I was counting the painted floor tiles, purposefully placing each foot heel to toe, creating a soothing rhythm as I walked. I loved the way my newly straightened feet filled the fancy new footwear, every toe snuggled into a space of it’s own. Since being freed from my corrective shoes, I looked for every opportunity to wear my patent leather Mary-Janes, so that morning in Vienna when my mother announced that we were going to visit yet another church, I knew dressing nicely would meet with her approval. For a woman who didn’t believe in organized religion, we sure did visit a lot of churches when we traveled. My mother enjoyed learning about a towns’ history through its religious structures, but I just found them boring and repetitive.
And, Vienna ‘Church number 3’ was no exception. It was cold and uninviting. The colors so muted and drab, the floor tiles almost looked tear stained, as if the angels on the ceiling had been crying for hundreds of years. I wandered down the center aisle, never too far behind the adults, their hushed voices softly bouncing off the stone walls and stained glass windows, but all I could hear was the click clack click clack of my deliberate steps.
The Austrian weather was damp and dreary, hanging over the city like a cloud of sadness, adding to the doom and gloom so much, that my steps began to feel like a funeral march as I weaved my way through the heavy wooden pews. I felt like a dwarf in the cavernous structure, the intricately painted ceiling seemed as far away as the sky.
We were on a private tour, as usual, and expect for one or two priests, I don’t think there were any other people present. I followed behind, listening with one ear to the information my mother was getting, preferring to come up with my own stories about the tombs and tapestries, sculptures and frescoes. The walls were dull and the stained glass almost colorless, enhancing my lack of interest. “Get- me -out -of -here”, echoed in my head with each click of my heel.
Close to the altar, I came upon a pew with elaborate kneeling cushions designed for the ancient Austrian nobility and I saw the opportunity to take an overdue rest, placing my knees on the padded platform. Relieved to have found a somewhat comfortable spot, I folded my hands in prayer and pleaded with God to get my mother to speed this tour up.
As I pretended to be devout, I looked down and kneeling on the ground next to me was a tiny stuffed animal fox, his ear frayed and his tail, torn, it’s stuffing gone. He too, was praying. To be rescued, maybe. “Hey little guy, are you lost?” “Or, left behind?” I wrapped my gloved hand around his coarse dirty blonde hair, his one brown plastic eye dull with sadness, as if he been been forgotten. I stroked his well worn face, “I don’t blame you for looking so sad. This isn’t a place I’d want to be lost in.”
I sat back in the pew, no longer concerned with it’s hardness, my new little friend distracting me from my surroundings, pleased I had just rescued this mouse-like creature from a medieval dungeon.
Hearing my mother’s voice coming closer, I clutched the little orphan and turned in her direction. “Look, look, mommy!” Holding him high for all to see, his only eye in clear view. “He was lost. I found him on the ground praying.” My mother reached out, lifted his scruffy face and stroked his furry head. I ran over and pointed to where I had made my discovery. “He was down there! On the floor!” I beamed, breaking the unspoken rule of quiet church voices. My mother smiled with wisdom at our new family member, “A lost soul in a church. In search of salvation.” she stated softly. “I think he came in here in search of a family. How lucky are you, Mr Fox?” My mother always liked taking in strays, be them two or four legged, so a stuffed rescue pet would be no exception. Taking me by the hand, she placed my new travel companion back in my care, knowing I would now be more willing to stay by her side, as we made our way to the next cavernous wing of Vienna’s largest church.
My Austrian travel souvenir sits on a shelf in my room, never forgotten and still loved to this day, looking just as well loved as the day he was found.