’s.
“What is wrong with you? What were you thinking? I don’t understand you.” Betty rapped the pot several times more as Jack stood motionless suddenly keenly aware of what he had said.
“You called the Mother of God a BITCH! What is wrong with you? That’s what you did? What IS WRONG with you?’ Betty erupted.
Jack was taken aback despite thinking he was prepared for Betty’s response. “I didn’t know that’s what they meant. I didn’t. I was thinking of that other one. It was just a mistake, hon.” Jack countered in near desperation.
Betty tapped and stirred the stew pot in silence for a moment. Jack hoped she may have accepted his error in judgment when suddenly she spoke. Her voice grew louder with each word. “They know who you are. They know you’re my husband. I CAN’T GO THERE ANYMORE!”
And that is the story of why my father bought all the stamps whether it was Christmas or any other time of the year. My mother never returned to the Ocean City Post Office and Dad never mixed those two Madonnas up ever again.
Thanks for reading. I wish you all a very merry Christmas, a happy holiday season and a joyous and healthy New Year.