St. Mary’s Church was divided into two groups.
The early Mass arrivers grabbed the front seats of the church. They dressed better, left more money in the collection basket, and were a cut above in every way.
The late arrivers, who I will call the smokers, arrived late and stood in the back of the church. I call them the smokers because they would leave the church right after communion and light up cigarettes as they lined the walkway. Even though I was not a smoker, especially at the age of fifteen, I considered myself a smoker because I was a late arriver and found myself standing in the back of the church with the smokers.
Because we stood in the back, the smokers could observe the occasional strange situation in the early arrivers area. Nothing was more incredible than the Frank Heffner affair.
Frank always sat in the last row of the church. He was a very large, hard working farmer who worked all day and drove produce into New York City at night. He would plunk his 300 pound frame in the seat next to the aisle, wearing a Sears and Roebuck suit, with his black hair slicked with vitalis.
Because Frank worked constantly, he was often very tired, causing him to nod off just about every week.
One week, Frank’s exhaustion created a church drama that was hard to match. Half way through mass one Sunday, Frank dozed off and started to lean his gigantic bod to the right. Next to Frank was a tiny woman who found herself fighting off Frank’s massive lean. She did not have a chance. Her body trembled as she attempted to fight off his bulk.
Slowly, her body jackknifed to the right as she was pressed against the lady to her right. That lady also was unable to fight off the Frank glacier, and she leaned completely to her right.
You might ask if I was inclined to step in and tap Frank on the shoulder to wake him up.
Ashamed to say I never gave it a thought. And apparently the rest of the smokers never thought of helping out either.
I will say one thing about the crushed lady. Every week after that she arrived to church with the early folks and stayed clear of Frank.
After awhile, Frank had a lot of room to himself. About three spaces were left open to Frank’s right from that day on.
Too bad. It was such great drama.
So what brought back this memory?
I passed a Heffner farm truck today. And Frank passed before my eyes.