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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.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Fluff, Fold and Pray 

A week on the road and I'm out of clean underwear. And so, Friday morning the VMGCS and I find ourselves at a laundromat in Tucson, Arizona.

The clothes in my suitcase fill up two washing machines and as I add my detergent, I ask one of the women standing a few feet away if she had heard about the grilled cheese sandwich sold on eBay for $28,000.

"Of course," answers Veronica Fuentes.

I open my briefcase. "Here it is," I say.

"We saw it on the TV, but it is so weird actually seeing it here, in person," she gushes. "You know, there is a lady down here and she would pour water on her floor and the vision of the Guadalupe would appear. I never saw it, but my friend did."

Veronica looks again at the face in the grilled cheese sandwich and says she is sure it is the Virgin Mary.

"That's her face," she says.

Teresa Romero walks over to take a look for herself.

"Oh, wow, she's beautiful," Romero says. She gently touches the plastic case holding the VMGCS and then makes the sign of the cross on her forehead and lips. She begins to touch the plastic case again, only this time her lips move in silent prayer.

"Maybe she'll grant my wish," she says.

What was she praying for?

"For my son to straighten up," she says solemnly. "Since his wife left him all he does is drink and get into trouble. Last night he came home and he said the police were following him. But why would the police be following him if he wasn't doing something wrong?"

When she turns to walk away, she pats me on the shoulder and whispers in my ear, "God bless you for bringing this here."

"Look mommy, the vision of the Guadalupe," Fuentes calls out when her mother walks into the laundromat." It's the Guadalupe on a quesadilla."

Quesadilla! Of course, that's how you say grilled cheese in Spanish. As Fuentes' mother rushes over, all I can think about is that I'm an idiot. Ssssssss Queso? What was I thinking?

"Oh , my goodness," Linda Fuentes says, "look at how pretty she is."

She runs her finger along the outline of the face on the sandwich.

"I had a vision one time of the Guadalupe on a plate," she confides. "One day I traced the cracks on my plate with a pencil and her whole body appeared.

"It broke the next day," she continues."It shattered all by itself. My mom said she was trying to tell me something but then she must have changed her mind."

An old woman with long beautiful silver hair, passes by, looks at the VMGCS and smiles at me. I can feel the warmth of her gaze. Without saying a word she walks back to the chairs by the television set and sits down.

While I wait for my clothes to dry, I join her by the TV. As we sit there, watching a rerun of "Spin City," a young woman with an incredibly tight and sexy pair of jeans, leans over by the change machine. I can't help but and my glance must have lasted longer than I thought because when I turn back, the old woman with the silver hair is bearing down on me with a disapproving stare.

The keeper of the VMGCS, she is letting me know, should not be leering at women.

I shrug sheepishly and keep my eyes fixed to the TV for the rest of my stay in the laundromat.

Before I leave, however, Teresa Romero returns to the laundromat, this time with her daughter.

"Can she see it?" Romero asks me.

"Sure," I said, once again opening the briefcase.

"Oh, it is the Lady, isn't it," the daughter says. "Mommy, did you ask her to help me?"

Teresa looks at me shyly. She knows that I know she concentrated her prayers on her son, not her daughter. Teresa touches the plastic case and once again makes the sign of the cross on her body.

"Yes, I asked her to help you," she tells her daughter. "Of course."

posted by Jim DeFede at 5:32 PM

Jim DeFede and Cheese

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