A Memoir of Grace

The first week in February is bittersweet for me. February 4 was my father’s birthday. February 5 is the anniversary of my mother’s death. I considered sharing a memoir I wrote for an online writing course through Earlham School of Religion but it is too lengthy for this format to share in its entirety. However, I share a portion of it in the following paragraphs.

“The breath of this soft summer night wafts across the porch, gently stirs the leaves in the woods just beyond. My father and I sit rocking, a comfortable silence between us. As though he has been pondering something, my father says in a thoughtful tone, ‘I guess I should wait awhile.’

“Puzzled, I ask, ‘Wait for what, Daddy?’

“To move in with you….”

“My mother has been dead four months. My father has come from Oklahoma to visit my husband and me at our home in Tennessee. I am startled and pleased. I had thought he was content in assisted living, only a mile from the church he helped start 45 years before.

“I respond with something that I hope conveys surprise and pleasure and say we will talk about it some more. I walk inside the house to get my bearings. Despite this happy and unexpected turn of events, I feel uncertain. During the course of my father’s visit, my husband and I have just begun to discover that our longtime business manager has been defrauding us. My life is already in some upheaval.

“I tell my husband, ‘Daddy just told me he wants to come live with us.’ My husband, bless him, exclaims, ‘That’s great!’ And he means it. He loves my father, who reminds him of his own, who died while my husband was serving in Vietnam.

“I wander back outside and tell Daddy, ‘We would love to have you come, Daddy. When were you thinking of coming?’

“He wants reassurance that my husband is willing for this to happen. He says it will take some time. He has to sell his house, which has sat vacant since my parents’ move to assisted living prior to my mother’s death. He asks if it will be a problem to have his funeral in Oklahoma when his time comes. I am astounded to be having this conversation with my father.

“When he leaves to return to Oklahoma we agree that we will work to clean up the mess in our business while he takes care of selling his home. We will decide on an actual date later.

“The devastation in our business only deepens. We learn just in the nick of time that our building is five days from foreclosure. Our business credit card has been run up to $45,000. Every day is a revelation of some new aspect of this overwhelming situation. My husband and I take other work to pay the bills. We take out an $80,000 loan to cover the debt and keep ourselves afloat.

“Meanwhile, my father and I begin to talk on the phone every Sunday night. I am accustomed to the long phone calls I used to have with my mother. Now the calls to my father become longer and longer. Our connection deepens along with the anticipation of his move. We agree to a date: February 4, his 92nd birthday and the day before the first anniversary of my mother’s death. His house sells the week before I fly out.

“I drive a rented Ford Escape from the airport to my hometown where my brothers and I celebrate his birthday with him and then begin the task of packing his things. We make the trek to my mother’s grave and the next day my father and I head for Tennessee, bolstered with a kind of exuberance at the bold journey we are undertaking.

“I, who grew up n the shadow of my mother, am coming to know and love my father deeply. His dry wit, his interest in and appreciation for life enrich our home daily. My husband and I know we are especially blessed by his presence, a healing balm for the grief we have suffered from our losses.”

The remainder of my memoir recounts the months he lived with us. He and I arrived from Oklahoma February 7. He had a stroke the Wednesday after Easter. His last months with us were marred by his confusion and deterioration. Yet he retained his incredibly sweet spirit. He died July 9, 2009 and his funeral was conducted July 16 in his home church in Oklahoma. Rest In Peace, Daddy. May I carry on your legacy.

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Cafe Bonus: July 16, 2009, I stand in the church my father faithfully served for decades and conclude my eulogy: “I was amazed at his forbearance as his body began to fail him badly. The smallest tasks became exhausting. After one particularly difficult episode, I said, ‘Daddy, I am so proud of you. You have just handled yourself so gracefully and so admirably through all these difficulties.’ He said, ‘Good, I wanted you to be proud of me. I want you to miss me when I go home,’ which I understood to mean heaven. I said ‘Oh, Daddy, I will miss you when you go home.’ He said, ‘I’ll be back when the wind blows.’ That reminded me of this poem:

‘Do not stand by my grave and weep/ For I’m not there. I do not sleep./ I am a thousand winds that blow./ I am the diamond’s glint on snow/ I am the sunlight on ripened grain/ I am the gentle autumn’s rain.

‘When you awaken in morning’s hush,/I am the swift uplifting rush/Of quiet birds in circled flight/I am soft stars that shine at night./ Do not stand by my grave and cry./I am not there. I did not die.’

My father’s love will be carried on in the many people whose lives he touched. I will never feel the wind blow without knowing that he is there.

Heritage

Holiday meals in my home were pretty standard. My mother did not like turkey so we always had baked ham, accompanied by mashed potatoes and gravy, the ubiquitous green bean casserole, corn—and my mother’s cranberry relish.   Many years I have gotten up in the wee hours to bake turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.  I love stuffing, sweet potatoes, many dishes which never graced my mother’s table.  But when the holidays roll around, I never pass up making my mother’s cranberry relish.

              In graduate school, my field instructor gave me a copy of a poem called “Bitter Rue” which described how each generation passes down “a cup albeit an altered brew.” In my career as a therapist,  I sometimes gave a copy to my clients. Once I accidentally gave away my last copy, thinking I had another at home.  Years later I wanted to pass it on to my daughter, hoping it would have meaning to her.  I actually tracked down my former field instructor asking her if she had a copy.  She did not, nor did she even recall it.  But she was teaching and put her grad students on a search for it.  They were never able to track it down either.

              Since I was not able to recover it, I decided to write my own, Bitter Rue II. My daughter was about to turn seventeen in Germany, where she had spent her junior year in high school and would soon be returning home.    Along with articles, quotes and bits of wisdom I had gathered for her over the years, intending to give her when the time seemed right, I sent my poem to her.  She had lived through my divorce from her father and it had left its scars which the poem reflects.

              Born of my body,

              Born of my soul,

              Did I look to her

              To make me whole?

              I wanted her

              To have her life.

              But moored to mine,

              She felt such strife.

              And loosed from mine,

              She had no home,

              No safe harbor

              From the storm.

              I would have spared her

              If I could.

              In fact, I’d promised

              That I would,

              Disregarding

              What I knew,

              That she would drink

              The bitter rue.

              Passed on from Betty

              Down to me

              And now to her:

              It’s history.

              The bloodline

              Surely isn’t pure

              And sometimes

              We must just endure

              To find the beauty

              Midst the pain

              Inhabiting

              The family name.

              Redemption comes,

              When, empowered,

              No longer do we

              Fear and cower,

              But face the truth,

              What’er it be,

              And weave our own

              Life’s tapestry:

              A legacy

              For those ahead

              Who will surely

              Need new thread.

              (Kathleen Emerson Stulce)

              Yesterday I made my mother’s cranberry relish—with the slight modifications I have made over the years. 

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter.  Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: In soft whisperings from the heart/The child within offers you always/The thread of your truth./May you cherish that child, trust/That voice and weave that thread/Richly into the fabric of your days.—-Anonymous       

Wishing you and yours holidays that enrich your spirit and your “tapestry.” 😊