Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Devil’s Corner

            “What a night!  What a night!  Who could have thought that a Church Choir could get itself so tied up in knots?”  said I to Mother.

I had comeback from our Thursday evening Choir Rehearsal, donned my Le Noeud Papillon red velvet smoking jacket and my matching red velvet Prince Albert slippers and we were sitting at the Sheraton table in the solarium enjoying a mug of E. Guittard Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate

“Mother,” said I, “Choir lasted an inordinate amount of time this evening, wrestling with, of all things, the recent music selections.  It seems that Ima Hatchett has a burning desire for us to sing BUT THE LORD IS MINDUL OF HIS OWN by Felix Mendelssohn.  That of course is an alto solo, and Ima is an Alto.  What particularly has her incensed is that the soprano section seems to get an unfair share of the music selections.  According to her, ‘Nobody likes the Music!’”

“Remember, Alfred,” replied Mother, “that Ima Hatchett objected to the lead soprano’s ear rings.  If it’s not one thing with Ima, it’s another.  She seems to have a deep need to be the star of the choir.”

“Yes, Mother, you are quite right, but this time she has gone to the extent of circulating a petition for the removal of our Choir Director William Weaver.  Not only that, she has declared that she is going to bring the feeble leadership of Father Goodfellow to the attention of Bishop Portly in order to resolve the problem.   Frankly, I was annoyed, and said so.  That started a heated discussion between several choir members who supported Ima, and the rest of us who thought that the whole thing was rather silly.”

I put down my Kirkham English Rose mug and continued.  “Throughout all this our Choir Director William Weaver was a model of decorum.  I am embarrassed to say that I used to call him ‘Beaver Weaver’.  I think that was most unfair of me at the time, but I have learned a few things since then.”

“Well, Alfred,” said Mother, “how did William Weaver handle the situation?”

            “Mother,” said I, “He listened most patiently, accepted the petition from Ima, and said he would convey it to Father Goodfellow; then he put us to work.  But Ima will not be satisfied with that.  I expect that she will be very busy over the phone. ”

I continued, “The next things that William Weaver did was handle the situation with Handel and instructed us to get out our copies of the Messiah.  For the next half hour he kept us busy reviewing some the pieces we had sung for Easter.  The next piece he presented us with was an old classic by Stainer, ‘For God So Loved the World. ’ I could hear Ima muttering about that being old and worn out.”

“But that’s a lovely piece, Alfred,” said Mother, “I have always enjoyed it.  Every time I hear it, it stirs something within me.”

“Yes, I know, Mother,” said I, “It was one of those wonderful pieces of music that nestled in my subconscious and it wasn’t until last Easter that I finally understood what it meant.”

With that Mother looked away.  “Alfred,” said she, “I know it’s late, but would you like to watch a Dorothy Sayers mystery with me?”

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mother on a Rant

            Mother has been on a rant for most of this week.  Even Pippa, the frou-frou dog, has spent most of her time hiding under the dining room table.

            As for me I must admit to a certain degree of cowardice, not that under most conditions I am a coward.  Being under fire in a Vietnamese jungle is qualitatively different than being under fire from Mother on a rant.  One is only bullets, the other is a firestorm.  The result is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time puttering in the garden trimming several varieties of roses and pulling weeds.  I have a fondness for the simplicity of the Carpet Red Rose, one of the new varieties of shrub roses.

            What set Mother off on a rant was her conversation with Agnes Findlay, our Scottish housekeeper.  Agnes is no wilting rose herself and is not easily cowed; not even by Mother.  Agnes is very direct.  Originally I had suggested to Mother that she talk to Grace Whittington knowing that Grace would be more gentle, but Mother is Mother and she will do what she will do and there’s no doing anything about it.

            Some of what transpired slipped out at breakfast this morning.  I was spreading a little Wilkin and Sons Tiptree Rhubarb and Ginger Conserve on my buttered crumpet this morning when Mother interrupted my reverie with a sudden outburst.

            “Jesus as personal Saviour!” Mother muttered with emphatic disgust. “That’s perfectly fine for people like Agnes Findlay!”  With that she savagely speared a slice of Lorne sausage with her fork before continuing, “After all what should I expect from an uneducated Scottish housekeeper?”

            I looked cautiously across the table and perceived that Mother was not looking in my direction, but was directing her remarks to the Dualit Toaster on our breakfast table.  The toaster was happily oblivious.  With that I decided that being, at least in appearance, oblivious was the wisest course of action.

            Mother rapped sharply on the table with her knuckles and said, “Alfred!  I have decided to try Christian Science.  I think that Mary Baker Eddy was right.  There is no evil, and disease is all in your head.”

            I looked up to see Mother staring impatiently in my direction.  I replied, “Well, Mother, then what do we do with some of those people that your cousin Angelo does business with?  It seems that things are a little more complicated than Mary Baker Eddy might think.”

            “Alfred!” snapped Mother, “If I wanted your opinion I would have asked for it!” and with that she stormed out of the room leaving her piece of Lorne sausage untouched on her plate.”

I sat for a few minutes pondering and decided on a two-fold course of action.  I reverently ate her piece of Lorne sausage, and retired to the garden to trim the roses.  What occurred to me, was a line from that Frances Thompson poem, The Hound of Heaven.   In his poem he speaks of the discomfort of being pursued by God.  “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; /  I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind,”          and then, “Halts by me that footfall: / Is my gloom, after all, / Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?”  It’s a difficult thing to be pursued by God.  I should know!

With that a sharp thorn pierced my finger and I immediately I thought of Mother, “Every rose has its thorn; but I do so love roses.”

 “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”- Psalm 139:7-8  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Briar Pipe

Mother was sitting across the Sheraton table from me poring over a printout from the Internet

“Alfred,” said she, “This astrology business is very complicated.  I was born on November 23, never mind the year, and that means I'm a Sagittarius, and I was checking around and discovered that I was born under the moon sign of Gemini and in the rising sign of Capricorn.  That means I have a strong moral conscience and can see through the hypocrisy of others.  Well, I hope that’s true.  “What do you think?”

I must admit that I was taken aback.  “Since when have you been interested in Astrology?

“Well, Alfred, you want me to become more religious, so I'm just looking around.”

I shook my head in disbelief.  “Mother,” said I, “my aunt Marjorie was very big on astrology.  It became a family joke.  My father, I always called him Pater, would say ‘Now, Marjorie, you should make a practice of reading your horoscope the day after; that way you can see just how ridiculous it is.’  Marjorie once retorted, ‘You are just saying that because you’re a Libra, and Libras are gullible.’  That started a verbal battle that lasted for months.  The problem is that there is a little bit of truth in everything, but that doesn't make the whole thing true.”

Mother went digging in yesterday’s paper and found her Astrology Word for the Day and read, “Even the most stoic and solid of authority figures have off days. They've also made bad decisions based on the best of intentions. Mention that before you start confessing your sins. Even if their choice of entertainment for tonight is undeniably the very last thing on earth you want to do, smile and say you'd love to. Isn't it your turn? Just when you thought it was safe to come out, friends are starting to take bids on how long you'll be able to manage the balancing act you've been juggling. You've got a bone to pick with a higher-up, but this just isn't the right time to pick it. Sit quietly and bide your time. Give it two weeks.”

            Mother sat there for a few moments, her shoulders sagged and she looked somewhat despondent.  “Well, Alfred, I guess your Pater was right, but I had so hoped that there was something that could make sense out of things.”

            I busied myself with my pipe.  I think that I've mentioned before that pipe smoking is not a habit, but a hobby.  At the least it provides a temporary dodge.  This particular pipe is a rather fine English Estate Ashton Old Church Bent Billiard.  I tamped some Captain Black in the bowl, lit it and drew slowly before replying.  I was stalling for time, and here is why.  Knowing Mother as I do, I knew that this was no time to get preachy.  She was already irritated that I had had a spiritual experience and she, quite evidently, had not.  Nor was it the right moment to give advice; and direct advice was sure to backfire.  Fiddling with my briar gives me a little respite and time for an arrow prayer.

            Finally I said, “Mother, it’s not for me to say.  Perhaps Grace can give you some direction.”

            Somewhere in the background we could hear the rich Scottish alto voice of Agnes singing, “As pants the hart for cooling springs, so longs my soul for thee, O Lord.”[i]

            Mother listened for a few moments then brightened up, “I think I'll ask Agnes what she thinks.”

            Trust Mother to find an alternative!

[i] Psalm 42:1