Friday, May 31, 2013

Feeling Left Out

Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quick’ning powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

I must say that I was taken completely by surprise.  Who would have thought that there was such sweet concord in the Presence of the Holy Spirit? Why before this Easter past I had no idea that Christ Jesus could be personally known, and now this surprise.  On Pentecost Sunday we were singing that old familiar Isaac Watts hymn, “Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” to the St. Agnes tune when a sudden sweetness stole upon me.  I was for a few fleeting moments oddly warmed by the Presence of God.  I had not known that such things were possible.

Mother had an entirely different take on it all, “Why, Alfred,” she said, “If that wasn’t the dullest service we have ever experienced, and the music was such a bore.”

Now, I know Mother rather well after all these years together, and I knew that there was something lying hidden behind her surface assault.  Assault? Well thank goodness that this time her assault wasn’t directed at me, but at something else.  Ever since my Easter decision for Christ she has been just a little bristly to say the least.

“Mother,” said I, “What else is bothering you about the service?  What did you think of the sermon?”

“It wasn’t that, Alfred,” said Mother frowning a little, “I must confess that I hardly paid attention to that at all.  I was just looking out over the congregation and realized how tacky everyone looked.  You would think that people would exercise at least a modicum of good taste in dressing for Church.”

A light suddenly dawned on me and I replied, “Why, I thought the congregation actually looked unusually cheerful.”

“That’s just it, Alfred. Too cheerful!  Red!  So many of them were dressed in red!  Red blouses, jackets, ties, and if that wasn’t enough, even red shoes.  Everywhere I looked it was red, red, red!  I hadn’t realized until after the service that even you were wearing a dreadful red tie.”

“Mother, I must admit that tie wasn’t one of my favorites, even though I do enjoy a dash of Tabasco now and then.”

“That’s just it, Alfred.  Even you were seized by this appalling spirit of tackiness.  Why couldn’t Father Goodfellow have suggested white?  After all, white is the color of the dove, and the dove is supposed to be the symbol of the Holy Spirit? Or even, blue? Blue is the color of water and water is another symbol of the Holy Spirit.  Or even green for growth?  Hunter’s green of course.  I look rather fine in green.”

All of a sudden it dawned on me.  Mother doesn’t think that she looks her best in red.  She says it just makes her look too Sicilian, which is logical.  After all both of her parents are Sicilian, but far be it from me to remind her. There are times when things are better left unsaid.

I thought for a moment…no, that’s not quite accurate.  I shot an arrow prayer heavenward and thought for a moment.  “Mother,” said I.  “You look beautiful in red, rather sultry and very, very attractive.”

Mother beamed, “Oh Alfred! Do you think so?  Maybe I should have worn red, it’s just that I have always tried to avoid wearing red, but I must admit that I was feeling just a little bit left out.”

“He brought me to the banqueting table, and his banner over me was love” (Song of Songs 2:4).

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Two-Edged Sword

I had retired to the solarium with a cup of English Breakfast tea, Mother insisted that I user her Periwinkle Blue & Pink Roses Hand Painted Royal Stafford Tea Cup and Saucer Set for my Mid-Morning Tea, when I heard the unlikely sound of singing from the vicinity of the kitchen.  It seems that our new rather Scottish housekeeper Agnes Findlay is given to singing songs from the old Scottish Psalter while she works, not that I mind at all.

The strong words of the Psalter rang loud and clear in Agnes rather robust alto voice, “Yet, not withstanding, I have him to be my King appointed; and over Zion, my holy hill, I have him King anointed.”  I was rather enjoying Agnes performance when Mother came in shaking her head.

“Whatever will I do, Alfred?” said Mother, “It’s almost more than I can bear.  If it’s not one thing it’s another; either Agnes singing Psalms or tonight’s Bible Study group with the Whittingtons.  I don’t know which has me more upset.”

Rather than run the risk of entering into a debate over the singing of the Psalter or the Bible Study group I merely passed Mother the plate of home baked Scottish short bread that Agnes had made.

Mother absently took a piece and nibbled the end of it, then took a sizeable bite, “That’s rather good, isn’t it, Alfred?  I had no idea that she could bake so well.”

“Mother, I was thinking,” said I, “about something that occurred with I was a young lad at the Wilfred Choate School.  You know that the Wilfred Choate School kept up the English sport traditions like many of our other fine boarding schools?”

Mother looked at me quizzically as if to say “What has that to do with singing and shortbread?”

Well, Mother,” I continued, “it was the annual track and field day and one of the first features was the Cross Country Race.  Now, as a young lad, I didn’t have much experience with running.  To my amazement I discovered that towards the end of the race I was out in front of the pack with a large lead and some of the bystanders began cheering me on.  Several hundred yards from the finish line I felt a terrible stitch, and an excruciating pain in my side.  As I slowed several other runners flashed on by.  I didn’t know that one could run through the pain, and as a result I lost the race.  I have often looked back on that as one of the central learning experiences of my life.  There are times one just has to run through the pain in order to win in life.”

With that Agnes appeared at the door with our small Italia Parruccca Tray laden with another Royal Stafford cup and a small plate of chocolate cupcakes carefully decorated with the red, white and blue, Union Jack flag.

“Here you go, Mum,” said Agnes, “A wee treat for the mid-morning, seein’ as how the Colonel has is short bread.”

“Oh, how lovely” said Mother, “Where on earth did you ever learn to do that.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Mum,” said Agnes, “I love to do little things like that for my ladies.  Some people just go through life putting one foot in front of the other, but that’s not my way.  I like to attack life with joy.  As it says in the Psalms, ‘Let the high praises of God be in their throat and a two-edge sword in their hand.’”

Agnes Findlay’s Shortbread

1 1/2 cups butter
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup rice flour
2 cups flour
1/4 plus 1/8 tsp salt

Put flour and sugar on board
Cut in butter with two knives
Knead dough with your hands until all the butter is absorbed
Halve the dough and make into two balls
Press into two 8” cake pans
Bake until pale sandy colour
Bake at 325⁰ for 35 to 45 minutes

Cut in wedges with sharp knife before it cools.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Kippered Herring and Eggs

I do so love kippered herring and scrambled eggs for breakfast, but Mother finds the flavour a little strong.  Nevertheless it was a fine breakfast; a surprise especially in the light of the fact that Mother had been a little testy over what she referred to as “this faith business”.

Mother seemed to be in very happy mood, so happy that Pippa, the frou-frou dog, had climbed up on her lap and had fallen asleep.  I should have expected something; there often is when Mother does something apparently out of character.

I poured myself a second cup of Lapsang Souchong, thinking how fine it would be to smoke an Arturo Fuente Rosado Magnum after such a fine repast of kippered herring.  The two things seem to go together, however wisdom is the better part of valor and I decided not press my luck.

Mother looked at me in a contented fashion, and said, “I’ve been thinking, Alfred . . .”

“Yes, Mother,” said I, inwardly wincing.  Even I can add two and two together and not come up with three.  Something was indeed up, as they put it.

“Well, Alfred,” said Mother, “I’ve been thinking.  It has been a long time since our old housekeeper Ada retired, not that I mind doing the housework, but as I said, it has been a long time since Ada retired and I would like to have someone come in twice a week.”

“That seems reasonable to me,” I replied, “but it is very difficult to find someone reliable; after all the two or three housekeepers you tried after Ada left really were atrocious, and why twice a week?”

“Well, Alfred, that’s just the thing.  Grace Whittington has a marvellous housekeeper who comes in twice a week, and Grace asked me if I would also be interested in having her for two days a week.  Apparently she was working for another family but they have moved, and she is available.”

In a way, I was relieved. After all when Mother has been thinking it could turn out to be almost anything.  So I said, “Have you talked with this housekeeper?”

“No, I haven’t¸ but I have made an arrangement for her to come this morning after breakfast.”

With that the doorbell rang Westminster.  Mother left the room to answer it, and I thought, “Fait accompli! I didn’t really have a chance.  What if I had said, ‘No’?  I hope it’s worth one breakfast of kippered herring.”

A broad Scot’s brogue sounded in the next room, “Missus Montrose, so pleased to meet you.  I’m Agnes Findlay.  Missus Whittington told me you might be looking for someone to help at bit with the housework.”

Their voices faded off into the distance and I could hear them going from room to room.  Eventually they circled around to where I was sitting in the breakfast nook.  Agnes Findlay was a square set stocky woman with a broad smile and an air of obvious competence about her.

            Mother said, “Agnes has agreed to work for us on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays and Wednesdays she is at the Whittington’s.  Grace tells me that Agnes is an accomplished cook.  Isn’t that marvelous?”

            “Mr. Montrose,” said Agnes, “verra pleased to meet you.  Ever since I heard from Missus Whittington that you might be needin’ a housekeeper I’ve been prayin’ for you both.  I’ve always kept Horace and Grace Whittington in my prayers; It’s been my custom to pray for the families I work for.”

            I thought to myself, “Isn’t it wonderful the way the Lord works.  Now what will Mother do?”

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” [1 John 5:13-14].   

Friday, May 10, 2013

Alfred Reflects on Mother’s Day

            Mother’s day is one of those awkward days, it’s not on the Church Calendar, but even in my business it’s good for marketing.  Our store is featuring some wonderful Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren cashmere sweaters, a little pricey perhaps, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of cashmere.  But then again, if the truth be told, Mother’s Day is not really about marketing, despite what my Sales Manager Raphael Vilas says.

            I have long been fond of one or Christina Rossetti’s early poems that she wrote for her Mother when she was only eleven.

To My Mother   - Christina Rossetti (1842)

To-day’s your natal day,
Sweet flowers I bring;
Mother, accept, I pray,
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

What I like about the poem is Christina’s childish simplicity.  She brings flowers to her Mother on her birthday, asking that her offering be accepted, and then she prays that her Mother might live a happy life, and bless her children and receive great happiness as she gives her motherly love to them.

As you know, Mother and I have been having a little stress over my recent faith decision, and occasionally, as you are probably also aware, Mother can be a little testy at times.  But I am mindful that Mother really loves our son Jeremy and his fiancĂ© Winifred; and she also quite as clearly loves me.  So even if I have to jostle for a little bit of elbow room once in a while, I want you to know that Mother does have a good heart.  Above all she possesses a unique quality, pride of place.  She knows what is important and ought to be kept in first place at all times.  For Mother that is our family and our home.  Some may find pride of place in others annoying, but from my viewpoint those who have no pride of place, nothing to elevate and hold dear, are bereft of one of the foundations stones of character.  True, Mother is wrestling with the place of faith in her life but she does love, and love so very often does win out.

The other thing about Mother is that she places a high value on truth, so high a value in fact that she has been on occasion known to call a fool “a fool.”  There are times when that is inconvenient, and other times when it may be the very best thing for the fool in question. Once in a while she has chafed me over some dereliction or other, and often I must ruefully admit that she is right.

The third thing, you might think it a negative trait, but I don’t; the third thing is that Mother can be very stubborn, but the word “stubborn” is misleading.  Mother is steadfast, not only about some things that she doesn't need to be steadfast about, but also in areas where being steadfast is a saving grace.

And perhaps, above all, Mother is very creative and I treasure the myriad of ways in which she manoeuvre's through the wicked world of ours.  Can you imagine what Mother would be like if she were to come consciously to faith?  Even as it is, she is a very fine woman, and I love her.

 “ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable  whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” [Philippians 4:8].

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dinner at the Whittingtons

Mother is in a snit, and fortunately has gone to bed.  For my part this is a wonderful time to walk Pippa our frou-frou dog out in the garden.  The small group meeting was at the Whittington’s this evening.  Would you believe they actually served a lobster bisque and a Caprese salad; you know, alternating slices of rare filet mignon, mozzarella, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil.  It was exquisite!  Grace Whittington certainly put her best foot forward.  Even Mother was impressed; so impressed that it took the edge of her negativity about the Bible Study and the prayer time.  By the time we got to the Bible Study Mother was almost mellow.

Fortunately she liked the red leather New Jerusalem Bible that I purchased for her.  The feel of real leather is very satisfying, and the color was not that embarrassing “bible black”.  For Mother, it’s the little things that make the difference.

She actually did venture an opinion or two during the Bible Study.  Mother always has an opinion.  We were reading about Jesus’s call of Simon and Andrew in the Gospel of Mark, and Mother said, “Fishermen? Really, Grace, you would think he would have called people more socially acceptable.”

Grace’s husband, Horace, mildly replied, “I love to fish.  Why last summer we were salmon fishing at Lochaber in Scotland.  It was a marvelous experience.”  That was quite crafty of Horace; after all he knew what she meant.”

That seemed to satisfy Mother and she replied, “Well, I suppose it’s alright then.” 

On the way home Mother was ominously silent, but that didn’t last long.  By the time we had arrived home she began to natter away.  “Alfred, you should have known better than to wear a red paisley ascot.  Paisley is so difficult, and it clashed with the dress Grace was wearing.”

“Mother,” said I. “It was perfectly alright.  I was sitting at the opposite side of the table and it didn’t matter at all.”  Mother looked askance at me as though she couldn’t believe what she was hearing, but after all, I had to say something, and knowing Mother, I knew that wasn’t the issue.

Once home Mother began puttering in the kitchen and I heard a crash, a crystal goblet had careened off the counter and shattered on the floor.  I could hear Mother muttering as she swept up.  Mother and Muttering are two “M” words that belong together, especially when she is upset and doesn’t know why she is upset.  The best thing to do is lay low and stay out of firing range.  Even Pippa was beginning to learn that, and she was hiding under the dining room table.

Eventually Mother went to bed.  Ordinarily she likes to read for a little while, but this evening she turned off the light angrily and was laying there awake in the dark.  If you don’t think that someone can turn off a light angrily, you don’t know Mother. 

With that Pippa and I took the safest course and headed out to the garden together.  I have begun to learn the value of small informal spontaneous prayers.  Grace Whittington tonight called them arrow prayers, so I shot a few heavenward and what occurred to me is that Mother was upset with the dinner and the Bible Study because she found nothing to be upset about.  That  actually makes sense, knowing Mother.  And the other thing that occurred to me was that there was nothing I needed to do about it except walk with Pippa in the garden.

“Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (Psalm 141:2).