Saturday, September 28, 2013
Ripe I cry
Full and fair ones
Come and buy
Cherry ripe, cherry ripe
Ripe I cry
Full and fair ones
Come and buy.[i] - Robert Herrick
Alfred could hear Mother warbling in the kitchen, “Cherry ripe, cherry ripe;” an old English song sung to a melody composed by the 19th century composer Charles E. Horne. In her day Mother had a fine mezzo soprano voice, but now in her seniority her voice was deeper, but perhaps that was just because it was long since she had done much singing.
“Well, well, well,” said Alfred to himself, “I wonder what’s up? It’s been ages since I’ve heard Mother sing, and I must say it is very pleasant to hear.”
Mother came bustling into the solarium wheeling the Paalman Tea Cart laden with her Royal Doulton Tea Set, some McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits, and a cheery china cherry bowl filled to the brim with bright red Regina cherries.
“I’ve been thinking, Alfred,” said she, “That it is just going to be wonderful to have the Choir over for an old fashioned hymn sing in mid-October. Not only is our Choirmaster William Weaver going to be in attendance, but Father Goodfellow is coming and he’s bringing his wife Cecelia.”
“That is good news, Mother,” said Alfred. “I couldn’t help but overhear you singing Cherry Ripe in the kitchen. Have you given any thought to joining the choir?”
“Well, Alfred, I had, but you know when I was young I sang Soprano, although I was a little more comfortable in the Mezzo Soprano role, however I’m not sure that I would enjoy singing Alto at this stage in my life. After all the Choir doesn’t need another Ima Hatchett competing with the sopranos and I think the choir is probably better off without me.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t consider it Mother?” asked Alfred.
“Alfred, quite sure, but I do have something else in mind. Grace Whittington has just joined the Altar Guild, and she says they are looking for another person. I’ve never done anything quite like that before, although I did take a course in floral design years ago.”
“The Altar Guild, Mother? I say,” said Alfred, “that’s quite a step Mother. What is involved?”
“Grace tells me that the Altar Guild is divided into four teams, one team for each Sunday, That means we would serve once a month. We would set up the Altar before the service, and take care of everything after the service is over. Grace and I would be on the same team. There is an Altar Guild training day on October 19th. There is even an Altar Guild Prayer. I tucked it away in my Prayer Book.”
Mother hurried out of the room and returned a minute later, and said, “Alfred, listen to this,
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst accept the ministry of faithful women during your earthly life; We pray you to accept and bless the work that this altar guild undertakes in the care of your sanctuary. Grant us a spirit of reverence for your house and worship, your Word and Sacraments, and preserve in purity and holiness our own souls and bodies as living temples of Your presence. Amen.”
“That sounds wonderful Mother,” said Alfred looking somewhat mystified, but silently he said to himself, “I wonder what’s going on with Mother?”
Friday, September 27, 2013
“Mother,” said Alfred looking up from the notebook he was writing in, “this is the first day of fall, even though it doesn’t feel like it. It’s still in the 80s and it’s going to be in the 80s all week.”
“Oh, Alfred, at least it’s not over one hundred degrees. We sometimes have to take what we get. I’ve had just about enough of summer this year. What I miss ‘though is the fall colors. It’s so beautiful in New England this time of year. Even now the leaves are beginning to turn and a month from now it will be peak foliage season in New England.”
“Mother, do you remember those wonderful fall hymn-sing evenings we used to have at our church in Massachusetts when we were first married?”
“Alfred, I do,” said Mother. We would gather at the home of Mac and Wendy Parsons and sing some of those fine old hymns.”
“Yes,” said Alfred, his voice tinged with excitement, “and after the hymn sing we always had cider and donuts. Those were halcyon days!”
“What would you think, Alfred, if we invited the choir over to our place on a Sunday evening in October. I bet our Organist-Choirmaster William Weaver would enjoy playing our Seiler 168 Virtuoso piano.”
“Mother, that’s a wonderful idea. Let’s do it! I’m sure by then the fall crop of fresh cider will be in the stores once more.”
“Alfred,” said Mother suddenly, “what on earth are you writing? Every time I’ve looked over at you, you seem absolutely absorbed in something and you must have erased as many words as you have written down.”
“Well, Mother,” confessed Alfred, “I’ve been trying to write you a poem. Would you like to hear it?”
“Oh yes, Alfred,” said Mother.
Alfred began, “this is called, Autumn Winds,
When autumn winds come knocking at my door
They carry with them crispness in the air,
And all the beauty of the leaves so fair
Tell the inner beauty of she whom I adore.
In autumn love’s true springtime sings once more
But sings with a richness beyond compare
Taught by our tears and things we had to bear.
Autumn’s bounteous harvest of glad amour
Is richer far than springtime’s budding love,
And glows with the warmth of a golden light
That flows from the heart of heaven above,
For autumn’s love is fraught with Love’s delight.
I would not trade this love for springtime love.
Early love can’t compare with autumn bright.
“Oh, Alfred, how sweet of you,” said Mother, with a little catch in her voice. You know it’s true, I wouldn’t trade our time-tested love, for the love we had at the beginning of our marriage; not for all the fall colors and cider and donuts in the world.”
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. … Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe … be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:15-19).
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
“Whom do you trust? Not ‘Who’ do you trust?” said Alfred. “The Rolling Stones were being grammatically incorrect when they belted out the song ‘Who Do You Love?’"
“Really, Alfred, do you need to be so pedantic?” asked Mother as she set out her Royal Doulton Periwinkle Tea Set.
“Mother, it was drilled into me at Wilfred Choate School. ‘You’ are the object of my affection, not the subject of my affection. ‘Whom’ is used for the object, ‘Who’ for the subject. I just like to get things correct. Besides that, the question was, ‘Whom do you trust?’”
“Alfred, are you talking religion again?” said Mother with a note of warning in her voice.
Alfred actually looked surprised, “Well, not really. Although I suppose one could view it that way. I was thinking about the new manager I hired at the store. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something funny going on with her accounts.”
“Oh,” said Mother, “Grandfather Talliaferro used to say, ‘You can only trust blood.’”
“Trust blood?” said Alfred, “You mean people like your cousin Angelo?”
“No, I certainly wouldn’t trust Angelo, he walks on the shady side of life and sometimes he is more than a little scary. Grandfather Talliaferro also said, ‘We even have to keep an eye on the family. There’s the family, and there is blood. Blood is deeper than family.’”
“I think I know what you mean Mother,” said Alfred. “There is a proverb that says, ‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’”[i]
“Take for instance our new next door neighbours, the Walkers,” said Mother, “Would you trust them? Hubert Walker was unable to sit for months after his wife Mildred accidently shot him in the rump.”
“Well,” said Alfred, “she also had a tad of discomfort from the peppering of rock salt you gave her with that lupara shotgun that belonged to your Grandfather Talliaferro.”
Mother quickly said, “But Alfred, she was shooting her pistol out in the front yard. Hardly trustworthy people!”
“I know, I know, Mother,” said Alfred, “You can only trust them to be themselves, and stay as far away from them as you can.”
“That’s just it!” said Mother. “You can’t trust everyone. There are only a few people that you can trust with everything.”
Alfred looked thoughtfully at Mother, then finally asked, “Whom do you trust? I mean personally, not just as a general question.”
“Whom do I trust?” said Mother, setting out the last Royal Dalton cup and saucer. “I think I might be able to trust Grace Whittington. She surprises me. When cousin Angelo in his sharkskin suit came to our Bible Study, I half expected that would be the end of our relationship with the Whittingtons. But instead she just let me know that her family also had their own difficult people. That’s why I invited Grace and Horace to tea this afternoon. Grandfather Talliaferro would say, ‘Test them out to see if they ring true.’”
“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
It was Thursday afternoon and Alfred was sitting in his study smoking a Special Reserve Churchill Cigar and reading an article by the English 19th Century journalist C. E. Montague, “Anything that a competent artist loves well enough he can make lovable to any good reader.”[i]
Alfred was thinking to himself, “It seems that some ‘artists’ just want to make a buck, like Pablo Picasso paying for his laundry by whipping off a sketch to pay his tab” when Mother came bustling into the room with a catalogue in her hand.
“Alfred,” said Mother, “look at these Karastan rugs. Aren’t they just beautiful?”
“Well, truth be told,” said Alfred, “which it seldom is, they are pretty in their own way, but that Canterbury Rug that you seem smitten with can’t really be compared with a Kirman, or a Bakhtiari.”
“I know, Alfred, I know, but as you said they are quite pretty, and look at the price. The advertisement says that they are made of New Zealand Sheep Wool.”
“Think of the poor sheep” said Alfred. “I wonder what sheep on the thousand hills of New Zealand make of life? Do they know that they are wet and cold when they are grazing in the rain? Do they know their beginning and their end? What do they make of things at shearing time?
Do you remember our New Zealand vacation a few years ago when we stopped along the road at Tapharanui? We watched a little lamb gamboling across the field, leaping for joy, when suddenly he stopped to look for his mother. Finding her he butted her udder with his head as he worked lustily away at getting a little nourishment.”
“Oh, I remember, Alfred,” said Mother, “One ewe was walking along the road crying with loud cries, looking for her little lamb, but a passing farmer stopped to tell us that the lamb had died. The ewe was obviously bereft.”
“Yes,” said Alfred. “Other ewes with a lamb or two, not three, roamed across the meadow, stopping to graze or nurse their young. I wonder what is the link between instinct and consciousness? What do sheep feel? What do sheep make of life? Among all the animals only we ask questions like that.”
“Alfred!” said Mother, “You think too much! All I wanted to show you was the rugs in this catalogue. This Canterbury rug is quite lovely, or perhaps even this Ashara Agra Black. It would go quite nicely in your study.”
Alfred looked at the catalogue and considered the rug in question, then said, “You know, that would look rather fine.”
“Alfred,” said Mother, “not everything we purchase needs to be authentic! The idea of you accidently dropping your cigar ashes on a Bakhtiari is just too much to contemplate.”
“Mother,” said Alfred, “I am glad to hear you say that; after all quality and cost are not always equated. Go ahead and order the Ashara, I will quite enjoy it.”
[i] C. E. Monatague, “To True to be Good”, A Writer’s Notes on His Trade, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1930), p. 139.
“Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
Thursday, September 19, 2013
“Well, Alfred, as a fancy dinner out, that was a complete flop,” said Mother. We won’t go there again!”
“We certainly won’t, Mother,” said Alfred. “You just can’t tell what you are going to get. They should have called it ‘One-and-Half Forks’”.
“Or perhaps, ‘The Gristle and Fat,’” added Mother.
“It reminds me, Mother, of that time when we rode on horseback into Petra in Jordan. On the strength of travel advertisements and photos we endured a long dusty bus trip from Amman, through the foothills and deserts of Jordan, all the way to Petra.”
“I remember,” said Mother, “when we arrived we were met by Arab horse wranglers, and rode through that marvelous canyon, just like Indiana Jones in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, into Petra, the strong rose walled city.”
“Yes, Mother, and when we emerged from the canyon there was that magnificent rose colored stone façade before us and the cliff wall bathed in warm sunlight. Do you remember, Mother that when we entered in through the doorway there was nothing behind the façade but a small rectangular room with unadorned stone walls? It was all façade!”
“All that way on a hot stuffy bus with only one stop at a dirty Arab bathroom!” exclaimed Mother.”
“Or,” said Alfred, “it was like the time we went to the Opera at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome only to find that the Opera was Carmen in French, and the family sitting behind us was breathing fumes of raw garlic like a blue fog over us.”
Mother laughed, “In the intermission the hawkers were going up and down the aisles crying, ‘Aranciata, Birra, Coca Cola.”
“Sometimes, Mother, I worry about façades. Ima Hatchett seemed like such a pleasant woman on the surface, but she caused a lot of commotion in the choir. So many of us throw up smoke screens to prevent others from seeing us.”
“I was thinking of Ima the other day, Alfred. She must be a very unhappy person.”
“On the other hand, Mother, regard Agnes Findlay. Now there’s a woman with very little pretense,” said Alfred. “She is a very efficient housekeeper and also a very talented cook, but she certainly can speak her mind. Why just the other day she said to me, ‘Colonel, it may be none of my business, but those Special Reserve Churchill Cigars you smoke can’t be good for your health.’ I was quite taken aback, I can tell you, and didn’t know what to say. After all one doesn’t expect people to comment on things like that. Then she said, “I had such trouble getting the smell out of your desk chair. I can’t imagine what it’s doing to your lungs.’ Well, she might be right. If she didn’t have a fine Scottish accent and roll her ‘R’s’ so impressively, I wouldn’t have put up with it. I’ll have to think about it.”
“Oh, Alfred,” said Mother, “She certainly put the wind up me when I talked with her about Christian faith. I haven’t yet recovered.”
“Well, Mother, it’s been a long day,” said Alfred, hanging his double breasted navy blue blazer over a dining room chair. How about sharing a small glass of Bols Oude Genever with me along with a plate of Edam cheese and fruit?”
“But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me” (Psalm 26:11).
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
“I don’t believe it, Mother, Seed Cake! What a treat,” said Alfred, “I haven’t had Seed Cake since we visited Aunt Margaret Moffat in Dumfries last summer.”
“You can thank Agnes Findlay, our Scottish Housekeeper for that,” said Mother, picking up her Crown Princess Sterling Silver Dessert Fork and taking a bite. “Well, Alfred, that really is quite tasty.”
“Talking about Aunt Margaret, Mother, did you know that side of my family were Border Reivers? For centuries they provided mercenary cavalry for European battles, and when they weren’t doing that they made their living stealing cattle from the English, which, according to them, is an honorable profession. They were basically Scottish Cattle Rustlers. When you worry about the Talliaferros, remember that most of us have colorful people in our backgrounds.”
“Thank you for reminding me, Alfred. I had quite forgotten the Moffats. The ones we met on our trip to Scotland were lovely people.”
“As are many of your Sicilian relatives in this country, Mother. I will never forget the marvelous family get together we had last year at Assaggios in the Boston North End. That was quite an evening. It almost made me wish I was Italian.”
Mother took another bite of her Seed Cake, and said, “Alfred, this reminds me of Italian Poppy Seed cake, "Torta al papavero".
“Did you ever consider the mysterious properties of seeds, Mother? You plant a seed in good soil where the sun can shine upon it. For days you can’t see what is happening to the seed, but the seed is growing secretly. Then a little spear of green emerges from the ground and it grows and begins to shoot off little leaves here and there until it becomes a full grown plant. It’s all rather marvelous when you think about it.”
Mother eyed Alfred suspiciously, “Are you talking about religion again Alfred?”
“Yes and no,” Mother, said Alfred. “I read the idea in the Gospels where Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God being planted in our hearts.””
“Don’t push it, Alfred,” said Mother. “A little religion goes a long way.”
“I think that the principle applies to a lot of things. When you stop to think about it, advertising works on the same principle,” said Alfred. “In order to sell a product, they first have to plant a seed in you that the product, whether or not you need it, is actually something you can’t do without. If they can sell you the need for the product, then they can sell you the product. But let me say, Mother, that in planting the seed of the Kingdom the need is already there; it’s just that it’s hard for us to accept that we can’t do everything on our own.”
“Alfred!” snapped Mother, throwing down her fork, “Give it a rest!”
“He put another parable before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches’" (Matthew 13:31-32).
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
“Did you know, Mother, that there is nothing quite like the fragrant scent of a lavender sachet?” said Alfred. “I had noticed that you must have placed a lavender sachet among the sheets stored in the linen closet. The fragrance of lavender is evocative of many of the small exquisite things that have been handed down to us from our parents. It quite brings me back to the halcyon days of my grandparents; of fine linen and lace, and morning tea in the garden on an early spring day.”
“I do know what you mean, Alfred,” replied Mother, “but while my own mother often placed a lavender bouquet among the stored linens, that certainly was not the fragrance that I remember from my childhood visits to my grandparent’s home. As you know, Grandfather Talliaferro and my Grandmother Rosalia were Sicilian. Often their home was redolent with the fragrance of fresh baked bread, Pane Siciliano, with its golden crust sprinkled with sesame seeds; that of course and the heady aroma of garlic, basil, kalamata olives, anchovies and capers in a Puttanesca Sauce.”
“That certainly isn’t lavender sachet, Mother,” said Alfred, “but those heady aromas have their own strong values. It has been too long since we have dined on Spaghetti Puttanesca, with those wonderful Italian sausages that you used to purchase at Jimmy’s Food Store on Bryan Street in Dallas.”
“Oh, Alfred, that reminds me,” answered Mother, “there is sad news, Jimmy DiCarlo, the founder of Jimmy’s, just died.”
“That is sad news indeed, Mother.” said Alfred, “I really do hope that they maintain their traditions. I am most concerned that we do make an effort to treasure the heritage passed down to us from the past.”
“You know, Alfred, there are times I’m almost embarrassed by my past. The recent visit from my cousin Angelo was in some ways most uncomfortable.”
“Well, you have to admit Mother,” said Alfred with a chuckle, “that Angelo certainly knows how to dress in a fine Continental style.”
“But, his business! Alfred!”
“Yes, I know Mother, but that is beside the point! What is important is not some of the peccadillos of some of our family members. What is important is the wondrous heritage that we both share from our past. Why, the prophet Jeremiah said much the same thing, ’Stand by the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.’[i] While that applies to the things that we value from our faith, it also applies to the things that are good and noble from the past. Living fully in the present is only possible when we accept the good things from our past.”
“Do you really think so, Alfred?” asked Mother.
“Of that I am quite certain,” answered Alfred.
“Well then, Alfred, I will start some Pane Siciliano this evening, and tomorrow we will have Spaghetti Puttanesca and Italian sausages for dinner.”
“That is absolutely wonderful, Mother. Let’s invite Horace and Grace Whittington over for dinner. I’m sure they would enjoy it.”
“Oh, yes, let’s, Alfred,” said Mother. “It been a long times since we have had people over for dinner.”
 Jeremiah 6:16
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Alfred looked at the soup in his bowl and stirred it half-heartedly with his spoon. “What on earth is this?”
“That sir,” said Agnes Findlay, the Scottish Housekeeper, “Is Queen Victoria’s Brown Windsor Soup. This very soup built the British Empire and was very fashionable during her reign. She used to have it served at Windsor Castle.”
“Oh really,” said Alfred, lifting a spoonful to his nose and sniffing it, then tentatively taking a taste. “Now that’s not half-bad. What’s in it?”
“Well, sir,” said Agnes, “it’s beef and mutton in a beef broth with carrots, onions, and parsnips. Quite nourishing! I’ve served it the traditional way with scones.”
Mother picked up a scone, broke it in two, slathered it with butter and took a bite. “You know, Alfred, I’m not always in the mood for something new.” She eyed the soup suspiciously and took another bite of her scone.
I have noticed, Mother,” said Alfred, “that from time to time you seem apprehensive about new things.”
Mother glared at Alfred, “Now why would you say that Alfred?”
“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “When we were talking with Horace on Sunday his funny little story about the farmer shooting his dog put me in mind of your Grandfather Talliaferro’s lupara shotgun and the time you discharged it out the front door in the dark and shot our next door neighbor in the rump with a little rock salt. Now, why do you think you did that?”
Mother was silent for a few moments and idly stirred her Brown Windsor Soup with her spoon, then took a tiny sip, put her spoon down, considered her soup meditatively, then picked up her spoon and took a spoonful.
“You’re right Alfred, It’s not half bad,” said Mother as she took another spoonful.
“Regarding my question, Mother,” said Alfred, “what was going through your mind when you discharged that lupara out the front door?”
Mother said rather defensively, “Well, Alfred, I was just a little frightened. I didn't know our neighbour thought she had seen a skunk and was trying to shoot it; at that it was probably that ugly black and white pug across the street.”
Alfred buttered a scone and applied himself manfully to the bowl of Brown Windsor Soup, saying, “If this soup is good enough for Queen Victoria, it’s good enough for me.’
“Well, Alfred,” said Mother challengingly, “Let me ask you a question. Are you ever afraid?”
Alfred put his spoon down and looked at Mother, “Certainly,” he said.
“Well, Alfred,” demanded Mother, “how do you deal with fears?”
Alfred thought for a few moments; then replied. “It’s something I learned in combat. Everyone who is wide awake in the face of danger is afraid. Facing it is a matter of respect for authority. When I’m afraid, I just do my duty as best I can. If I’m afraid I tell myself, ‘Be a man! Buck up!’[i] Do what you need to do. Did you know Mother than I really had to deal with my fears all through the Lenten season? That’s why ‘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.’[ii] I was desperately afraid of allowing God to be in control; as if somehow He wasn’t competent.
“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; For you will forget the shame of your youth.” (Isaiah 54:4).
Saturday, September 7, 2013
“You need to understand, Alfred, that wasn’t the first time that Ima kicked the hornet’s nest,” said Horace.
We were sitting at the Sheraton table in the solarium. Horace and Grace Whittington had joined us for Sunday brunch; a brunch wonderfully prepared by Agnes Findlay, our Scottish housekeeper.
“Oh,” said I, biting into an Eccles Cake. “Mmmm, that’s wonderful, the Eccles Cake, I mean. Agnes does a marvelous job. She’s quite talented. But about Ima Hatchett; I was stunned by the action taken by our Rector Father Goodfellow. I never dreamt that a priest would not only remove someone from the Choir but also tell them to leave the Church.”
“Let me tell you a story,” answered Horace. “There was this farmer who was bringing his new wife home to the farm for the first time. His large dog came racing out of the barn barking, bearing his fangs, and lunging at his new bride. That’s ‘THREE’ said the farmer in exasperation, then went to his house, came back with his Winchester rifle, and shot the dog.
His new wife cried out, “Oh, no! Why did you do that? The dog didn’t mean any harm.”
The farmer fixed his steely eye on his new wife, and said, ‘That’s ONE.’”
Mother burst out laughing, “I’ll have to remember that Alfred. Very funny!”
“The point is,” said Horace, “Ima had several warnings from Father Goodfellow. That wasn’t THREE, but more like SIX or SEVEN.”
“It was just the momentary shock,” said I. “As a retired Colonel and as a successful businessman I have always understood the nature of command and the requirement of discipline in any organization. It just hadn’t occurred to me that a priest would.”
“That,” said Horace, “is because the title ‘Rector’ actually is a Latin word meaning ‘ruler”. He has the authority and the responsibility to take care of all of us.”
“Thank goodness,” said Grace. “It has been very difficult putting up with Ima’s behavior over the past couple of years. She really has stretched our Christian charity to the snapping point. More than once I have had to restrain myself. One never quite knows what to do with people like that.”
“Well,” said Mother, “I think better of Father Goodfellow for dealing with it. I had obviously made the mistake of thinking that he was too meek and too mild to deal with people like Ima. It makes me feel rather secure knowing that he is actually in charge.”
“Now, Mother,” said I, “That’s probably because you didn’t really like Ima to begin with.”
“That’s ONE,” said Mother with a sly smile.
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” (Romans 16:17-18).