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.

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The Terrible Beauty

Halloween is done, thank God.  I am so over that holiday.  This year we carved exactly one pumpkin, and I let the real spiders decorate inside and out.

Actually, Halloween was over for me after fifth grade.  That year, near Houston where I grew up, a father was found guilty of killing his son by lacing his Pixie Stix with cyanide.  The next year I broke my foot, and that was that.

Maybe part of the reason I’m glad Halloween is over is because I really, really, really love All Saints Day.  It’s right up there with Christmas and Easter for me, only better, because there are fewer expectations.

But this year, in the middle of the service – after I had preached but before we began to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, after we had sung “For All the Saints” and named our beloved dead – in the middle of the service as the choir sang an extraordinary anthem, I thought to myself

This is a terrible thing to do to people.

The choir was singing “Entreat Me Not to Leave You” by Dan Forrest.  (You can listen to a different choir sing it here.)  I was thinking about all the people I have loved who have left me in death, and I did not have the literal opportunity to tell them not to go, not to die, not to succumb to the cancer or the internal injuries or old age.  I got so sad, and had to do that pastor thing of disengaging emotionally so I could stand up and do the next thing.

Celebrating All Saints is a terrible beauty.  Terrible in that all that pain and grief and rage is unleashed again.  Terrible that it’s done publicly.  Terrible that we don’t all stand up and stomp around and insist that God stop all the tragic deaths.

But then it’s so God-damned beautiful too. The golden shining of those souls.  The memories.  Naming the names.  Affirming the hope that they are not gone forever.  Not being alone in our grief.  Really beautiful music.  Holy communion.

The best analogy I can find is wiggling a loose tooth.  It hurts, but it’s a good hurt. Today I think All Saints is that way, the worship service at any rate.  It hurts, remembering those people who have gone from us.  But it’s a good hurt, because we had them for a while, and now we have each other, and that will do.

 

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My husband and daughter, years ago, at Yellowstone, walking toward a wide sky.