Pie and I sat there in silence. From her picnic table, Myrna let out a couple of coughs and sipped her coffee.
“‘Ponder the fact that God has made you a gardener, to root out vice and plant virtue.’ Know who said that?”
I yawned, but Pie continued. “Saint Catherine of Siena. Know what it means?” Church talk again. I didn’t answer.
“Take a guess."
"I don’t have a clue.” I was so bored that I looked over at Myrna and tried to figure out what kind of book she was reading. It was probably a book about quilting.
Pie forged ahead anyway. “Well, think about it, kid. There’s good and evil in the world, you know, like Father Leo says.” I rolled my eyes at the mention of Father Leo’s name, which Pie chose to ignore. “But God helps us look for the bad stuff, to weed it out like a gardener would, right? And we can plant good things, too, like this oregano here.” He held it up for me to see. “So we’re all, in a sense, gardeners. The trick is to plant the good stuff that doesn’t harm people, and keep an eye out for things that can be poisonous to us. I think that’s pretty cool if you ask me.”
I figured I’d play along, to humor him. “So I’m a gardener, huh? Wow, and I never knew it. Ab-so-lutely fascinating. I need a big straw hat and a hoe.” I held out my hands, palms up. “And gloves.”
“You’re a smart aleck, anyone ever tell you that?”
“Actually, I can think of a few people, yeah.”
“But you have a very creative mind. Do you write?”
“Write? Write what?”
“Stories. Stuff like that.”
“No, I don’t write. So tell me about vice. It’s bad?”
Pie took another whiff of the oregano. “Well, you should write. Creative minds make good writers. But you asked about vice. Yeah, it’s bad stuff that you look at, say, do. Those things are poisonous to our souls, kid. They offend God and put our souls in danger. Like I was saying before, they’re from the evil one.”
I could think of an awful lot of bad things I was looking at, saying, and doing lately. A lot.
“So?” I guess I was intrigued by his comments, but I didn’t want it to show.
Pie nodded knowingly at me. It made me feel weird, like he knew me or something. “Here’s the thing about poison, kid, and it goes for plants too. Poison looks really good at first, has pretty leaves, might even taste good. Just give it time, though. Deadly.” Sensing I wasn’t understanding, Pie tried another approach.
Pie went on to say that God gives every person a conscience that sends us warning signals as we decide right from wrong. “St. John Bosco always told his boys, ‘Be smart!’ He’d tell them that when they were tempted, they could always turn to Mary for help. There’s a way to see if you are having a ‘vice’ moment. Just ask yourself, ‘Would God be proud of what I’m doing right now?’ If the answer is no, that’s vice. So for instance, if you’re picking on some kid in your class, that’s a vice, right?”
I thought of how I liked to give Jason a hard time in school. Well, enough of that; I was eager to get on to something good, something happy, the stuff that didn’t make me feel guilty. “And so what’s the other thing?”
“Well, that’s virtue, kid. And Mary is the queen of virtues. Faith, hope, charity, patience— those are the biggies. An example of a virtue would be something God would be really proud to see you do, like sticking up for someone getting bullied. See the difference?”
I nodded, thinking of Kim, the overweight girl at school. The other day I had made mean cracks about her weight when I knew she could hear me. I didn’t see myself fitting into the category of virtue.
Then Pie said, “Or how about keeping an old man company like you do? That’s a nice thing. Or running over and keeping me from crashing into the dirt?”
I managed a smile.
“See?” he winked. “You’ve got some virtue in you yet, kid. I’ve got a few to work on myself.”
“I find that hard to believe, Pie,” I told him sarcastically.
“Funny. Nobody’s perfect, not even me. I’m telling ya, these saints are really something. They were completely human, had human problems and struggles. Some of ’em were bad to the bone until they found God. Look at St. Paul—well, Saul. Now he was something else, that one. Kills all of those Christians, then meets Jesus on a dusty road and gets converted on the spot, ends up writing half of the New Testament and becoming one of the greatest religious leaders of all time. If he can get virtue, anyone can."