Tuesday, December 24, 2013
“I am undone,” said Mother, “utterly undone!”
It was Christmas Day. Alfred and Mother were sitting at the dining room table with their son Jeremy and his fiancé Winifred who had come home for Christmas.
Mother continued, “I had no idea that it was anything more than just a pretty Christmas story.”
She paused and looked at Alfred who said, “Tell me more, Mother. Tell me more.”
“Well,” said Mother looking around the table to make sure she had everyone’s attention, “everything fell into place at last Sunday’s service of Carols and Lights. To see the whole story of the birth of Christ laid out from the beginning to the end made so much sense.”
She turned to Jeremy and said, “You asked me to read the New Testament, and I did; not once but several times. I could almost see Jesus walking along the shore of the Galilean Sea with his disciples. Excuse me, but at times they seemed like such a bunch of dummies. Then it occurred to me that I was a bit of a dummy myself.”
There was a hush around the table as Mother bore witness. She said, “I couldn’t sleep last night so I arose and came down stairs, got my bible from the kitchen and sat by the Christmas tree. The fire in the fireplace had burned low and I stirred it up and put another log on the fire. It must have been apple wood; such a lovely fragrance. It was so quiet and so very pleasant. As I sat there with my bible, rereading the Christmas Story in Luke, I remembered Father Goodfellow saying, ‘This Christmas, let the Christ be born in you,’ and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Then I prayed, and I said, ‘Are you there?’ You see, I wasn’t really sure. Then a marvelous thing happened. I knew, I just knew that He was, and I said, “Lord Jesus, be born in me.” and suddenly I felt I was enfolded in His love and His love was all around me. It seemed to have happened is a moment of time so small I couldn’t wrap my hand around it, but I knew. I just knew! I needed a King and now I have one.”
Alfred bowed his head in silent thanksgiving. Jeremy and Winifred looked at Mother and beamed.
“Alfred,” said Mother, “forgive me, I’ve been such an ass and I’ve given you such a hard time, but now I know.”
“Mother,” said Alfred, “It’s alright, I have often been an ass myself, but I love you. I have always loved you.”
“Yes, Alfred,” said Mother, “I know that is true; both the constancy of your love and that occasionally you manage to be an ass, but I love you too. Now, Alfred, if you will start to carve the standing rib roast, I’ll go to the kitchen. The Yorkshire pudding should be ready.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
It was late afternoon and Mother and Alfred were sitting in the solarium looking out over the devastation in the garden. Last week’s winter ice storm had killed the roses and the blossoms hung limply from their stems; no longer white and red, but faded yellow and dull pink. But that was not what was bothering Mother.
She sat there looking at the High Tea provided by Agnes Findlay, the Scottish Housekeeper. Not that there was anything wrong with the High Tea. What can be wrong about home-made scones, Devonshire Cream, and Black Currant Jelly? And there was certainly nothing wrong with Whittard’s Ginger and Black Leaf Tea! No, it wasn't that.
It was the tea cup. Not that there was anything wrong with the tea cup, after all who could fault a 1952 Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Tea Cup with its marvellous orange gold bone china?
Mother was holding the tea cup up and looking at the picture of the young queen on the inside of the cup on the opposite side from where a right-handed person would sip. “That, Alfred,” said Mother, “seems somewhat disrespectful. Pouring tea in a cup right up to the Queen’s crown is just a little odd.”
A funny look crossed Alfred’s face. He was never very good at keeping Christmas gifts secret, no matter how hard he tried, not that Mother was very good at that either. Alfred heaved a sigh, and said, “Well, Mother, I have a Christmas gift for you that I have had tucked away since November.” With that he scurried off and came back a moment later with a large box wrapped with Lady Rose paper and presented it to Mother.
“Oh, Alfred,” said Mother, putting down the tea cup. “What have you done?”
Alfred put the box down on the table in front of Mother and she gingerly unwrapped the box. It was labelled, “Royal Collection. Queen’s Jubilee Tea Set” and Alfred had actually had the forethought to remove the price; which is a good thing.
Mother slowly unpacked the box and loving laid out each item on the table. “Oh, Alfred,” she said, “how lovely, how very lovely.”
“Well, Merry Christmas, Mother!” said Alfred. “I never could keep a secret very well!”
“Nor, could I,” said Mother. Then Mother Picked up the Diamond Jubilee tea cup and looked at it thoughtfully for a minute.
“Mother,” said Alfred, “I wish we had elected Queen Elizabeth II for President. We would have had a lot less fractiousness in this country.”
“You know what I wish for? Alfred,” said Mother, “what I wish for, what I really need, is a King for me, just like in that Christmas Card from Grace Whittington, ‘He is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.’”
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”[Isaiah 9:6].
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Mother held a small leather bound volume in her hands. A look of mild consternation and amusement crossed her face. “Alfred?” she asked, “How can this author title the book ‘Jesus Calling’ when it’s all her own ideas?”
Alfred put down the Wall Street Journal he was reading and asked, “Where on earth did you get that, Mother?”
“Agnes Findlay loaned it to me. She thought I might enjoy it,” said Mother. Then she paused and added, “How can the author title it ‘Jesus Calling’? It’s obviously her own thoughts.”
“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “there are a couple of possible answers. She might have titled it ‘Jesus Calling’ because that was what she heard Jesus saying to her. The other possibility is that she thinks that what she hears also applies to everyone else.”
Mother gingerly put the little leather bound book down in the very center of the Sheraton table and said, “That’s just it Alfred. She doesn’t know everybody and she doesn’t know me.”
“Quite true, Mother,” said Alfred. “You are unique and somewhat complicated.”
Mother eyed him suspiciously and said, “Oh?”
“I meant that as a compliment,” said Alfred. “If you weren’t unique and somewhat complicated I wouldn’t have been attracted to you to start with. As for ‘Jesus Calling’, if the shoe doesn’t fit don’t put it on. What might be perfectly fine for other people isn’t necessarily fine for you.”
“Oh, thank you, Alfred,” said Mother. “That puts my heart at rest. I’ll just thank Agnes and return to the book to her. After all I wouldn’t expect her to like ‘The Godfather’ just because I do.”
Alfred laughed, “Tua Família? Now that’s something I’m sure Agnes wouldn’t like at all.”
Mother picked the book up off the table and gazed at the title for a minute. She said in a soft voice, “Jesus Calling?” She put it back down thoughtfully on the table and said, “Jesus Calling.” “I suppose in a way he is.”
“Yes, certainly Mother,” said Alfred, “in so many ways and each of them unique to each one us.”
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
“Ever since the advent of Agnes Findlay Mother has been doing a lot less cooking, but there is something about the holiday season that has Mother stirred up. Right now she is in the kitchen baking butter tarts,” said Alfred to Horace Whittington on the phone. “Now, I love butter tarts and Mother tells me that she has a fine old Canadian Recipe and she is determined to provide us with a special treat.”
It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday and Alfred put down the phone and picked up his Edinburgh Crystal Sherry glass and took a sip. “Very fine,” he thought to himself. I do enjoy a little Manzanilla Sherry from Andalucia.”
Just then he heard Mother slam down a mixing spoon on the counter in the kitchen and give a small disconcerted moan. That in turn was followed by some mild but colorful language on the part of Mother. “So much for reading,” said Alfred, and headed toward the kitchen.
Mother was standing there with a large Homer Laughlin mixing bowl and a look of utter frustration on her face. “Oh, Alfred,” said she, “Whatever will I do? The recipe is for 48 butter tarts, and I wanted to double the recipe, but I made a mistake. I tripled the amount of vinegar instead of doubling it. Math was never my strong point. ”
“Well,” said Alfred, looking at the recipe on the counter, “Why don’t you add another 3 tablespoons of vinegar, then double the other ingredients.”
“Oh, Alfred, do you think that will work?” said Mother. She quickly began to add the necessary ingredients while Alfred watched..
“Oh, Oh, Mother.” said Alfred, “you might have done it again.”
“Alfred! I need some help!” said Mother.
“Well, let me see what we can do,” said Alfred, looking over the recipe again. Together the two of them began adding ingredients. At last they stepped back and looked at the mixture.’
“I don’t know Alfred,” said Mother, “We may have done it again.”
“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “let me get my calculator.”
Very carefully Mother and Alfred, added, and added and mixed and mixed. At last Mother said, “I think we have got it, but that seems like an awful lot of tart filling. What do you think, Alfred?”
“Let me see,” said Alfred, punching a few numbers into his calculator, “That ought to make 384 butter tarts. That’s a lot of butter tarts! It’s a good thing you have a couple of extra tart pans and racks.”
Mother laughed, “That’s the first mistake I’ve ever made. I hope you like butter tarts.”
“I do, Mother, I do, but even I couldn’t eat 384 butter tarts. We will have to give some away.”
“I know,” said Mother, “Alfred, you can bring some to Choir Practice tomorrow night, and we can give some to the Whittington’s.”
“That’s a good idea, Mother,” said Alfred enthusiastically, “and I can bring some to the office; but even at that we will still have way too many left over.”
Mother paused, then she said shyly, “We could bring some to our new neighbours next door. I really do feel rather badly about the reception we gave them when they first moved in. I’m so glad that she didn’t get as badly hit in the rump with that load of rock salt as I thought she had. Still, I’m mortally embarrassed.” 1
“That’s a good idea, Mother said Alfred, “It’s time we were just a little more gentle in the way we treat people.”
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." (Luke 10:27).
1See episode 2, A Shot in the Dark http://motherandalfred.blogspot.com/
Thursday, November 21, 2013
“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “the weather is supposed to turn and we are going to have a cold snap; the temperature is going down to 20 degrees tonight.”
Mother looked around. Every vase in the house was filled with the last roses of the season. White English Alba Roses and the pink David Austin Rose, the Red Veteran’s Honor and the Yellow Floribunda Rose, and so many more; all the beautiful roses spilling out from Mother’s Raffaello and Laleek Vases, each vase and bouquet of roses more beautiful than the next. Many of the potted plants had been brought in and placed on the Caravan Chelsea Iron 5 Tier Baker’s Racks in the Solarium. The effect was stunning and luxurious.
“It certainly does look cheerful in here, but it is also a little sad, said Mother. “Just think about how the frost will wither the myriad of lovely blossoms and roses that we have had to leave outside.” Then she brightened a little, “But, Alfred; while it might get cold, it’s just as likely not to get quite that cold. The Dallas News Station weathermen have been wrong before; it seems that they spend half their time just living in hope that the weather will be exciting; sort of gives them some meaning for life.”
“Quite right, Mother,” said Alfred, “but at least we are set for the winter weather, if there is any winter weather, after all, it is Dallas.”
“Well, Alfred,” said Mother when the next morning came, “The worst that can be said is that the remaining pansies in the pots outdoors look a little limp, but the roses have survived the cold snap splendidly. If anything they seem to enjoy the cooler weather and their magnificent blooms are thriving in the moderately chilly air.”
“There is an analogy here, Mother,” said Alfred.
Mother looked warily at Alfred, “And what might that be?”
“It’s rather like love relationships,” replied Alfred. “We know that Spring always follows Winter, and Summer always follows Spring. The moderate days of Autumn are sometimes host to periodic cold snaps, harbingers of winter winds. But in Autumn there are also days of halcyon warmth, of Indian Summer. All lovers go through cold snaps, but if their basic commitment is sound, the warmth always returns.”
“You know, Alfred, that is rather beautiful when I think about it,” said Mother. Some people would rather live in a moderate tropic zone where the weather if always 80, but I much prefer a change of seasons. That’s one difficulty with Texas. We could use a good hard freeze, not that one is desirable in love relationships. But you know what I mean.”
“You are right, Mother,” said Alfred, “I think that there is something both suspicious and monotonous with relationships that never have ups and downs. That’s what old Screwtape meant when he referred to the principle of undulation and wrote, ‘If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down.’ That same principle applies to our love relationships, to our marriage, and to our relationship with God” [Screwtape Letters, Ch. 8].
“Well,” said Mother, laughing, “That is actually a relief. Sometimes if things get too warm for me, I find myself cooling off immediately after.”
“Well, I know,” Mother, said Alfred, “Well, I know.”
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6).
Friday, November 1, 2013
|Mary Cassatt: Children Playing with a Cat|
It was after the Sunday morning service and Mother and Alfred were at home. Alfred had retired to his study with a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea and the latest issue of the American Art Review. He was gazing at a Mary Cassatt painting of Children Playing with a Cat. “How beautiful,” he thought, “the way that the Impressionists captured light and managed to convey the beauty of creation.”
Suddenly he became aware of undue noise emanating from the kitchen. Mother was banging things around, slamming doors, and muttering to herself. Pippa the frou-frou dog came scurrying out of the kitchen and took refuge under Alfred’s mahogany 19th Century Partner's Library Desk.
“Oh, Oh,” said Alfred,” I thought Mother was unusually taciturn on the way back from Church. She’s obviously in a foul mood.” He drank the last of his Lapsang Souchong and headed for the kitchen.
“Well? Mother?” he asked inquisitively, “What is going on?”
“That Mildred Hutchins, what a witch! She did nothing but complain about Father Goodfellow’s treatment of Ima Hatchett. You know as well as I do what kind of trouble Ima was causing in the Choir. You wouldn’t think that the Altar Guild was a place for complaining. It quite spoiled my first day of serving on the Guild.”
“The problem with Church, Mother,” said Alfred, “is that it’s made up of people.”
Mother shook her head, “Well, you are absolutely right Alfred. People can really spoil things for others. If it wasn’t for Grace Whittington, I would have just dropped everything, quit, and headed home. But Grace, bless her heart, just said, ‘Mildred, I don’t feel that way about it.’ But Mildred couldn’t take the hint and just continued grousing; but you know me Alfred, I’m not meek and mild. When I got my breath back I said, ‘Stow it, Mildred! No-one wants to listen to you complaining.’ Well, Mildred was furious and went storming out, but not before saying, ‘You’re new. What would you know about it?’ I’m still angry. She’s an awful woman. Isn’t there a verse in Proverbs that says something like, ‘A cheerful heart makes a good medicine, but a grousing spirit rots the bones,’[i] or something like that. Even if it’s not there, it ought to be.
“Mother, I quite understand,” said Alfred, putting down his tea cup on the counter. “I was just looking over my copy of American Art Review and it occurred to me that some artists see light and beauty, but others seen things bent and warped and paint parables of misery and darkness. They must be very small and miserable inside. Mildred must be a very unhappy miserable woman.”
“What misery is, misery does,” replied Mother, “and I have no desire to be like her. Seeing light and beauty is a decision, and as for me I want to be on the side of light.”
"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23).
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Truth be told both Alfred and Pippa were moping because Mother had gone away. Alfred sat back in his chair with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair and his hands slightly raised in front of him with the tips of his fingers touching. He looked down. “Oh, no!” he said aloud. He was actually twiddling his thumbs.
He thought to himself, “I really don’t do ‘alone’ very well. ‘ It’s not good for a man to be alone’, and it is certainly not good for me to be alone either.” He reached down under the table and gave Pippa the last piece of Cheshire Cheese, took up his tray and headed for the kitchen.
Alfred had a long standing habit of rising before Mother and generally treasured a time of solitude at the beginning of the day. In the last few months he had begun to read from the Book of Psalms along with a reading from the Old Testament or an Epistle, and always a reading from the four Gospels.
That was all well and good but Alfred was not a recluse and he needed company, particularly Mother’s company even more than he needed those early morning times of solitude. He went into his study, picked up the phone and dialed the number for Horace Whittington. It rang and rang and rang, and in the end he put the phone down, sat down in his Churchill Barcalounger, turned on his Samsung UNF3000 television and idly scrolled down through the selection of available programming.
He frowned, “No matter how excellent the TV, it is still the same old programming.” He finally settled on a PBS program on Royal Palaces. He watched for a few minutes, then turned it off again. It only made him think of Mother. Just the kind of program she loved. He called Pippa and ambled back out into the quiet of the garden.
It was there that a very unusual thing began to happen. He felt a presence, not just any presence, but the Presence of Him who had died for him and rose again. The night sky with its myriad of stars shone brightly in the garden. The garden seemed packed quite full with love as Love Himself came and filled the very place where Alfred and Pippa stood together. Love in all His warmth and freshness came filling the very air that Alfred breathed; and as he breathed, that Love above all other loves, entered in. It was strong hands upon his shoulders. He was enfolded, loved, calmed.
He thought of that line from the Book of Psalms, “You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.”[ii] It was good, very good! But he still missed Mother. Thank goodness she would be back tomorrow afternoon.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
From the other room Alfred hears the voice of Mother raised in song, “Sing to the Lord a new song,* for he has done marvelous things.” He picks up his Namiki Falcon fountain pen and begins to inscribe a sonnet in his Moleskin notebook; which for Alfred is much wiser than rushing in where angels fear to tread.
Is this the sound of singing that I hear?
A sweet melody lights upon my ear;
Melodious notes floating in the air,
Oh sweet joy now joyous beyond compare.
How I tremble lest I should dissemble
And by too ready hope disassemble
Pulling petals from the rose ere it may bloom
In my eagerness to try its sweet perfume.
How patiently we must meekly stand and wait
While grace alone determines another’s fate.
To surrender even now my own true hope
And not intrude beyond my proper scope.
For my eager heart might too rashly act,
And kill the blossom by a lack of tact.
Having so far restrained himself, Alfred sat back in his chair, tamped some Captain Black into his Meerschaum pipe, lit it, and blew one perfect smoke ring in the air and thought of Biblo Baggins sitting on his bench outside Bag End in Hobbiton. Then he recalled the advice of Gildor the Elf lord to Frodo, “It is not wise to meddle in the affairs of wizards.” It occurred to Alfred that it really wasn’t wise to meddle in the affairs of the Spirit of Grace either; especially where Mother was concerned.
Agnes Findlay appeared at the door of his study with a tea tray and a small plate of McVities Digestive Biscuits, “Ach!” she said, “I dinna ken, when I’ve heard the Missus quite so happy.”
“You are right, Agnes,” said Alfred, “But I dare not spoil the mood by being over inquisitive. I’ve discovered that it’s sometimes better to let things rest a while before intruding.”
“You’re right about that, Colonel,” answered Agnes. “It’s like making tea. It takes patience. First you measure the tea, one teaspoon for each cup and one for the Brown Betty, then you start to bring the water to a boil, swirl a little in the bottom of the Brown Betty, pour it out, and while the water is just coming to a boil you pour it in the pot. Then you wait.” Too much haste and you will spoil the tea.”
“So right you are Agnes,” said Alfred. “Sometimes we spoil another’s mood by rushing in before due time.”
Mother appeared at the door humming “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love,” then she broke off saying, “That was a wonderful choir hymn sing and party here last night Alfred. And Father Goodfellow’s wife Cecilia is a dear. Grace Whittington and I had such a lovely talk with her after the hymn sing. I’m so glad we joined the parish.”
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” Psalm 136:1
Friday, October 11, 2013
|Lalique Jamaique Ashtray|
“You know, Alfred,” said Mother, “There are two things that are very important to me; being right, and having everything right around me.”
Alfred looked up suspiciously at Mother and thought to himself, “I wonder where Mother is going with this?” Before him was his collection of fine pipes, a Lalique Jamaique Ashtray, his Rodgers Rosewood Chancet pipe knife, and a small pile of chenille pipe cleaners. Alfred always thought pipe smoking was more of a hobby than a habit.
He put down the Ashton Bent Billiard Briar pipe he was cleaning and said, “Yes, Mother, but life isn’t always that simple.”
“Yes, I know, Alfred,” said Mother, “and that is why I have made a new resolve. I have decided to live and let live.”
“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “that’s very handsome, but it seems to me that it’s easier said than done; at least I find it so. The ‘live’ part is easy and I think we do that rather well, although there are times when I wonder if we don’t do it too well. But the ‘let live’ part is very difficult. Just how do you mean ‘let live’? That flies in the very face of the need to have everything right around us.”
“Well,” snapped Mother, “Anyway that’s my resolve, and I mean to keep it.”
“Oh, don’t misunderstand me,” said Alfred. “I think it’s a fine resolve and even one that I might embrace myself. Sometimes I find it difficult putting up with our dog Pippa. I found her wandering around with one of my Red Velvet Albert Slippers in her mouth this morning.”
“Oh, say it isn’t so, Alfred,” said Mother laughing.”
“It certainly is so,” huffed Alfred. “I paid $235.00 for them and I don’t want Pippa chewing on them.”
“Alfred,” said Mother crossly, “that’s not the worst thing that could happen.”
Alfred thought for a minute then said, “There seems to be another problem with your resolve. By ‘let live,’ do you mean we have no responsibility for others around us?”
“No, of course not Alfred,” said Mother. “It’s just that I have resolved not to let little things bother me. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes good enough is good enough.”
“Mother, that’s quite a step,” said Alfred, picking up his Damiano Rovera briar and gently reaming out the bowl with his pipe knife. Then he finished by running a chenille pipe cleaner through the stem.
“That’s better,” said Alfred, tamping some Captain Black tobacco into the bowl and lighting it up with a sigh.
Mother watched as some sparks flew up from the pipe and faded in the air. A fine white ash descended gently to the table top. Mother pursed her lips, then finally blurted out, “Alfred, I know that’s a very fine pipe, but I can’t help thinking that pipe smoking is a very nasty habit. Just the other day I threw out one of your Golden Fleece dress shirts. One of the sparks from your pipe had burnt a hole right in the front pocket, but I said to myself ‘Live and let live!” but it did annoy me, and just look at that mess in the ash tray.”
Alfred looked at Mother and raised his eyebrows, “That is unfortunate Mother, I will try to be a little more careful; but it so very difficult for either of us to ‘live and let live.’’
“Alfred. Enough! I don’t want to talk about it anymore!” said Mother.
“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccles. 7:20).