I saw a poster stapled to a telephone poll announcing the Middlesex County Fair the other day, and it instantly took me back to a time in my youth and a place where the air was thick with cotton candy and horse dung as prize pigs waddled through the crowd on their way to the judging pens.
The sounds of an organ grinder met the squeals of children as the rides catapulted them into the humid night sky, making for perfect summer memories.
One memory from 1984 was not so perfect. I don’t remember the circumstances that found me working the right to life booth at our church; it probably had something to do with me having to atone for the sin of bringing home bad grades from my first college semester.
To my left was one of the newer nuns that had transferred to my parish’s grammar school, and to my right was Ed Daly, a man fiercely dedicated to the cause of saving an unborn life.
The whiteness of his hair was matched only by the paleness of his skin, which made his determined blue eyes more urgent. He had been arrested many times over the years, pulling stunts like chaining himself to the fence of a Planned Parenthood clinic in protest. I admired the man for his conviction, which made me feel more out of place than I already was.
Growing up, I never could imagine a circumstance where someone would knowingly terminate a pregnancy. That all changed when I hit college and had a few “birth control malfunctions” myself.
Thank God for the heavy prayers that brought on the late period. I would like to think I would have moved forward with an unplanned baby in that circumstance, but I would also be lying if the thought of an abortion didn’t cross my mind at some level during the agonizing waiting game.
“I didn’t ask you how you think about it, I need the help and you’re going,” my mom exclaimed through grit teeth.
“Sure, I’m not breaking my back waiting tables and shouldering the burden of a college education for you to be questioning your faith!”
I was mindlessly passing out pamphlets with pictures of aborted fetuses when I felt a hard slap on my wrist that sent the pamphlets flying.
“I want to know what right do you have to tell me what to do with my body,” screeched a very large woman.
Her round, pimply face was framed by curly hair that was tortured over the years by bleached and permed processing. She had a tie-dyed tank top dress that swept the dirty fairgrounds as she waddled away from me.
“That’s all right, Mike,” Ed said in a reassuring tone from behind the booth. “People like that cannot keep us from getting our message out.”
I bent down to pick up the pamphlets and found her face within inches of mine when I stood up.
“I mean, who do you think you are, anyway! It’s my body!”
“It’s actually God’s body,” I stammered. “He’s just loaning it out to you, ma’am. I’m not sure he made you so that you could go around killing unborn children.”
From the corner of my eye, I could see Ed nodding proudly.
“I’m just thankful for Michael Dukakis (the presidential candidate at the time) and the Democratic Party which is fighting hard to keep those laws off my body!” she screeched.
“Well, all I can say is that when yourself and Michael Dukakis meet your maker, you’ll probably be in the same boat.”
“Yesssss,” whispered the nun behind me. I had an audience now as people gathered around us to see what the fuss was all about.
“Go to hell yourself,” roared the woman, enjoying the attention as she brushed the limp hair from her face. “You’re probably aren’t man enough to knock someone up. That’s why you’re in here with the rest of these losers.”
“Whooooooooooa!” came the collective gasp from the crowd as all eyes turned toward me.
I’m not particularly proud of this, but I do some of my best work in these situations. Being Irish, I must have the last word and love a good fight, and this victory is almost always achieved at the expense of common sense and decency.
“I’m not sure why you’re getting so worked up about this whole abortion thing,” I shouted. “I mean, who’d screw you with your lousy attitude? Look at that huge dumper on you. Shouldn’t you be hanging around the pen with the rest of the prize pigs?”
Some tattooed biker high-fived me, and as I reached for his palm my eyes met the horrified gaze of Ed and the nun in the booth.
“I’m sorry, I’m just not cut out for this,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders as I untied the strings of my apron. “I think this cause deserves more than what I can give.”
News of what I had done would have reached my mother before I got home, and I was sure to be greeted with some speech about how she couldn’t show her face in the church after that stunt. There would be a time and a place to deal with that.
At that moment, I just took in a big gulp of night air. Who knew victory smelled like cotton candy and horse dung?