The Mermens

by Brian Doyle

Here are some things we thought were true about members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, which of course we knew not one such person, growing up in a Catholic enclave in New York City where spotting the occasional Lutheran was a weekend sport, and there was rumor of a Jewish temple somewhere in Brooklyn, and one time the brother of a friend had seen a Hindu man on the street, or so he said, but he was not the kind of guy you could totally trust when he said that, and he may well have seen a rodeo rider, or a Mohammedan, as my grandfather used to say. We thought, first of all, that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints were called Mermens, as my grandfather said, so we thought that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints were an aquatic people, for reasons that were murky, considering their long affiliation with Utah, which we didn’t think had an ocean, although perhaps it used to when my grandfather was young, which is when your man Abraham Lincoln was president, as he said. Also we thought heard the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints as Ladder-day Saints, which was puzzling, but not even my grandfather knew what that was all about; it had something to do with Jacob’s Ladder, he said, which we assumed was a town in Utah. Also we thought that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Ladder-day Saints had to marry someone new every other week, which would lead to a lot of wet towels left on the bathroom floor, wouldn’t it, Brian? as my grandfather said. But marrying more than once was not wholly unknown in our Catholic world; Mrs. Cooney, over to Saint Rita’s Parish, had married Mr. Cooney after the death of her first husband in the war, so she was both a widow and an adult, said my grandfather, who informed me helpfully that as a female adult she was what you would call an adultress. My grandfather was a font of such wisdom. Also he said that the Mermens had learned about football from the Catholics, who invented it at Notre Dame, and the Mermens were doing pretty well at the game, what with all the kids they have what with all those marriages, said my grandfather, the story is their first kid has to be a bishop or scout leader or something, and the second through fifth kids are trained to football, something like our system, in which a Catholic family produces a priest or a nun, a cop, a teacher, and a soldier or a sailor, after which the rest of the kids can be whatever they want, even Lutherans, in some cases. Also we thought the Mermens were pretty brave, all things considered, to send their kids two by two, dressed so handsomely in their white shirts and ties, into pagan neighborhoods like ours, why you Catholic kids never dress as well as the Mermens is a mystery and a disappointment to me, said my grandfather, those brave Mermen kids go right into the belly of Catholicism on their bicycles, and even their bicycles are dignified unlike those silly Sting Rays you kids ride, said my grandfather, and those poor Mermen kids must get laughed at or worse all day long, knocking on doors of people who will mostly say vulgar things to them, but they never reply rude as far as I can tell, which you have to admire, you wonder if Catholic kids in the same position would use the foul and vituperative language I have heard you and your brothers use, which I will not tell your mother about if you will be a good boy and go get your grandfather one of those cigars your grandmother has for unknown reasons forbidden in the house. She can be a stern woman, your grandmother, bless her heart, but you cannot hold it against her, because her great-uncle married a Lutheran, you know, and they are a stern and demanding people, given to nailing their opinions on church doors, ruining perfectly good wood. You wouldn’t see the Mermens hammering their opinions on a beautiful door, no, you wouldn’t. Fine people, the Mermens.