The first 5-6 years of my life were spent living in a very small one bedroom house directly behind my grandfather’s house. Since my grandfather’s house was only a few feet away it was my habit to go there throughout the day. Invariably I was greeted by my aunt Katie as I bounded through the back door into the kitchen. She always greeted me with a hug and a kiss and told me how happy she was to see me. Usually my presence would interrupt her as she was working. And aunt Katie was always working. This was because my grandmother, aunt Katie’s mother had died shortly after aunt Katie graduated from high school. Her older sister had married and left home and aunt Katie being the only woman left in the family felt that it was her duty to stay at home and care for her father and two brothers who still lived at home. This was a duty that she accepted freely but as I was to find out later at a great cost. For aunt Katie had a gift – a wonderful gift visited on very few – she could sing. Not your ordinary everyday singing where people say that you have a nice voice and they enjoy hearing you sing. The story in the family was that aunt Katie turned down an opportunity to go to New Your City and sing professionally, she turned down that opportunity because she felt it was her obligation to stay at home and care for her family.

Invariably when I went to see her she was either on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor or doing the laundry of three men who worked in the steel mill. But this day I was greeted by a different scene, she had her best coat on, her hair was done up in the peasant style of her father’s native Hungary. She had makeup on which she hardly ever wore and I remember thinking how nice she looked. I asked where she was going and she told my she was going to church and asked if I wanted to go along. I said “sure”. I took her hand and we walked the few blocks to the local Hungarian church. The church was empty when we entered; she motioned to the back pew, told me to sit there and be good. I watched as she disappeared behind the alter and began to fidget as was the duty of any five year old boy. Soon people started entering the church, hurriedly vying for seats in the pews that were closet to the alter. It wasn’t too long before the church was packed. It was as though this day was some sort of a special occasion, and I was to learn that many of the people had come from as far away as Pennsylvania because of what was to occur there today. A special occasion as it turned out which was to feature my aunt Katie.

As soon as the church was full it was impossible for this five year old boy to see anything over the mass of adults blocking his view of the alter. I noticed that the choir loft was empty that day so I quietly crept out the back door and up the stairs to the choir loft. With a stealth worthy of the best spy I bent low, almost crawling, and made my way to the rail at the bottom of the choir loft. I slowly peered just above the rail base and as I did the church became very quiet when the priest made his entrance onto pulpit. He faced the alter, clasped his hands in a brief prayer then went to his chair at the side of the alter and sat down. The silence became such that I could sense a great anticipation rising from the congregation below.

After what seemed like an eternity my aunt Katie walked out from behind the alter. It was an aunt Katie that I had never seen before. She was beautiful! She was dressed in a brightly colored peasant dress. The kind with a bodice with embroidered flowers and a skirt that billowed outward with innumerable petticoats.  Her hair had been done in braids and wrapped around her head and it was adorned with yellow flowers and red ribbons. She walked to the center of the alter, put her hands together and bowed her head as though she was going to say a prayer. Instead of saying a prayer she started to sing. Softly at first while keeping her head bowed in prayer. I didn’t  know the words she was singing but their import was unmistakable. She was singing the Ave Maria. I looked at the congregation and every eye was on aunt Katie as she immersed herself in the song. Indeed it wasn’t aunt Katie singing the song. It wasn’t even a song that was being sung. Instead it was a spiritual experience that enveloped aunt Katie, the congregation and even myself although I didn’t know the importance of this experience. As aunt Katie’s voice and emotion rose she lifted her head to the heavens and this time there was no mistaking that aunt Katie was praying.

I once again looked down at the congregation and this time I noticed many of those in attendance had tears streaming down their cheeks. It just wasn’t the women who were caught up in the emotion of the moment – many of the men too could not hold back their feelings at what they were experiencing. And these were men as hard as steel; tough Hungarian immigrants who had experienced all kinds of difficulties as they struggled to make a new life in this country. As aunt Katie neared the end of the Ave Maria her voice rose to a point where it was not a mere mortal singing, it was as though an angel had visited this little earthbound church and was rejoicing in her love of god. At that moment the sun which had been shining outside became perfectly aligned with a small circle of white glass in a stained glass window and a perfect and sublime beam of sunlight encircled aunt Katie. It was as though god himself was shinning a spotlight on her in order to see where this wondrous prayer was coming from. I believe that then and there a spot was reserved for aunt Katie in the heavenly choir.

As the last notes of the Ave Maria resonated throughout the church she bowed her head and after a moment went back behind the alter. Nary a sound could be heard in the church, not even a whispered “amen” was spoken. When the priest finally rose and made his way to the center of the alter and I made my way back to my seat.

More that sixty years have passed since that eventful Sunday. Aunt Katie has taken her rightful place in the heavenly choir and I know that the heavenly choir is now one voice sweeter. There some things that people remember from their journeys through their lives. For some it is their first love, their wedding day and the birth of their children. But as for me, should I live to be one hundred I will never forget the day I saw and heard an angel sing the Ave Maria.