Sunday, June 26, 2011

"That Thar Gal Has On Green Toenail Polish!"

I was privileged to attend the wedding yesterday in North Carolina of my beautiful namesake, daughter of my best friend at university.

I was to sit with the family, and Karyn's youngest brother escorted me down the aisle with great aplomb. I was seated next to an older gentleman and his wife, who were chatting to another older couple next to them.

I never got to talk with them at all as the ceremony was about to begin. And then after the service itself, I drove the mother of the bride to the reception and sat with some of the aunts and had a swell time.

After the festivities were over and everyone had waved goodbye to the bride and groom, I ended up talking to the two older couples who were lingering outside, enjoying the evening and the romance of it all. 

How our conversation started was because I wanted to take a picture of one of the couple's hands, clasped together so lovingly. As I was doing that, the other gentleman exclaimed, "You were the gal sitting next to me at the wedding! I know because of your toenails!"

"WHATTTT?!" I asked, startled but already warming up to the dear old man. 

"When you sat down next to me, I said to my wife, 'Honey, look: That thar gal has on green toenail polish!' I never did see anything like that in my life in church before!"

The five of us laughed (the man's bride of a couple of months a little bit more nervously than the rest of us at first ...). And we went on to talk about their courtships and marriages, and how they had found each other after each of their spouses had passed away. The gentleman who had spoken to me about my toenails is brother to the lady of the other couple, and they are both siblings of my dear JoMama, my friend Michelle's mother who took me in for summers and Christmas when I was going to college.

It made my night, and it made me four new friends. And I got an invitation to the apple-butter-making family reunion come the fall!  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Looking At My Father's Face

When I was quite young and we were living in Coonoor we would have "camping" nights where we would lay down straw mats on the floor of the covered outside entrance to our house where our car normally slept (the last one I remember was a blue '57 Vanguard with the license plate TNN 1070). Then we would drag the mattresses off our beds and place them on top of the mats. After dinner and baths we would wear our warmest pyjamas and play outside until it was time for hot chocolate and stories and devotions, all under the car port, and then get tucked into bed by Mum and Dad.

And then the ghost song, sung by Dad in mournful tones: "Woman in the graveyard sat, she was very very fat, woo'ooo-OOO'OOO-OOO'OOO-OOO'OOO-OOO ..."

He sang that song every time we slept "outside"; every time it sent shivers up and down my spine when he sang it to us as we were getting ready to fall asleep.

Then Mum and Dad would go inside and Liza and Grace, the two ladies who helped us in our home and were part of our family by then, would go home, tut-tutting at the dangers of exposing "their" children to the hideous elements of night air and the muted relentless beat of the "devil's drums" from the village a few kilometres away.

And we were left alone to fend for ourselves (our parents perhaps six feet away on the other side of the living room wall, but still!), mattress buttressed up against mattress, wondering if we would make it through the night. Allan would say things like, "I think the drums are getting closer ..." and we would try to decide if it was wiser to keep a lookout or if we would be safer to dive under the blankets and keep our heads covered.

But then as we settled in for the night, I would peek out of the corner of my eye and see the stars twinkling above the shadowy mountain called Tenneriffe that loomed protectively over us all the days we lived at Range View.

There were so many stars that I couldn't believe it. I would try to look at them face-on, and they would just disappear before my very eyes. Of course, I could see the obvious Big and Little Dippers, Orion's Belt and always the North Star. But the tiny stars had vanished.

So I would peek again, straining to expand my peripheral vision, and there they were again. 

Another time I saw the stars was late one night with my friend Gary. The Northern Lights were flashing their S.O.S. in the sky and so we jumped into my car and hurtled out of the city to get a better view. We ended up at Seebe, just across the rickety 3/4-lane wooden bridge where we scrambled out of the car and propped ourselves against it, watching speechlessly as those lights danced themselves into a frenzy of colour and motion, reaching higher and higher until they tipped over the arc of the sky. Driving home in that now-darkened night we were both pretty quiet, digesting the wonder of what we had seen. And as I looked sideways out of the window, the drama of the flamboyant Aurora Borealis had been replaced with the secret stars, as I had started to call them to myself. Again I would swing my head quickly to face the window, to catch the stars, and they would disappear.

I have slowly come to realize that they are always there; I am just unable to see them until I relinquish control of how I think I should see them.

And I have come to realize that if I could look full into the beauty of the night sky in its entirety, the magnitude of the beauty would be too much for me to bear.

In a way, this reminds me of my Dad's face. When I was little, I would like to see his face in profile because his nose looked like an L to me, which of course in my little mind stood for the Lord Jesus. I used to think that probably Jesus looked like Dad. There were times when my Dad's face would be literally shining and I could only bear to look at him from the side, because to see such radiance was almost painful for me. If I was in the presence of such joy in my life, what would its absence do to me? I was afraid I would crumple like a can that's been heated, capped and allowed to cool ...

My Dad's face makes me think of the story of Moses in the Old Testament. Moses had a protracted encounter with God; he spent forty DAYS with Him and when Moses returned back down to the people of Israel, he had no idea how his face was shining - it was so intensely beautiful that the people couldn't bear it, and he had to wear a veil over his face.

As I was growing up and looked at stars out of my peripheral vision and looked at Dad in profile, I used to wonder if I was too imaginative, if I was finding too much mystery in what might really be rather mundane.

Until there was Elliot. One day we were at the zoo; Elliot was a toddler and it was a sunny, brisk afternoon. We came upon a short picket fence that was casting a bit of a shadow ... and that child walked the length of that fence several times, intently observing the play of light against shade - out of the corner of his eye. 

I can't help but think of of these words in Corinthians: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known."

Maybe there are a lot of us out there for whom the whole is too much to take for now. But even though I can't bear the entire weight of this elusive beauty at present, I derive strange comfort in the fact that I myself "am known" - present tense - by the One Who designed all the light, all the glorious light that bounces, prism-like, through the corners of my eyes. And I am promised that one day I'll be able to bask in the full light of what I can only glimpse now.

As Elliot has grown to teenagehood there have been a number of occasions where I have been privileged to see him studying an entire situation; and then, in his careful, thoughtful way, breaking down the whole into peripheral-sized bits, examining each fragment for nuances of meaning until he has a thorough understanding of its significance.

Sometimes I feel that way about Elliot, feel that I don't dare plumb the depths of this wise soul who can speak with such discernment and compassion, who can look at a situation completely unselfconsciously, completely nonjudgmentally, completely for what it is.

When Elliot is through, he pieces all the pieces back together and the whole is shown to be far greater than the sum of its parts.

Just like all the stars in the firmament. Just like my Dad's face.

Good Friday morning

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 10, 2011

A number of people have wanted to know more about our "fifty-year celebration" last Friday, so here are a few glimpses into the wonderful evening we got to spend together as a family.

Dad surveys the table ...

... then invites us to
join him for dinner

Bronwyn and Paul at the soup course -
another love story being told
day by day, year by year

A master class on perfect
soup-drinking form!

Bop told the two grandsons present that
he wouldn't mind it if they sat with him
at the head of the table

Debs and BA

Dad revealing the crown roast!
(He had repaired the handle of
the old silver cover
that afternoon ...)

Roast potatoes

Carrots - Everything tasted better
served from these dishes ...

Carving and serving the meat

Both hearts and plates full!

Allan refilling glasses - youngest
(and thirstiest!) sister's last ...

The perfect tea
-Tiger Hill -
poured from the
perfect teapot

The Memory Booklet - carefully
designed and painstakingly
compiled by Cathryn and
efficiently bound by Bronwyn -
truly a labour of love



Three generations

Time for dessert: orange chiffon cake
with fresh whipped cream and strawberries
- one of Mum's favourites, and
made by Dad for the occasion

Dad's love for equity extends
even to measuring cake
when he cuts one ...

Bronwyn regaling us with another memory of our parents
Angela with the cup that matched
her outfit!

Dad with his girl.
The candlestick on the table
was his Christmas gift to her.


Our family has been so blessed ...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

June 10, 1961

Fifty years ago today, she was being tenderly ensconced in Chantilly lace and ivory satin and she eased her feet into shoes made for the occasion but which were slightly small ... fifty years ago today he dressed in a crisp white shirt and a tie, his shoes polished and his hair brushed until it was immaculate.

Fifty years ago he waited for her at the altar at the Victoria Gardens Church in Bombay. Their Certificate of Marriage registers his "Condition" as a Bachelor and his "Rank or Profession" as "Minister of the Gospel"; her spots are filled in with "Spinster" and "Nil".

They exchanged vows, following the official order of service sent out from Canada to which was attached their Canadian Marriage Certificate.

They exchanged rings, gold bands with diamonds inset and each inscribed with the words "Striving Together." The jeweler had been quite perturbed when they asked for that inscription in their wedding bands; he was sure it was an invitation to anger and unrest and strife in the marriage.

The Church was packed - many non Christians had come specifically because they had heard that at Christian weddings the bride and groom would kiss! They were doomed to disappointment at this wedding ...

About 400 had been invited to the reception; numbers vary as to how many came but it was estimated to be at around 1000 ... 

"It was a wonderful day," reported the groom, 50 years later.

We had gathered at the TH to mark this special occasion. Eleven of us sat down to a perfect feast of clear beef broth and buttercrust rolls; crown roast with stuffing and garnished with baby vine tomatoes and cocktail sausages, roast potatoes, cauliflower and cheese sauce, julienned carrots, corn on the cob and a delightfully fresh lettuce and mango salad.

Place setting with the soup served.
The soup plate and china are over 150 years old!

Covered dish we used for the gravy.
Dad spent over four hours washing
the dishes and polishing the silver
for this evening's meal
After the main course we had a break and Dad was presented with a book of memories, stories that we his children and grandchildren had sent in to Cath who then compiled them and laid them out and handed them off to Bronwyn who printed and bound them. Dad was thrilled with this book, asking us to write more and add to it ...

While we were looking at the book we had coffee or tea (Tiger Hill, from the Nilgiris, of course!). And finally, when books were put away for the moment and everyone who had wanted some was sipping on either tea or coffee, we brought out the cake. 

Dad's chiffon cakes were always one of Mum's favourite desserts. Today in her honour Dad had made an orange chiffon cake and we garnished it with whipped cream and ruby red strawberries - no icing for Mum on a day like this!

As we ate our dessert we peppered Dad with questions about their wedding, their honeymoon (six weeks? Seriously, Dad?!), their life together.

What a wonderful life it was!

And now, 50 years later, she waits for him ...

Not long ago a friend remarked, "They had more than a marriage; they had a love affair."

Happy 50th anniversary, M&D! We love you so much and look forward to the day when you - and we - can be reunited for good. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Motherless Child

Two of my friends have lost their mothers this week.

Both were expected; but you cannot anticipate what it is to be bereft of the one who knew you like no one else knew you.

And so I leave them - and we who mourn alongside them - these words by Mary Oliver:

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?

And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Chasing After Spring

When Don said there was a baby robin trying to learn how to fly down at the Three Hills camp ground, I said I would be right over. Nev - Don's great grandson - happened to be visiting me along with his grandma, so we all charged off together to see the baby.

The little bird was perched on the fire pit at the camp ground. When Nev approached it, it fluttered off, managing to stay a few inches above the ground until it reached the shelter of the neighbouring motor home.

Nev telling mama robin that
her baby was right here!

From there it stumbled and tumbled across the road and under another motor home. Now that it had crossed the road, its mother became a factor: she sat on a nearby branch, clearly chastising her little one who had been forced into this big, scary adventure through no wish of his own.

It staggered from behind the wheel of the motor home to an area of brush, Nev right on its tiny tail feathers. Finally it sat there, exhausted, looking straight up into the face of the little boy who only wanted to make friends with it. 

They gazed into each other's eyes for long moments. Then I quietly said that it was time for us to leave, time for the baby's mother to come and find it and take it home again and give it some food after its big road trip.

And Nev's grandma and I took him back to the TH, back for a little food of his own and a recap of the excitement of being so close to the baby bird that he was able actually to reach out one grubby little-boy finger and gently touch the tiny creature ("He was so soft, Karyn!") before withdrawing his hand and standing a respectful distance away.

As our little Nev starts making his way out of his own nest, may he always have a sense of adventure but know that there are a bunch of mamma and pappa birds keeping a watchful eye on him and loving him through it all.