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MARTHA SEZ: The patron saint of things lost

June 27, 2011
I often think of St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things.

All my life I have been misplacing umbrellas, crayons, keys, sweaters, homework, school books, glasses, paychecks, mittens, you name it. When my daughter Molly was born I was terrified I would misplace her somewhere.

I had nightmares about this, waking in terror, wondering where I had put her. Fortunately, I soon got over that fear, realizing that no matter what else I lost or misplaced, there was no way I was going to forget  Molly.

Now that I’m getting on in years, I find that people are much kinder about my absentmindedness. Fellow baby boomers — the term becomes more and more incongruous as members of my generation age — are becoming forgetful and farsighted, so my lifelong absentmindedness and myopia seem more appropriate now.

The other day I was talking to Hollis, a woman I have known in town for years, about how it is possible to lose a letter, or other object, in a small space in a matter of seconds.

“It’s just ... gone!” Hollis said. “Oh, I know — it happens all the time. You have the letter in your hand, something interrupts you, and the next thing you know, it’s disappeared. You know it has to be here somewhere — you couldn’t have walked more than three steps. But you can’t find it for the life of you.”

I have often thought that household objects sometimes fall into parallel universes. Not that I understand how parallel universes work any better than I understand how it is possible to lose something in a small space when nobody else could have taken it. I mean, it’s all a mystery.

When this tiresome process goes on too long, you can always call on St. Anthony. I swear, it really works.

Aside from being patron saint of lost things, Anthony is also the patron saint of lost causes.

A lost cause can be deep and tragic, or it can be something more mundane but endlessly frustrating.

My sister has a cherry tree. She could bake a cherry pie, except that the birds are out there in her yard right now, eating the cherries as they ripen.

“I have some netting I bought, after the deer ate my tulips,” I told her.

“Yes, but,” my sister said, “the tree is big now, and I can’t get the netting over it.”

“Could you get a ladder and sort of wrap it around?”

Then my sister told me about her neighbor, who put netting over a cherry tree, accidentally trapping robins inside.

“Maybe you or our mother could have handled that, just matter-of-factly untangled the robins,” she said, “but I couldn’t.”

I was many miles away, at the end of a telephone line (we still don’t have cell service here in Keene Valley), but I swear I could feel her shudder. My sister has a mortal fear of moths and bats and anything else that swoops at her with a big whoosh of wings, unpredictably. I don’t blame her one bit. The thought of robins trapped in a cherry tree, tangled up in nets, is a daunting image even to me.

My sister’s pie cherries are apparently a lost cause. So many things in life are that way. People present solutions, but there is always some reason why none of the solutions will work, and so eventually you just pretend to agree and say “OK, I guess I’ll do that, then.”

When there is nothing to be done, St. Anthony will come through if he can.

St. Anthony is also the patron saint of swineherds and pigs. He is often represented with a small pig at his feet.

The “Tantony,” or St. Anthony’s, pig, is the runt of the litter. Like Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web,” the Tantony pig may also be the favorite.

It just occurred to me the other day: What if the government decided to regulate St. Anthony? What if he were forced to become part of the bureaucracy?

“I’m sorry,” a lost-and-found department clerk would say, not sounding sorry at all. “St. Anthony is not available now. Please fill out forms E-25, 17-FSW and Crosby-12, which can be down-loaded...”

“But I don’t have a computer.”

“Also, we will need an affidavit from all of your former employers and erstwhile friends, stating that your cause is, in fact, lost, and not simply carelessly mislaid somewhere. We’ll need these in by Tuesday. Next.”

Have a good week.



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