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On the Book Shelf- James Agee

alec vanderboom

"A Death in the Family" is so good, I can't figure out where author Agee was hiding all of these years. This novel has to be the best account anyone can write about the painfulness of a "mixed" marriage. In the novel, the father dies in an 1915 auto accident. The wife is Catholic & her loving husband isn't baptized. The shock of the six year old son about the sudden loss of his father just on the day that he is eager to show off his "big boy" baseball cap is heartbreaking. The last scene where the six year old struggles to understand his maternal uncle's anger about the priest's refusal to recite the full burial service for the unbaptized father is a call to arms.

Here's the part I especially loved about mixed marriage:

"That a thing which meant so much to her, so much more, all the time should be a thing that they could not share, or could not be open about.. She felt sure that he [her husband] felt none of Andrew's anger and contempt, and none of her father's irony, but it was very clear by his special quietness, when instances of it came up, that he was very far away from it and from her, that he did not like it. He kept his distance, that was it. His distance, and some kind of dignity, which she respected in him, much as it hurt her, by this silence and withdrawal. And it would widen, oh, inevitably, because quiet and gentle as she would certainly try to be about it, they were going to be brought up as she knew she must bring them up, as Christian, Catholic children. And this was bound to come into the home, quite as much as in church. It was bound in some ways, unless he changed; it was bound in some important ways, try as hard and be as good about it as she was sure they both would, to set his children apart form him, to set his own wife apart from him. And not by any action or wish of his, but by her own deliberate will. Lord God, she prayed, in anguish. Am I wrong? Show me if I am wrong, I beseech Thee. Show me what I am to do?

But God showed her only what she knew already; that come what might she must, as a Christian woman, as a Catholic, bring up her children thoroughly and devoutly in the Faith, and that it was also her task, more than her husband's, that the family remain one, that the gulf be closed." pg 51-52.

I don't think I've ever heard as clearly, the painful division that religious faith can cause in families. It reminds me of the verse where Jesus says "I come not to bring peace, but to put father against son." I feel this so much as the only Catholic within my Protestant extended family. It's so bad that I prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet for my aunt in an abandoned room in the funeral parlor, afraid someone would be offended by my rosary beads. Yet, rereading this passage makes me so grateful that I did convert to my husband's Roman Catholic religion. I can't imagine trying to raise children with being on the same page as my husband. Praying the rosary with him at night, going to confession at the same time, being open to life --these are all the tangible acts which make it possible for me to believe that our marriage will last our whole lives.