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Follow the Cheese

Herald columnist Jim DeFede's odyssey across the United States as he delivers the Virgin Mary cheese sandwich to Las Vegas.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Yellow Rose of Texas 

I could try to rationalize what happened Monday night in Austin by quoting scripture relating to Jesus and Mary Magdalene. You know, the whole "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" thing.

But I have too much respect for you to do that.

So here it is: Monday night the VMGCS visited the Yellow Rose nudie bar.

Hey, all I can say is it gets lonely on the road.

"I'm surprised to see it here," one dancer said quite earnestly. "But thank you for bringing the message to a strip club."

Most of the dancers, however, just wanted to hold it and have their picture taken with it. Some with their tops on, most with them off.

"It's like the Stanley Cup," Jeff Spangenberg said. "People just want to hold it."

Spangenberg is the CEO of Top Heavy Studios, which manufactures video games, including one called The Guy Game which he described as "Girls Gone Wild meets video games." I have no idea what that means, but he seemed quite proud of it.

A pretty young woman named Maya strolls over and sits on my lap. She is from Brownsville, Texas, near the border with Mexico. She tells me that in Brownsville there is a tree trunk with the visage of the Virgin Mary.

"I didn't believe it till I went to see it myself," she said. "But it really there. It really looks like her."

And therein lies the one thing that has surprised me the most during this trip -- the number of people who want to tell me about their own sighting of the Virgin Mary. This is phenomenon far larger than I ever imagined.

Twenty-four hours earlier, for instance, I was playing poker at a casino in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After winning a few hands, I told the other players that I had an unfair advantage. I then opened the briefcase that had been at my feet and showed them the VMGCS. Several of them know exactly what it was and before long the game was momentarily suspended as the players, along with several dealers and cocktail waitresses gathered around to see it.

When the game resumed, one of the women Prudence Burns of Sulphur, Louisiana, told me about reports 15 years ago of Jesus' face appearing in the foliage of a tree out in the swamps. The leaves were turning color and when the light hit the tree just right, the face could be seen as clear as day.

Across the poker table, Kathleen Dupin said she saw it too. "It was there for days," she said.

"Did you see the Virgin Mary in the screen door?" Dupin asked Burns.

"I sure did," Burns said.

A few years after Jesus' face appeared in the tree, Mary appeared on a woman's screen door. Dupin, who owns a beauty parlor in New Orleans, said she went to both apparitions with a group of her friends.

"We were so moved, we all just stood there and cried," she recalled.

You cried in front of a screen door?

"Well there were so many people there already, praying and crying," she said. "It was so emotional and I guess we all wanted it to be true."

"I once saw Moses on a French fry," a college kid interrupted, trying to be funny. Everyone ignored him.

Dupin continued. "Even now, today, years later, I still believe those were the faces of Jesus and Mary," she said.

And what about the grilled cheese sandwich?

"I don't think so," she said. "This one didn't make me emotional."

Maybe, I said, you think you would be more likely to believe it was really the Virgin Mary? You saw it in a room filled with people crying and praying, instead of seeing it here, like this, sprung on you in the middle of a casino? Isn't it a matter of the setting and the perception of others, that ultimately influence your perception?

"I suppose so," she said.

She takes a second look at the VMGCS. "Okay," she says, "I saw Jesus in a tree, I saw the screen door with the Virgin Mary and now I've seen the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich. I fee; truly blessed."

posted by Jim DeFede at 5:27 AM

Jim DeFede and Cheese

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