"Father Espirito, it’s time."
The old priest nodded and sat up straight in his high-backed chair as he waited to be lifted by his four attendants. He stared ahead at the statue being raised ahead of him. At his signal, the doors of the Most Precious Blood Holy Church swung open. The procession began.
The clock hanging from the ancient oak tree struck two o'clock and the noise from well-wishers who packed the surrounding sidewalks several layers deep began to rumble with anticipation. The din grew to a frenzy as the lead altar boys stepped onto Mulberry Street, then crescendoed to a deafening roar when the blessed statue came into view.
Father Espirito’s pallet left the church last and he waved to the cheering crowd as the procession continued. Turning left, then right, he extended his blessing onto the faithful. The most pious of the observers, old women in black dresses with silk veils to match, crossed themselves and bowed in respect as their priest brought God’s beneficence upon them.
The market umbrellas of the food vendors dotted Little Italy’s streets in a pointillist's palette of red, green and white. Moments later, the aroma of frying sausage and onions almost overwhelmed the old priest, for the memories of his mother's kitchen seemed more vivid now than any other time in his life.
"Father, we love you!" cried one girl, no more than twelve years old. He smiled benignly and waved to the familiar-lookinf child, one of many young people who passed through the doors of his house of God every Sunday. How he loved the innocent and unabashed exuberance of these children!
As the procession passed Grand Street, Father Espirito spotted the Original Tony's pizza cart parked at its traditional location on the northwest corner.
"Hey, Father, how about a slice?" called out the boy that worked the cart this year, waving a large piece of pizza in the priest’s direction.
The priest shook his head and turned away. Watching the young man, he felt he was looking at an image of himself sixty years before. He was so strong and handsome then, he thought, his lower lip trembling.
By now, the crowd at Canal Street had followed the procession as it headed north. Father Espirito could sense the impatience of the human wave pushing them forward to Houston Street, past the cannoli vendors, the pasta sellers and the dozens of other purveyors of traditional Italian cuisine. If Heaven exists, its streets will be lined just like this, the priest mused.
"Are you having a good time, Father?" Sister Angelina asked him, seeing his faint smile.
"Oh yes, Sister, I am. The festival is good for the body and soul, isn't it?"
The nun laughed and nodded, then added, "I'm having so much fun, I already can't wait until next year."
The old priest nodded, but didn't reply. He sensed that this would be his last San Gennaro festival. The delicious aromas around him today were like those that visited his sleep most nights now. Soon, he would be home. He hoped his mother was ready for his return.
Copyright (c) 2010 by Michael C. Cordell. All Rights Reserved.