My father is a champion story-teller. When I was young enough that he and my mother still bathed me, I got a story with every wash. If you asked me for the defining moment of my childhood, it would be this: my little body safely ensconced inside beige tub walls, my eyes closing in delight as warm water and words poured down around my head.
The stories fell into two camps: Mr. Tony stories and Church stories. Mr. Tony was what I called the exuberant, mop-haired man who ran our local surf shop. In real life, Mr. Tony was a first-generation immigrant from Italy. He spoke with a splendid accent as he – every time we visited – led us around back to his trailer to retrieve a popsicle for “la bambina.”
In the stories, Mr. Tony still lived in Italy and was the proud owner of a traditional restaurant. “Ah-spah-ghett-ee and-ah meeetballs!” my father would shout, handing me the bar of soap to scrub my feet. This Mr. Tony traveled the world in search of rare ingredients, suffered bravely through failed kitchen experiments, and had a little girl who he loved to pieces.
For all his charm, however, Mr. Tony and his adventures could not compare to the dazzle of the Church stories. This wasn’t just any church, you see. (We got enough of that on Sundays.) These stories were about the Little Church of Anything-Could-Happen-Now.
The Little Church of Anything-Could-Happen-Now was created because of unicorns. Having been a little girl myself, I can tell you that there is an age when almost all little girls will fight you tooth and nail if you dare to suggest that unicorns aren’t real. One day, my teacher made the mistake of telling me that I would never see a unicorn, because they simply didn’t exist. Case closed. “Now, get back to studying dinosaurs!”
Dinosaurs are great – sure. But I stepped down from the school bus that afternoon in tears. When my father got home from work, he no more than saw my face, and we went straight to the tub for a little aqua-story-therapy. Plank by plank, limb by limb, my father constructed a building, a pastor, and a congregation. In the Little Church of Anything-Could-Happen-Now, people worshipped possibility. In this church, folks understood that just because no one had ever found unicorn bones in the ground, it didn’t guarantee their non-existence. This pastor taught that failing to prove something is not the same as disproving it, and his flock had confidence in the power of what could be.
The reward for their credulity was a series of occurrences that made Italy about as interesting as the boot it resembles. While Mr. Tony was rolling out pasta dough, the people in the Little Church consorted with aliens, learned to levitate, planted singing flowers, and rode unicorns (oh, yes, they did – and how they galloped).
People say, “With love, all things are possible.” I’ve known this to be true since, in my childhood, love made marvels out of thin air. As an adult, I’ve never lost faith that the world is full of goodness because, “Once upon a time,” my father built a cathedral for my dreams.