Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 27: Wasps and Bees, My Book Bag, "The Incorruptibles"

"Oh, Avery," chuckled Mrs. Arable.  "Avery is always fine.  Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hands on.  He's fine."

Avery is a normal young boy, into all the things that normal young boys are into:  wasps and bees and frogs and snakes.  He's basically an earthquake with legs.  Avery is my five-year-old son.

I wasn't into the normal young boy things when I was Avery's age.  Didn't really care to be out in the woods where poison ivy resides.  I didn't like touching frogs.  Didn't like even stepping foot in the reptile house at the Detroit Zoo.  Too many large, scaly things with fangs.  I was a reader and a writer and a doodler.

However, I did have a weakness for the macabre.  I loved Vincent Price movies and Fangoria magazine.  At camp in the summers, I'd read those comic books full of zombies and empty graves.  And, as a good Catholic boy, I was into stories about the lives of saints, especially martyrs.  The grislier a saint's demise, the more I liked it.

In my book bag tonight is a little tome titled The Incorruptibles, by Joan Carroll Cruz.  It was one of my favorite reads as a kid.  Basically, it's about saints whose bodies remain incorrupt.  They don't decay or turn to dust.  In fact, many of these holy men and women simply look like they're taking a nap.  For some, their naps have lasted centuries.

It's not the greatest written book in the world.  Its style is matter-of-fact, history-book prose.  Nothing flowery or poetic.  Yet, the biographies of the saints are fascinating for their violent and, sometimes, gruesome description.  For instance, this description of the remains of Saint Catherine Laboure:

We cut the sternum on the median line.  The bone showed a cartilaginous, elastic consistency and was easily cut by the surgeon's knife.  The thoracic cavity being opened it was easy for us to remove the heart.  It was much shrunken but it had kept its shape.  We could easily see within it the little fibrous cords, remains of the valves and muscles.  We also took out a number of the ribs and the clavicle.  We disjointed the arms--these two will be conserved apart.  The two knee caps were taken out.  The fingers and toe nails were in perfect condition.  The hair remained attached to the scalp.

Terrifying.  This little saintly autopsy is better than anything found in an episode of The Walking Dead.  That's why I loved this book as a kid.  It wasn't made-up.  It was real, sometimes with real photos.

So, Saint Marty wasn't into wasps and bees as a boy.  He was into disjointed arms and knee caps.

The body of Saint Catherine Laboure--died in 1876

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