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Sunday, April 22 Opinion

A Father's Journal: A place for prayer, pierogi ... and parking

My daughter will drive down to the St. Anthony of Padua Church parking lot on South Pine Creek Road this Sunday afternoon for the parish's annual picnic. It will be a triumphant return for her. The last time she was driving in the church lot she was training to get her driver's license.

If you like pierogi -- stuffed Polish dumplings -- then the parking lot of St. Anthony's is the place to be this Sunday. The parish puts up tents and sells homemade pierogi while bands perform live music, games are played and other activities associated with large picnics are conducted. In the parking lot, you can even buy frozen pierogi to take home.

St. Anthony's parking lot is well known by area teenagers. At night, you can often find them there. They are doing nothing nefarious. It is the spot where many of them learn to park a car. More than one local driving school teaches its students to park there during the week when the lot is quiet. Many of the students then choose to take their driving test through the schools. The state inspectors then show up, and where do they conduct test parking? St. Anthony's.

I didn't know about it until the first time Caroline asked to go driving at St. Anthony's. After backing in and parking a few times, I suggested we visit St. Thomas, or any other parking lot belonging to a saint.

"No!" she said.

"Why, what's wrong with St Thomas?" I asked. "They don't have pierogi, but they seem like nice people."

"We don't take the test at St. Thomas. We take the parking test at St. Anthony's," Caroline explained.

"So, you don't want to learn to park anywhere else?" I asked.

"That's correct," she said.

"Isn't that going to limit your driving later?" I inquired.

"I don't care, Dad."

Between the time our father-daughter sessions started her passing the test, I don't think we parked at another spot. Practicing parking at St. Anthony's is what we did nightly.

We got so familiar with the lot we stared to identify parking spaces by their proximity to certain storm-drain grates. We each had our favorite spots. While still at the house, I would suggest, "Let's be crazy tonight. Let's back into the spot two from middle grate."

"That's a tough one," the student-driver would reply.

"I know," I'd say, "that's why I picked it."

I was a little disappointed when I found out St. Anthony is not the patron saint of parking. There is no patron saint of driving-test parking. But the patron saint of automobile drivers is St. Francis of Rome. However, the nearest St Francis of Rome church parking lot is 752 miles away on South 59th Street in Cicero, Ill.

There is a St. Francis of Assisi Church in Weston, but that's a different St. Francis.

When the day of Caroline's driving test arrived, the students gathered into a room at the downtown driving school, and then every 20 minutes, in a predetermined order, each took the driving test -- which included parking at St. Anthony's.

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The waiting kids just sat and fidgeted. Until one girl with a Catholic school uniform asked if they wanted to pray. Caroline said, "Sure." There are no atheists in foxholes.

"I have a rosary in my purse," the Catholic school girl said.

"Great," Caroline said. "Do you know how to pray with it?"

"No" the girl admitted.

"You're wearing a Catholic school uniform, you have a rosary in your purse, and you don't know what to do with it?" Caroline asked.

Just then, Caroline's name came up. She went outside, sat in the car, adjusted the seat, buckled the seat belt, checked the mirrors, tried to remember what prayers were in the rosary, and checked the parking brake.

She arrived at St Anthony's with the ease and familiarity of a teen entering her bedroom. Parking lot, car and Caroline had become one.

The inspector asked her to back into the second spot from the trash bin. Different, but not wholly unexpected. We had practiced that spot about a week earlier. She backed up, slowly, but not herky jerky. She had confidence. She nailed it.

She was a little disappointed that the inspector did not open his door and check how close to the line they were. He didn't even offer a comment, like I do after I open the door. Nothing.

That was it. No confetti. No brass band. She had backed in perfectly, centered between the lines. The inspector did not appreciate that we had practiced every night.

All he said was, "Now, let's make a right onto South Pine Creek."

They went down South Pine Creek and took the Post Road back downtown to the driving school. When the test was finished, the examiner handed her a form in triplicate -- copies in white, yellow and pink. She was confused. It took a few minutes for her to figure out she had passed.

Now, my 16-year-old nephew is in town, and we plan to go out driving. I hope he likes pierogi and knows what to do with a rosary.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" column appears every other Friday. He can be reached at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com .