May 11, 2023

“The Greatest of These,” by Kathie Giorgio

“The Greatest of These,” by Kathie Giorgio

Faith wished she could pray, and then wondered if, by wishing, she was already praying. What was the difference between lighting birthday cake candles and lighting a votive in a church? With one, she closed her eyes and wished. With the other, she closed her eyes and prayed. Faith thought of all the years she tried to earn a wish by blowing out her birthday candles with one big gust, and all the Sundays she knelt in her space in the pew, she at the end, her parents at the aisle, and her siblings in between. They folded their hands in prayer. 

It was all about asking for something, Faith decided, and then believing she was going to get it. With one, she asked God; with the other, she asked the universe or the air or something so ethereal, she couldn’t put a name to it.  

The problem, Faith thought, was that she no longer believed she was getting anything she asked for, wished for, prayed for. Faith was faithless. 

Faith’s family name was Love, and Faith always felt that it was a name that was difficult to live up to. Her parents married in the Catholic Church and because they were to be Mr. and Mrs. Love, they of course chose to have 1 Corinthians 13 as one of their readings during the ceremony. Love is patient, love is kind, love never fails. Mr. and Mrs. Love vowed to embody that bible chapter and when their first two children were girls, they named them Faith and Hope, after 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Along with patient and kind and never-failing, the Loves aspired to be the greatest. Greatest in biblical proportions. By biblical definitions. 

Naming child 3, a girl, and child 4, a boy, wasn’t easy. Verse 13, after all, only listed faith, hope, and love. Faith’s parents decided to name the third girl Patience, after 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient, love is kind,” but they were flummoxed by the boy. They pondered each of the names of the eleven good disciples and then other male figures throughout the bible, Moses, Noah, Gabriel, but kept finding themselves coming back to the biggest name of all: Jesus. If they were to be the greatest, in biblical proportions, by biblical definitions, then it followed that their son’s name should be the greatest too. But except in the Hispanic cultures, Jesus wasn’t a common name. So they finally called him Jesse, thinking that was close. In church, they sat all in a row, with Father on the aisle, then Mother, then little Jesse, Patience, Hope, and Faith.  

Faith hadn’t been to church for three years. The last time was for her mother’s funeral. Father preceded Mother by a year. The four of them sat in their new row, death reversing their order, bumping Faith from the end to the aisle as the new matriarch. Then came Hope, Patience and Jesse. Following Jesse were the five grandchildren, all belonging to Hope, Patience and Jesse and their respective mother and fathers who were not present at the funeral due to divorces and one child out of wedlock (Jesse’s). The five grandchildren were not named after 1 Corinthians 13, or any other part of the bible, except by coincidence and not intention. Before the Love parents died, they did their best to ignore the divorces and they only whispered the word “bastard” when Jesse and his son were out of earshot. Faith never married, having no faith that it could last, as she soothed the solid failure of her siblings’ relationships. Her parents tried to ignore her spinsterhood too. 

Her mother used that word only once, and when Faith expressed her opinion that she wasn’t a spinster if it was her choice to be alone, her mother just rolled her eyes.  “Wouldn’t you change your mind if you had the opportunity, dear?” she’d said and Faith couldn’t argue. 

Faith did yearn to be married, not for love, but to have the opportunity to no longer be a Love. She didn’t wish for a man; she didn’t pray for a partner. She just wanted a new name. One that she could live up to. She was tired of being a disappointment.   

Faith sighed and looked out the window at the front lawn, dotted with white feathery dandelions. Her mother, she knew, went to her grave blaming Faith for the wreckage of their lawn, a victim of a time when Faith still wished. She’d told Faith all those years ago to quit blowing on the dandelions, but Faith kept blowing and wishing and not getting her wishes. Even though it was years and years now since Faith lived at home and snuck barefoot through the lawn to surreptitiously and with faith send wishes into the air, the lawn still had a bumper crop every summer into fall.  

Her sisters and brother would be here at the family house any minute. Three years after their mother’s death, they’d finally come to an agreement to sell. They were here for a final gathering, just the four of them, before the house went formally on the market the next day. 

Faith hoped whoever bought it had an appreciation for white dandelions. She didn’t wish. She didn’t pray. She hoped. Her sister, she thought, had it easy. 


While Faith arrived first and had a full twenty minutes to herself, the other three drove into the driveway in a clump, one right after the other. Faith wondered if there’d been a secret meeting between them, leaving her out. She’d been the family executrix and there’d been strain in the three years since their mother died. Things were divided equally and sometimes, this raised a little rancor or caused some tears, but Faith was firm. She would not disappoint her parents in their final wishes.  

She studied her sisters and brother as they came toward the house, chatting with each other, and she considered their first names. Hope was still hopeful. She played the lottery, bought scratch-off tickets, entered sweepstakes. She began her search for luck when her now ex-husband was constantly unemployed. Now that he was gone and Hope’s life was stable, she still looked for the grace of a windfall. Next in line, Patience was indeed patient, the mother of three of the grandchildren. She rarely raised her voice. She wasn’t patient with a now ex-husband who drank too much. Finally, Jesse, with his out-of-wedlock son, couldn’t really be said to be like Christ, although the boy’s mother was named Marie, about as close to Mary as Jesse was to Jesus. Jesse was as committed to his son as Jesus was to the little children who came unto him. Whether they defined their names or defied them, Faith applauded her siblings, even though her parents didn’t. 

Faith loved them all and always had, despite divorces, despite a birth without benefit of marriage. In that, she was true to her last name. She opened the door for them.  

They stood together in the foyer and looked around. “So how are we going to do this, then?” asked Patience. “The furniture is all gone.” 

“I brought blankets,” Faith said. “I thought we could spread them out and have a picnic indoors.”  

The others agreed and they all thought it was fortuitous that they brought picnic-esque food. Jesse picked up a bucket of fried chicken, Hope made their mother’s favorite potato salad, Patience made their father’s favorite coleslaw and Faith, besides the blankets, brought chips and dip. Faith began to spread the blankets in the living room but stopped when she realized no one was helping. “What?” she said, looking at her three siblings who seemed aghast. 

“Mother would never let us eat in the living room,” Jesse said. 

Faith shrugged. “Well, it’s our last chance then, isn’t it.” Honoring final wishes was one thing; honoring old, tired family rules was another. 

After a moment of silence, they all laughed and sat down, setting out the food, bringing out paper plates and plastic utensils. Hope brought soda and water, and even remembered to get those red plastic cups so popular at picnics. Red always made everything feel festive, even a final dinner in a home that was soon no longer to be theirs.  

“It’s going to be weird, driving past this house and knowing someone else is in it,” Jesse said. 

Faith nodded. “That’s true, but it’s also been weird knowing no one is in it at all.” 

The house echoed with their voices.  

“I’m kind of surprised none of us wanted the house,” Hope said. 

They all studied their plates, but then Faith asked, “Why didn’t you want it, Hope?” 

“Too many memories,” she said.  

“That’s what we all have,” Patience said. 

They ate quietly. They always ate quietly at home. Meals were not a time to be boisterous, their mother said. Faith wondered about picnics. Picnics with red cups. Even picnics in living rooms. 

They did eventually talk, but softly. About the sale price of the house. About what would be left after commission and how much each of them would receive. About how the real estate agent said the house was “chockfull of old-fashioned charm.”  

“I think that’s good,” Hope said. 

“I’m glad we waited to make our decision,” Patience said. “This finally feels like the right thing.” 

When they finished eating, Faith cleaned up while her siblings wandered the house and said goodbye. An old American Foursquare, it was large, and they were lucky to have had their own bedrooms. As Faith put saran back on bowls and bagged the garbage, she heard footsteps overhead as each sibling went into their own rooms and stopped. There was a moment of silence and then scuffs began as each one worked their way back downstairs again. 

Hope was in tears. Patience had her arm around her. Faith went to give each of them a hug. When she turned to Jesse, she found him with his hands in his pockets and he looked at the floor. “Guess this is it then,” he said. She patted his shoulder. 

“I’ll let you know what happens with showings and such,” Faith said. She handed them all their things. “Next holiday is Thanksgiving. We need to figure out who is hosting it this year.” 

It had been three years since their mother hosted Thanksgiving in this house. But knowing the house was now going to be out of their hands made this year feel more final. If Thanksgiving was to be celebrated here, it would no longer be on their family china, now donated to Goodwill, along with their silver engraved utensils. There wouldn’t be a turkey cooked by their mother and carved by their father. Until their father died four years ago, Jesse never carved a turkey. But then, the girls never cooked one either.   

Faith felt her responsibility as the oldest. And she didn’t mind, really. “We can have it at my condo,” she said. “If you’d like.” 

They all nodded, relieved.  

“Let me know which kids will be there. Then I can start working on a menu,” Faith said, and she waved them out the door. 

The house was returned to its empty silence, different than when it was a full silence, four kids alone in their rooms, their parents across the hall. Quiet meals when they came together. Faith looked back out at the yard again. At one point, she knew, she was the only child here. Her parents bought this place soon after their marriage. When they brought her home from the hospital a little over a year later, they put her in the bedroom right across from theirs. Hope was born two years later and Faith was bumped to the room next door, so the baby could be nearest their parents. By the time little Jesse was born, that room became the permanent nursery, and then the room of the final child, the only boy. Faith, as the oldest, moved with each birth, just as she moved up the row in the church pew after her father’s death, then her mother’s. Eventually, she was in the bedroom furthest away from her parents. Her sisters bumped to the next rooms too, Hope twice, Patience once. Faith didn’t remember giving up the first room, but she remembered the other two. It took her a while to like the room that was hers at the front of the house. She couldn’t have said the word when she was six, but she felt relegated. As the oldest, she was expected to be the most able to take care of herself. Her responsibility to those siblings that were no longer right across from their parents’ room began then as well.  

Faith loved each baby as it arrived. And she loved them now. 

She went upstairs and moved through those rooms, from the nursery, to the next and the next and the final. She avoided the one room that was never hers; her parents’. Like her siblings, she stood in silence for a few minutes in the room that was hers the longest. 

They all had their memories. They weren’t necessarily bad or necessarily good. They just weren’t the greatest. They were enough to keep them from wanting to come home, to this house. 

Faith wondered if her parents ever felt like failures. In biblical proportions. By biblical definitions.  

She returned downstairs and gathered her things. It would take at least two trips to her car. She stopped and looked again at the lawn. 

White dots everywhere, like stars on a green waving sky. Faith smiled and walked onto the lawn. She glanced back at the windows, but realized she had nothing to hide this time. There was no one left to hide from. Picking a dandelion, she blew like she did as a little girl. The seeds scattered, some catching a breeze backwards and landing on her shirt and jeans. She brushed them away and then moved to another dandelion. And then another. She began to blow with abandon. 

Somewhere after the tenth dandelion, she turned and directed seeds back toward the house. Then she looked at it, the windows like empty eyes staring back at her.  

Her little condo had a light on in the front window. She hated coming home to a dark house. 

She wondered again what it would be like to set yourself up to be the greatest, and then to fail. To have two out of four children divorced, another with a bastard child, another a stolid spinster. Her bedroom window faced the front yard and she remembered looking out of it often before going to one sister’s room or the other, to soothe a nightmare, check their homework, wipe away tears over some boy, provide hot tea for a cold. As time passed, she checked on her baby brother too, once he got to an age where her parents firmly shut their door, a door that was left open for as long as there was a new baby in the nursery. Faith always wondered what that closed door had to do with the lack of any more siblings. 

The door was shutting now too. And Faith would have Thanksgiving dinner. She would take care of her siblings. She always did. She would use paper plates. And red festive cups. 

Carefully, Faith picked a fistful of dandelions, holding them gently so as not to shake their starry seeds. After carrying them into the house, she reopened the garbage bag and pulled out a red cup. She filled it with water, then put the dandelions into it.  

Carrying it up to her parents’ room, the room where she was never allowed, Faith opened the door. The window used to have a dresser in front of it and Faith brought the dandelions there and placed them on the floor where the dresser used to be. If her mother had been the type that displayed dandelions in red plastic cups, Faith decided to imagine that this was where her mother would have put them. Right where she could see them as she undressed at night, and then dressed again in the morning. Where she could reach out and touch them with just one finger and then smile as the seeds scattered like the wispiest lace on the dresser top. In her own room, it was where Faith would have put a cup full of dandelions, if only she’d been allowed. 

Faith wished her mother was the type of mother who would sweep the fallen seeds up into her palm, open the screen on the window, and blow them to the yard below. Or maybe even hold them next to the O-circled lips of the little girl who picked them and encourage her to do the wishing.  The fall sun fell in and Faith delighted in the light brightening the dandelions. It was like having the sun and the stars at the same time.  

Bowing her head, she offered a prayer, her first in years, for her parents, for her mother, for their well-being in Heaven. She hoped it wasn’t a disappointment. 

Before walking out of the house for the final time, she filled another red cup with water. Then she locked the door behind her, threw the garbage in her trunk, and went to pick her own bouquet. 

She had a small walkout at her condo, a concrete patio and a ten by twelve patch of grass, enough for a teeny bistro table and four barstools and a hibachi. She would blow these dandelion stars onto her patch of grass. Hopefully, they would burrow in and when next summer came, she would open her sliding glass door to her own bumper crop of stars on a green sky. She and her siblings could sit and watch the kids puff their cheeks and send dreams into the air. Toward God. Toward a universe. Toward a desire to receive what was most wanted.  

Faith herself would start, she decided, with one simple wish. 


The Greatest of These

KATHIE GIORGIO is the author of six novels, two story collections, an essay collection, and three poetry collections. A poetry chapbook, Olivia In Five, Seven, Five; Autism In Haiku, was just released in 8/2022. Her seventh novel, Hope Always Rises, will be released in 3/2023. She’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in fiction and poetry and awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, the Silver Pen Award for Literary Excellence, the Pencraft Award for Literary Excellence, and the Eric Hoffer Award In Fiction. Her poem “Light” won runner-up in the 2021 Rosebud Magazine Poetry Prize.  In a recent column, Jim Higgins, the books editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, listed Giorgio as one of the top 21 Wisconsin writers of the 21st century.   

The Greatest of These
#kathie giorgio#short story
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