Sunday, October 02, 2005
Every Autumn, our family celebrates the turn of the season with certain treasured rituals. We harvest our honey, and with it bake Honey Baklava. We exchange our blue, silver and crystal summer accessories throughout the house for the coral, russet and brass that light our interiors just as the turning leaves light a gloomy autumn day. We lift the crowded lilies and iris in our garden and give the excess away. We prepare the fireplace for that first magical evening which is cold enough to give us an excuse to light a fire.
As we do so, we remind ourselves that in these little celebrations, we imitate our Creator, who dresses the world according to the season. And the changes remind us to look at things with fresh eyes and renewed gratitude.
Autumn is the time to look back and gloat over the growth and harvest the Lord has brought from all our labors. Even our autumn holidays encourage this: Columbus Day, All-Saints Day, Reformation Day, Thanksgiving.
This year, I am especially giving thanks for my Grandparents, who are this Fall re-united in the Lord’s own Harvest-Home. I miss them very much. They were brave and strong. Their Wyoming homestead was where I first learned the delights of the harvest. And their faithful prayers sustained four generations through the dangers of the Journey. They taught me not to fear growing old.
I trust they are gloating….
The knife slipped as the first wave of panic licked over her like a furnace blast. Mara let out a slow breath to calm her racing heart, her blouse drenched with sweat suddenly cutting into her burning skin at throat, shoulders, wrists. She cranked the window open wide, gulping in the spicy autumn air cooled by the rustle of apple leaves just outside. Glumly, she surveyed the wedding cake bleeding from among the frosting roses where she had gouged it a moment before.
"Fifty guests in two hours. I can't do it! It's their 65th wedding anniversary. It ought to be done right, and I can't even hold an icing knife," she thought, bitterly as her Old Testament namesake.
"This isn't like you. You love entertaining. You're good at it. Hormones," she told herself firmly, "It's just hormones."
Suddenly, Mara felt disfigured, a grotesque parody of herself. "Exactly," she thought, "and it's only going to get worse." It seemed so unfair, spending decades developing skills, assembling knowlege, stretching for character, nurturing friendships and responsibilities in order to be useful, even lovely to God and His people. And now, to be trapped in this turncoat body, unable to depend on the simplest emotional resource. She could have dealt with the headaches, the hot flashes, the sleeplessness, even the sorrow of leaving childbearing behind. But the hormone-induced rage and depression left her afraid to face friends and family with that black hole sucking hard-won confidence and easy competence alike down into an uncertain abyss..."Here it is, the first kiss of death."
Shaking the tears from her cheeks, she bent to repair the damage, setting herself to think instead about the grandparents she meant to honor with the cake.
The Grandfather of her youth had been such a broad-shouldered, blustery rogue. Teasing and joking, thrilling little girls with gentle samples of his barn-storming stunt flying, weeping over his prayers. Eyes merry with mischief, he would push her in the orchard swing until at last he would swing her so high, he could run underneath her as she shrieked to the dizzy peak.
These days he shuffled with a stroke-induced paralysis in one leg, and his eyes were more often harsh with a stony determination to find the right word before someone noticed his deficiency.
Mara remembered falling asleep as a child, head pillowed on Grandmother's shoulder, lulled by the drowsy counterpoint of rustling leaves and Grandmother's prayer list. They would have spent the day climbing trees, pelting down the apples and turning them into treasures of carnelian and amber jellies, accompanied by a steady stream of family lore, homely advice, Bible stories and helpless, exhausted laughter.
Now Grandmother would not remember whether she was pouring jelly or washing the ladle. At least now it no longer troubled her. In the early stages of the Alzheimers', Grandmother had leaned on Mara's shoulder, slow tears silvering her weathered cheeks, confiding, "You have no idea how awful it is not to be able to remember things."
"Oh, I have some idea, Grandmother," Mara whispered to the icing foliage, swallowing the lump of fear and shame rising in her throat, cold with the thought of the unbroken line of women in her family who had gone down to death through that fog of forgetfulness.
The week before, Mara had watched her Grandfather choking down his exasperation, like Syssiphis, explaining again and again why Grandmother needed her good shoes for church, struggling to give her some dignitiy in her infirmities. Handing him the shoes in question, Mara had voiced the doubt welling up like a sob, "How do you keep going? What compensation does God give you in these losses?"
He flashed her his old grin. "You might think you have it good now, but whatever good things you can imagine, that's nothing to what we'll have in heaven! It's not...You can't even think about it!" he finished, words failing him on several accounts.
Turning that searchlight smile on his wife he glowed, "Right old girl?" and squeezed Grandmother's knee roguishly.
"You brute!" she squealed, slapping him for effect, "I'll show you!" And kicking on her last shoe, she showered a rain of most un-grandmotherly kisses on his laughing face. It was a pas-de-du Mara remembered from her earliest days.
"Mom, do you need some help?" Mara looked up into her son's earnest face. "Everybody will be here soon. Could I put on the music or something?"
"Thanks, Daniel. And would you take over setting the food out on the table? I have to write something in the grandparents' card." Mara disappeared down the hall listening to Daniel booming out an old hymn in his brand-new baritone as he worked.
"That's the one thing Grandmother can still remember," she recalled the rich soprano that still perfumed the air wherever her grandmother was. "Every verse..every word..like breathing.."
Mara chewed her pencap, then began:
"Long ago my heart stretched itself toward your glowing harvest orchard. I longed to swing in those swings whose ropes held fast to heaven, Granddad tossing me higher & higher in the apple-scented air. Grandmother set my feet on the ladders and branches to sieze the fiery fruit and taught me the prayers that breathed through those leafy vaults.
Now the orchard is gone. But you are still teaching me to fly: swinging me up and up, over the fear and loss of old age, on our Hope of Heaven, showing me where to stand to reach the last sweets of the harvest, with prayers as artless as the falling leaves for the evergreen vaults and courts of which these are but shadows.
Copyright October 1996
For your 65th Wedding Anniversary