One of my aunts claimed that she knew exactly when someone must have entered her Louisiana home through its sliding glass doors and then gone through her pocketbook. She had made her customary grocery run one afternoon and had left her handbag on the kitchen counter as she put away her purchases. Then, she recounted, it was her usual time to say the rosary and so she had repaired to her bedroom in another part of the house. When she emerged from her bedroom, she found her handbag lying opened on the counter.
My aunt was proud of her deductive reasoning as she narrated the events to me. There was no doubt in her mind where she had been and what she had been doing at that time on a weekday afternoon. It was her rosary time, and a long-established habit had taken her to one of the sure places in her everyday life.
A retired classroom teacher from the same small town along the Mississippi River where both my parents had been born and raised, my aunt was not one to take fright easily. She had taught generations of the residents. They held no surprises for her, it seemed, and she would not let herself be undone by the evidence of misbehavior.
With someone made of feebler stuff, I might have been on the watch for the lingering signs of trauma. I knew better, however, than to voice commonplace cautions to this woman with her Cajun ancestry.
I do remember listening to my aunt that day and registering astonishment at something I was not in the habit of hearing. I was hearing someone talk about a sure time in her day for prayer.
My aunt had not set out to talk about her prayer. Accustomed to hands raised and questions posed, she would have handled that topic thoughtfully and confidently if I had asked her that day to say more.
By saying no more about her daily rosary time, she seemed to suggest that there was nothing more to say. No justification for prayer as part of the day of a Catholic woman in her seventies. No defense of this or other repetitive methods of traditional prayer. No explanation of the benefits, spiritual or psychological, that accrued to her by sliding a set of wooden rosary beads through her fingers once a day.
Graduate studies in theology and religion – including courses on the Jewish feasts and life cycle – equip me with a vocabulary to talk about the devotional life by which a range of people allow themselves to be haunted as they grow older.
I own myself haunted.