|St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child --Hieronymus Bosch|
So said Dad as he handed me the St. Christopher medallion, strung on a thin silver chain. The image of St. Christopher fording a river, a mysterious child on his back, was molded into the metal. It was 1977. Football season. The Klamath Union Pelicans varsity football team was riding north up the entirety of the state of Oregon's y-axis, to Portland that Friday to play the Beaverton Beavers. It was an overnight trip.
"Someone gave this to me when I was a boy," he said. I could feel his eyes watching my reaction as I took the talisman. It was a delicate moment. It might have gone any number of directions. But after long years of practice, I had a good poker face. He couldn't tell what I was thinking. Not that time.
Who knew if it was true? Dad liked to attach significance to everything he did. Sometimes that meant he had to make shit up. It was as easy to believe he found the St. Christopher in a lost-and-found box at the OIT gym. With Dad, you never knew. But his tone suggested that I should respect the gift. So I did. And I have.
St. Christopher (his Greek name was Reprobus) stood seven and a half feet tall and was strong as horse, according to legend. (You can get all this from Wikipedia, here.) While in the service of the King of Canaan, Christopher, no doubt in the full flower of his boastful youth, decided that he must only serve the greatest king of all. When he saw the King of Canaan blanch and cross himself at mention of the devil, Christopher perceived that the devil was a greater king than Christopher's present master, and so left to seek out the devil.
In his travels Christopher encountered a band of cuthroat bandits, the leader of whom claimed to be the devil. Christopher immediately entered into his service. But when he saw the devil avoid a cross standing on the side of the road, Christopher perceived that Christ was greater than even the devil. So Christopher left the bandits in search of Christ.
Eventually, Christopher fell in with a religious hermit, who taught him the (Christian) truth. Christopher wondered how he might serve Christ. The hermit suggested that Christopher use his great strength to help travelers ford a dangerous nearby river. In that way, Christopher might please the Lord.
Christopher found this work agreeable, and was at it for a while. One day, a child stood on the river bank and asked Christopher if he might help the child ford the river. Christopher took the child on his back and started across. But the child weighed heavily upon him, as if Christopher were carrying the entire world on his back. Very nearly he was drowned, but he made it across the river with the child on his back.
"You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were," Peter remarked.
"You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it," replied the child. "I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." The child then vanished.
Today, St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. Si en San Cristóbal confías, de accidente no morirás, as the Spaniards say.
When he gave it to me, I hung Dad's St. Christopher around my neck. I nearly lost it that very weekend. The eyelet that attached it to the chain broke while I was staying in Beaverton with the Pelican football team. (We lost that game, 14-13. It was ugly). As we were boarding the bus to return to Klamath Falls the next morning, one of my teammates, Chip Garrett, asked me, "Did you lose a St. Christopher?" I felt around my neck and, sure enough, the pendant was gone. I had no idea before Chip asked me.
For many years after, the medallion lay in a cedar box that I kept near my bed. But for the last decade or so, St. Christopher has ridden in the console of my car.
In fact, St. Christopher is even now waiting in my car much as he may have waited on the riverbank, back in the day.
Or maybe it's all just Catholic superstition.