Casting the patronus

(For those unfamiliar with J.K. Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter, a person may cast a  Charm or spell that produces an embodied Patronus, a guardian that generally takes the shape of the animal with whom the person shares the deepest affinity.  The Patronus repels Dementors, bodiless creatures which suck joy and the soul out of their victims.  In order for this difficult spell to work, one must rely on one’s strongest and happiest memory.)

What’s your happiest memory? What gave you the most joy, the most hope?

Maybe it was the first time you fell in love
Or the last and final time, that time you met the person you ended up spending the rest of your life with

Or maybe it was the Harvest Moon that fall of your senior year

Or the lenticular cloud

Or the sky that was blue forever

That kid in the 7-11 said you were beautiful and meant it

Or they threw you a surprise party and you really were surprised

A kiss; that kiss – you remember

Learning to tie a shoe

Or make a pie crust

Or finally singing the whole of Beethoven’s 9th

Sitting in church as the light streams through the stained glass and tearing up for no reason

The Cubs this year

Mandela and the Dalai Lama

Pope Francis speaking truth to power

Getting sober, maybe

Or getting well

Five years cancer free

A grandchild

A pardon

Peace with hilarity might be best.

To have something, someone that dispels all that’s demented

Well, if I had one wish, maybe that would be it

For me

And you

And everyone

Expecto Patronum!


A pine marten, the shape my patronus would take, according to a quiz I took on Pottermore

My sainted grandmother

(Note: I think these next seven days are going to be a bit brutal, and the news and social media will not present our better angels.  So for these next seven days, I’ll write posts about something I find beautiful or happy or warm.  Just in case you need a brief respite from the election.)

family-pix-002In some ways, anyone who knew my grandmother would not immediately say she was a saint, not in the traditional “sweetness, goodness, and light” sort of way.  She caught my grandfather’s eye while dancing on a table at the local tavern, or so the story goes.  They married in 1925 and were married until, sixty-three years later, my grandfather died in his sleep in the bed they shared.

This is one of my favorite memories about Mary Hansler.

Every summer we would visit my grandparents in Washington State, and coming from New Jersey, and then Texas, that was a big deal.  It was a big deal for them, too.  We might spend a night at their home in Tacoma, but the real goal was to get to the Ranch, the property they bought in the early 1940’s outside Mt. Rainier National Park.

We’d get up to that mountain air and know we weren’t home.  It smelled of fir trees and mint and we needed jackets to go outside; without television, the most constant sound was the creek babbling near by.  Other family members might come up while we were there, and the siblings and cousins would take turn washing all those dishes by hand.

But the real winner of the whole deal was breakfast.  My grandmother loved to fish, more than anything else in the whole world.  She would get up before dawn, grab her pole and reel, and head to the creek.  While she was gone, Grandpa would light the wood stove and start the percolator.  Grandma would come home, clean the trout, make biscuit batter.  If one of the kids was up, they’d be sent out to the raspberry patch to pick berries.

Then she’d dredge those rainbow trout in flour and lemon pepper and set the big cast iron pan on the stove, and put a slab of butter in it.  Down went the trout, so fresh they’d curl up as they cooked.  Biscuits went in the oven. Juice and milk and cream and sugar and homemade blackberry jelly went on the table.

img_9609And then we ate. We stuffed ourselves silly, to get ready for a day of moving rocks in the creek and hiking up Mt. Osborn and washing dishes by hand.  Grandma sat at the head of the table, her little brown tea pot next to her, her eyes twinkling, her cheeks perpetually rosy.  She could be sharp sometimes, but I think nothing gave her more joy than seeing her family, some of whom lived too far away, gathered at that table devouring the feast she made possible.

So on this All Saints day, I say a prayer of thanks for all  my grandparents, whose love formed my parents and in turn me. And I say a prayer of thanks for rainbow trout, and raspberries and blackberries, and butter, and biscuits, and family.