Alfred and Mother live in Park Hills on a quiet cul-de-sac where they enjoy the finer things of life. Indeed enjoying the finer things of life is uppermost in their minds. The ways of the Holy Spirit are mysterious and He begins to intrude on their placid lives when the house next door becomes vacant and Alfred begins to record the events in a journal.
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
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
“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
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).
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
“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.’”
1/2 cups butter
cup confectioner’s sugar
cup rice flour
plus 1/8 tsp salt
flour and sugar on board
in butter with two knives
dough with your hands until all the butter is absorbed
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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,
And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
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 fiancé 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
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
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.”
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
“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
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