Friday, February 22, 2013

Alfred Receives a Shock

Mother has found that over the years that Royal Warrant holders of the British Royal Family are generally the best purveyors of goods for the family.  Mother always makes a point of looking for the Royal Warrant holders seal and the words, “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

            This afternoon at tea-time Mother and I were enjoying a cup of Taylors of Harrowgate Yorkshire Tea, of course Taylors is registered as a Royal Warrant holder.  Mother had chosen her Paragon Royal Albert teacups for today’s tea.

            I said to Mother, “I have become aware that a Royal Warrant does not always guarantee quality.  Take for instance the Parker Sonnet Sterling Silver Fountain Pen in my collection.  It’s a beautiful pen, but it doesn’t write very well.  On the other hand my Namiki Emporer’s Treasure Fountain Pen, not only looks fashionable, but it is also a pleasure to write with.  Of course at $6,000.00 it ought to write better than a Parker Sonnet.  It just goes to show that you get what you pay for.

            “You are quite right Alfred,” said Mother, “take for instance my Chanel handbag.  I just love its soft leather.”

            “Well, Mother,” said I, “I’ve been thinking; I’d like to add another pen to my collection, perhaps a Conway Stewart Windsor¸ or a Krone George Washington Limited Edition Fountain Pen.  The original cost is $5,900, but Fahrney’s has it on sale for $4,130.00.”

            “Oh, look, Alfred, the mail just arrived.”

            Mother came back with a letter from our new parish and I carefully opened it with my William Henry pocket knife.  You can imagine my distress when a pledge card fell out.

            “Mother,” said I, “I’m appalled.  Look at this!”

            Mother picked up the accompanying letter and perused it, “Look, Alfred.  It is signed by Claude Whittington.  I had no idea he was the Chairman of the Stewardship Committee this year.”

            “Well,” said I, in a huff, “he certainly didn’t waste any time sending this out.  We’ve only been there two months.”

            “A pained expression crossed Mother’s face.  She is quite good at pained expressions!  “But Alfred, the Whittingtons are our friends.  Whatever will we do?  I’d hate to be embarrassed by not responding.”

            “Mother, if I didn’t have a tenor solo coming up on Easter, I swear I would just leave the Church!”

            “I know, Alfred, I know, and I have just agreed to serve with Grace Whittington on the Hospitality Committee.  It would be so embarrassing to just drop out.”

            “Well, Mother, I think we’ll just have to bite the bullet and sent them at least the price of that Krone George Washington fountain pen I have been looking at.”

            Mother pondered that for a few minutes and then replied, “Make it a silver bullet Alfred!  Send them the twice the price of your Namiki Emporer’s Royal Treasure Fountain Pen.  It’s not as though we can’t afford it; and after all, we don’t want to be embarrassed.”

“Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7   

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Alfred’s Ash Wednesday

            “Ash Wednesday! That just scares the pants off me, Mother,” said I. “Religion is alright up to a point, but really; let’s not push it too far.”

            Mother looked up from the morning paper and nodded, “I have to agree with you Alfred.  I like my church like the limbo, and I don’t mean the hell place. I like my church like the limbo, so low you can’t get under it.  Never mind all the fuferall.”

“Fuferall, Mother?”

“Oh, you know, all that extra stuff.  I didn’t mind the pancakes last night, but I rather prefer crepes with strawberries and a sugared almond glaze.  And can you image? Ashes? On my forehead?  Good gracious! It will spoil my makeup.”

“Oh, well, you can always wipe it off after, Mother.  That’s not what bothers me.’

“Yes, Alfred,” said Mother, expectantly.  “If it’s not the ashes, what is it?”

“Mother, it’s the whole thing.  I know that we have to go through Lent in order to get to Easter, and I even have figured out that the cross comes before the resurrection.  After all I have been listening to Father Goodfellow; and I am so looking forward to signing that tenor solo on Easter.  Do you know, Mother, what the priest says when he put the ashes on your head?”

“What, Alfred?”

“He actually says “Remember that thou art dust and to dust shalt thou return,” that seems to me to be just plain rude.”

“Well, tacky, certainly,” replied Mother, “but knowing you, I suspect that’s not all that is bothering you about Ash Wednesday.”

“Well, Mother, you are quite right.  It’s this whole emphasis on penitence.  I imagine it really tires God out.  I can hear him saying, “Every time I try to talk to someone it's "sorry this" and "forgive me that" and "I'm not worthy".

“Alfred!” said Mother, “Really!  Where do you get these ideas.”

“Mother, I always thought I lived a good life, I’ll get there, and it’s rather disturbing to discover that is not the case.  Father Goodfellow, Oh, by the way, can you imagine?  His first name is Earnest!  Anyway Father Goodfellow, is saying that we have to ask forgiveness for the things we’ve done wrong, as if I could remember them all!”

“That really is the point, isn’t Alfred.  Whatever have we gotten ourselves into?  Well, stiff upper lip, and all that.  We will just march on through it, but Alfred,” she paused.

“Yes, Mother?”

“Try not to make faces.  After all you are up in the choir in front of everyone.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saint Guinefort's: A Mother and Alfred Story

Saint Guinefort’s Episcopal Church

Sometimes there is just no telling what Mother is up to.  Why, just the other evening I was sitting in my Chesterfield wing chair reading the Wall Street Journal when Mother came in fanning away the smoke from my Alec Bradley Special Reserve Churchill Cigar and announced, “Alfred, I know that you are just getting involved in the choir, but there is something that I just wanted to ask you.  Please do say, ‘Yes.’’’

 “Yes, Mother? said I, “What is on your mind?’

Taking heart, Mother continued, “There is a new Episcopal Mission called St. Guinefort’s starting in Park Hills. I thought that we might look into it.  It could be a very rewarding experience.”

“And why is that?” I replied.

“Well, said Mother, “They use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.”

“But, Mother,” said I, “Switching churches is not a simple matter.  There is our group with the Whittingtons and the Wilsons.  I thought you were enjoying them.  Not only that, our Choir Director William Weaver is hinting that I might have a solo in the Easter music program.  I would certainly not want to miss that.”

“I know,” said Mother, “but the article on St. Guinefort was very interesting.  They are naming their new Mission after a 13th Century French Saint.”

“St. Guinefort?” I asked, “I’ve never heard of St. Guinefort.  Who is he”

“Well, Alfred,” answered Mother, “St. Guinefort was a thirteenth century greyhound who was martyred after protecting a child.  The nobleman who owned Guinefort mistakenly thought it had killed his child, but it turned out the dog had been only protecting the baby from a viper.  After Guinefort was buried French peasants began praying to St. Guinefort for the healing and protection of their children.”

“Really, Mother,” said I with some consternation, “French peasants?  That’s not much of a recommendation.”

Mother smiled a sly smile, “Perhaps you’re right Alfred.  Changing churches is a big challenge, and I have gotten used to the new Book of Common Prayer.  At least the service seems shorter.”

When Mother remained in the doorway of my study fanning away smoke, I knew that something else was on her mind.  “You, know Alfred,” said Mother, “The story of St. Guinefort is a very charming story, even if it is a little sad.  Perhaps, Alfred, we could get a greyhound?  They are such lovely animals.”

Mother has a time worn technique she calls, “Ask for the Moon, when you really want only a small star or two.”

“Mother, said I, “We don’t have enough room in our backyard for a greyhound to run.”

“Alfred,” Mother said, “I thought you might react that way.  Grace Whittington’s sister has a Bichon Frise that has just had a litter of pups, and I thought that might be just the thing for us.”

“Mother,” said I, quite alarmed. “A frou-frou dog?  Say it isn’t so!”

“Well,” said Mother, “Grace is dropping off our frou-frou dog tomorrow morning, and I think that naming it Guinefort would be a fine way to honor the saint.”

“O all ye Beasts and Cattle, bless ye the Lord: * praise him, and magnify him forever.  O ye Children of Men, bless ye the Lord: * praise him and magnify him for ever.” ~ Benedicite, Omnia opera Domini.”

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rhubarb Pie

            I quite enjoy Eccles Cakes; that flaky English pastry filled with currants and a generous sprinkle of coarse demerara sugar that creates a sweet glazed crust.  I’m not entirely sure but it may be the demerara sugar that is the attraction.  One of my very favourite desserts is rhubarb pie in a short crust pastry with a generous sprinkle of coarse sugar crystal glazing the top.

            I said to Mother, “There is something about the tartness of the rhubarb and the sweetness of the sugar that I find quite delectable,” but there are times when I should just leave well enough alone. 

“You have been quite a slice of rhubarb pie yourself lately Alfred,” said Mother, tapping her silver spoon on the side of the Regency sugar bowl and looking at me rather pointedly.

I knew I was in trouble and I instinctively turtled.  Do you know what turtling is?  That is when you are abruptly faced with an unexpected danger and you reflexively try to shrink your neck and your head back into your shirt collar; and at the same time you defensively raise your shoulders.  Well I turtled, and I waited for the blow to fall.

Mother continued, “At one moment you seem all sweetness and light, and the next moment you are calling our Choir Director “Beaver Weaver.”

“But Mother,” said I, “I’m not the only one who is having difficulty with the man.  Why, just the other day our lead Alto, Ima Hatchett, was complaining about how unfair it was that she wasn’t being given better parts to sing.  Not that she is a Soprano; but that shouldn’t make a difference.  And she was quite adamant about the fact that the other ladies in the choir shouldn’t be wearing earrings when they are performing.”

Mother tapped her teaspoon on the sugar bowl once again to secure my undivided attention, “Tell me, Alfred, would it happen to be the lead Soprano’s earrings to which Miss Hatchett is referring?”

“Well, yes, probably,” Mother, I replied somewhat abashed.

Mother sat thinking for a moment and then asked, “Are the earrings gauche, or are they actually in good taste?”

“Well, even though they are diamond, they are not ostentatious,” I replied.  “Perhaps Tiffany Metro; not that I noticed.  I just thought it was a matter of principle.”

“Whose principle?” asked Mother, glaring at me.  “If I were you Alfred I would add another heaping spoonful of sugar to the rhubarb pie, and not fall in with the likes of Ima Hatchett.  Her problem is that she has never been married and obviously our Choir Director William Weaver has never given her a tumble.”

“Mother! said I.  “I am quite shocked at your suggestion.”

Mother looked across the table at me and said with a sly smile, “Take it from me, Alfred, the truth will out.  It has a way of doing that.”

 “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.   If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:22-23).  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Casual Friday

            “Mother,” said I, “I will never forget the day my father taught me how to tie a Half Windsor and a Full Windsor tie knot.  I remember how kind he was.  He stood behind me, reached his arms around me, and I watched in the mirror as he tied the tie in front of me; first the Full Windsor, then the Half Windsor.  I can still recall the fragrance of Caron Pour Un Homme[i] which he wore.  It was a defining moment in my childhood because it taught me that it is important how things are done and I could see that importance as the knots took shape.  And that is not all Mother, I also knew at the core of my being that I was loved.”

            Mother looked at me quizzically, “And what are you driving at Alfred?”

            “Well, Mother, it’s this.  One of the younger men at our store requested that we have a Casual Friday when our employees could dress in sport shirts and jeans.”

            “Yes?” said Mother.

            “Well, Mother, I looked at his tie and I realized that it wasn’t even tied with a Four in Hand Knot but just a simple once around the hoop and dunk the end in the hole; and I realized that his father never showed him how to tie his tie, not that his tie was in good taste to begin with.”

            Mother looked at me expectantly and said, “And…?”

            “Well, Mother, I have decided to have Perk Up Fridays and I am actually going to teach our younger men how to tie their ties.”

            “Alfred,” said Mother, “what wonderful idea.  Rather like looking one’s best on Sundays.”

            “Yes, Mother, that’s what gave me the idea.  I was looking across the Chancel at our priest, the chalice bearers and acolytes and thinking how very fine it was see them in vestments and not in street clothes.  They were actually dressed as though they were doing something special, and it was at that moment that we began to sing Schubert’s Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory,” and I thought to myself, so that’s what holy means.”

            “Well,” said Mother, softly laying her silver teaspoon by the side of her saucer, “you have quite surprised me Alfred, but it raised another issue.  What about the people in the congregation?”

            “Well, Mother, I guess it’s like our customer base.  You may not like the way they dress but don’t try to tell them what to do.  You won’t make any sales that way.”

            “Alfred,” said Mother, “You are incorrigible! Whatever will I do with you?”

            “Well,” said I, “you might start by passing the sugar.”

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, O come let us adore Him.”  The Book of Common Prayer.

[i] Alfred has decided to carry Caron Pour Un Homme in his store.  As an old classic cologne it has Top Notes of Lavender, Rosemary, Bergamot, and Lemon.  Middle Notes of Clary Sage, Rose, Rosewood, and Cedarwood, and Base Notes of Vanilla, Tonka, Musk, and Moss.  He may decide to make it available for internet sales.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It’s Not Raining Inside

The other morning I was standing in the foyer of our home looking out the door at the rain and humming to myself my own version of a childhood poem. 

The more it rains
The more it goes
The more it goes on raining
And nobody knows
How wet my toes
How wet my toes are growing
(Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom Tiddely-Pom)

I know very well that the original version was about snow, but we don’t get much in the way of snow where we live, just cold, wet, miserable rain.  I happen to like weather, all types of weather.  That is a useful taste to have particularly where we live when we can have winter, spring, summer, and fall, all in one week.  Mother doesn’t like weather.  She would like to live all year around at a perfect 72 mild and sunny degrees.

Mother came into the foyer, looked at me with that look of approaching storms, and said, “Alfred, don’t be silly.  It’s perfectly miserable out there.”

To which I replied, “Yes, Mother, it’s a cold, wet, rainy, miserable day, but considering the alternative, which is having no weather at all, I rather like it.  After all, it’s not raining inside.”

            “Well, I don’t like weather,” said Mother, “Give me sunshine and gentle breezes every day. Which reminds me Alfred, you looked a little stormy yourself when you came back from choir practice last night.  How did it go?”

            “Oh,” said I, “winter, spring, summer, fall, all rolled up in ball.  I don’t know what to think.  I like weather but I’m not so sure about the Choirmaster William Weaver.  Little Billy Beaver is just a little bossy.”

            “Now, Alfred,” said Mother, putting on her sunny best, “Just give him a little bit of time, after Choirmasters are supposed to direct the choir.”

            “I know, Mother,” but I’m not sure I can endure being bossed around every week by Billy Beaver.  For some reason I find him quite annoying.”

            Mother herself can be a little bossy and annoying.  I would never tell her that.  More than my life is worth!   

Mother said, “The problem with you Alfred is that you have spent much of your life bossing other people around and you just don’t like it when somebody else tells you what to do.  I have noticed, Alfred, that when I tell you what to do, you often find a way around it.”

            I recognized that we were approaching the Rocks of Charybdis and I immediately steered clear.  After all Mother does a pretty good imitation of Scylla all by herself.  The question was, just how to extricate myself gracefully.  Generally speaking, backing up, is a good thing to do when you might be caught between the whirlpool of  Charybdis and rock of Scylla .

            “Mother,” said I, “You might be right.  I’ll give it a few more weeks, and then we’ll see what happens.”

            Mother wasn’t one to let things easily pass and she replied, “Alfred!  It would help if, for a start, you stopped calling the Choirmaster ‘Billy Beaver!’”

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”  (I Thessalonians 5:12)

Hospital Corners

Mother insists that we make our bed with hospital corners.  All of us who served in the military were well schooled in the fine art of bed making.  When you look at the bed, the fold on the top corner sheet and blanket at the edges of the bed should be at a perfect 45 degree angle.  One must admit that it does look quite tidy.  But it has a major drawback.  A properly made bed is uncomfortable, pinning down your toes and feet and making it difficult to maneuver.  I have found that the proper procedure for getting into a bed made with hospital corners is to scoot down as far in the bed as you can and force the sheets upward with your feet and legs at a 45 degree angle thus loosening the sheets.  At the very least that provides you with a modest leg press exercise.

I have found a solution that Mother seems to have tacitly accepted.   Her side of the bed is the side most visible from the bedroom door.  When I make the bed I make her side of the bed in the correct manner, hospital corners and all.  But on my side I merely fold the end of the sheet firmly under the mattress and let the side hang down quite comfortably.

The first time I did that Mother walked from one side of the bed to other considering the arrangement and said, “Well, Alfred,” I see what you have done.”

Too which I responded, “Harrumph!” which is a fairly safe way of avoiding discussion.

We let the matter of bed making drop.  Accordingly I prefer to make the bed myself.  If perchance I fail to do so, of course I will find that Mother has made the bed with hospital corners on both sides. To which my only answer is “Harrumph!”  Oh well, one can always resort to another leg press exercise.

At breakfast the other morning Mother said, “Alfred, there are some things in life that are negotiable, and there are some that are not.  You have your little habits and customs, and I have mine.”

I looked at Mother suspiciously.  I almost wanted to respond “Harrumph!” but one does need to be careful, so instead I said inquisitively, “Yes, Mother?”

“It’s the cigar, Alfred.  I don’t mind you smoking in your study when you have the ventilation fan on, but please don’t smoke in the rest of the house.”

“But, Mother,” said I, slightly offended, “It’s an Arturo Fuente Rosado Magnum.”

“Magnum, indeed,” huffed Mother, “It’s still a cigar, and not something I want to smell mingled with mignonette potpourri in the living room.  I like the ambrosial fragrance of mignonette, but I don’t care for the odor of cigars.”

“Very well, Mother,” said I, “I take your point,” With that I retired to my study and shut the door.  After all, an Arturo Fuente Rosado Magnum ought to be enjoyed in peace.”

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Alfred has been reading St. Paul, and finds him quite a challenge. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

On the Turning of the Year

            “Well, Mother, you certainly outdid yourself this Christmas.  I am absolutely thrilled with the Victoria 7-in-One Stereo that you brought me for Christmas,” said I, as I rummaged through my old collection of records, “Oh, look! Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians singing Auld Lang Syne.  Do you remember their first New Year’s Eve TV special with Robert Trout reporting from Times Square?”

            “Oh, Alfred, It’s been a wonderful Christmas. I’m so glad that Jeremy brought Winifred, she’s a lovely girl.  By the way, what were they talking about with you in the study the evening before they left?  It seemed so very serious.”

            “Well, Mother, I’m not sure what to make of it.  They asked me if I had accepted Jesus as my Saviour.  What an odd question.  Of course I was baptized; isn’t that the same thing?’

            “Don’t ask me Alfred,” said Mother, “How would I know.  I go to Church for the people; I don’t know about the rest of it.”

            “In any event Mother, I did enjoy their visit.  Jeremy said that they will be coming back for Easter.  Winifred said another odd thing, ‘Every Christmas leads to Passion Week and Easter.’  She really is serious about her faith, and Jeremy is just as enthusiastic. By the way did you see that fine historical piece that the Rector posted in the bulletin today?  It is an 18th century prayer by Dr. Samuel Johnson.  Let me read it to you.”

            A Prayer for the New Year

O LORD, Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour, that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought, speak in every word, direct every step, prosper every work, build up every mote of faith, and give me a desire to show forth thy praise, testify thy love, advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with thee, O Father, as my harbor, thee, O Son, at my helm, thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.  Guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ear open to thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me, thy comforts to cheer, thy wisdom to teach, thy right hand to guide, thy counsel to instruct, thy law to judge, thy presence to stabilize. May thy fear be my awe, thy triumphs my joy.

            “Somehow, Mother, that stirs me.  I think I just might join the choir.”

            “You know Alfred, that means Church every Sunday,”

            “I know, Mother, I know, but perhaps it’s time we became more serious about our faith, After all we aren’t getting any younger.”

            “Alfred, that’s wonderful.  You do have a fine tenor voice,” said Mother rifling through our old collection of records. “Oh look, Alfred,” Fats Domino and Blueberry Hill. Put it on and we’ll sing it together.

            “I found my thrill, On Blueberry Hill / On Blueberry Hill / When I found you. / The moon stood still / On Blueberry Hill / And lingered until / My dream came true.”

            “Mother, you are still my thrill.”

            “Alfred, and you are mine.  You always have been.”


Monday, February 4, 2013

The Long and the Tall of It

I do love a little nog with a splash of brandy and a small plate of Christmas sugar cookies on the side.  I added a second splash of brandy in the nog and Mother remarked,

            “I don’t mind you getting into the Christmas spirit Alfred, just don’t let too much of the Christmas spirit get into you, even if it is Rémy Martin.”

            “Yes, Mother,” I sighed, “I was just ruminating on the Lessons and Carols service yesterday.  I had forgotten what a pleasure it was to sing some of the old Christmas Carols.”

            Mother put down the Smithsonian magazine she was reading and said, “God does answer prayer.”

            “How so?” said I, cautiously.

            “You asked for a short sermon, and you received one.”  With that Mother buried her face behind her copy of the Smithsonian magazine again.

            I could feel her smirking behind her magazine.  If you don’t think that you can feel someone out of sight smirking, you don’t know Mother.  Defiantly I added a third splash of Rémy Martin to my eggnog.

            “Ah,” said I, sotto vocé.   “That’s more like it.”

            Mother lowered her Smithsonian, eyed my glass suspiciously, and said, “That was quite a compliment that you received from Grace Whittington yesterday.”

            “Oh. Oh.” said I to myself.  I could feel a faint flush rising to the tips of my ears; but it might have been the brandy?

            “Well, Alfred?” said Mother, “I had almost forgotten that you had a very tolerable tenor voice.  I remember years ago Father Phineas Lofty at St. William of Ockham’s telling you that tenors were God’s gift to choirs.”

            “Harrumph!” said I, which was my way of not answering, but Mother was not to be deterred.

            “Grace said you ought to join the choir.  They have sopranos and altos, baritones and basses, but they really could use another fine tenor.” 

Mother looked at me expectantly, and far be it from me not to change the subject.  “Do you know Mother, Jeremy and Winifred are coming in tomorrow?”

“Yes, Alfred,” said Mother, “The room is all set for Winifred.  It will be a pleasure to have our son’s lady friend visiting with us; but as I was saying, the choir really could use another tenor, and I wouldn’t mind a bit sitting with the Whittington’s.  It really seems so long ago that you sang in the choir at St. William of Ockham’s.”

I felt like I was being shaken by a large playful Afghan hound.  I tried another tack, “I think we ought to take Jeremy and Winifred to the Petroleum Club for dinner one night.  I think Winifred would enjoy the view.” 

“Alfred,” said Mother, “Every time I have mention the choir, you change the subject.  “I think that the problem is that you are afraid of commitment, and that’s the long and tall of it.”
I took another sip of my nog before saying, “You mean the long and the short of it.”

For a moment Mother didn’t answer, then, “That’s three times Alfred!”  Then Mother raised her Smithsonian magazine again and I could feel her smirking.  Then softly Mother began to hum, “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen.”

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (ESV 1 Peter 4:10).