I’ve kept my father’s rosary in the top drawer of my desk since his funeral sixteen years ago. I’ve taken it out, held it, stared at the tiny wooden cross with the hollow back containing a tiny glass vial, inscribed “LOURDES PAT. PEND.” But only this time did I notice that it was broken—or rather, that it had been broken and repaired. How had I failed to notice the odd bead sticking out sideways from the middle of the last decade, attached only at one end? A count revealed the rosary five beads short of whole. The last two decades were fused; sometime in the rosary’s life, one Our Father and four Hail Marys had gone missing.
On this occasion, I’d taken it out to wrap as a gift for my brother Chris. We seven siblings, the four sons and three daughters of Ron and Mildred, were about to gather in Dallas for twin celebrations: Michael, at seventy-nine, was marking fifty years as a priest of the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood, while Chris—the youngest, at sixty—was to be ordained a deacon. We hail from rural Nebraska, but live hundreds or thousands of miles from each other. When we come together, it is a great joy, with food and drink, pictures and stories of kids and grandkids, and endless games of bridge.
The time seemed right to pass on the rosary. Close examination of the beads shows bespoke wiring, with tiny contrived anchors, and a whisper of thread. Seeing these repairs, I had an immediate vision of my father. He is sixty-nine, with a score of years still to live. He hunches over a card table in the basement, squinting through his bifocals, still embarrassed about the sound the lost beads had made bouncing this way and that on the church pew. He wields needle-nose pliers with unwonted delicacy. His life’s work had been on a bigger scale—building grain elevators, maneuvering boxcars, scooping rotted corn from rain-ruined bins. Dad’s work made him a handy improviser.