To Every Thing

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He was always there . . .

He was always there.  Winter, spring, summer, fall. There he was.  As a child, I would see him each week, and though we never chatted or discussed it, I suppose he would have seen me each week as well.  Always wearing a brown three-piece suit.  Always had a hat.  Always happy.

He sat on the St. Joseph side while my family and I sat on the Mother Mary side.  Both of us walked halfway down the aisle every Sunday and scooted into a pew that was nearly a dozen shy of the front of the church.  In essence, we were ‘peripheral parallel pew partners’.  Always.

Oddly enough, the week, the month, the year did not matter.  From the earliest that I can remember to the time that Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church on Washington in Florissant closed, he was always there.  If I was in town for a visit and attended the 10:00am Sunday mass, he was there.  It didn’t matter how many people were with me or what the occasion.  If it was Sunday at 10:00am, I would lean forward in my pew, peer down the row, and there he was.  Always.

His name eludes me, but his personality does not.  He seemed to be a man of great faith, a man with a great smile, a man with friendly eyes and a confident step.  He also seemed to be a man who valued consistency, at least on Sunday.

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Consistency is an interesting concept, and at moments, has some type of attraction for me.  Call it a routine.  Call it a habit. Call it a custom or a tradition.  Regardless of the term, there is something about things that are the same over and over that catches my attention. 

However, consistency has its detractors.  Just ask Mr. Oscar Wilde, a nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright, who contends that “(c)onsistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative.”  There are many different buckets that I placed myself into, but I shudder when I think about being plunked down into the unimaginative one.  Not a place I want to exactly go.

Still, I like waking up at the same time everyday, hopping out of bed and knowing that the first fifteen minutes of my morning are going to be spend exactly like the first fifteen minutes of yesterday’s morning.  In fact, the first sixty minutes of my day is highly, highly consistent. And that most unimaginative time seems to give me a wondrous opportunity to think and ponder and dream, often times bringing that which isn’t mundane out of the mundane.

Per Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  Thus, I claim that consistency has a greater purpose than what Mr. Wilde concludes. 

Take parenting.  I often link good parenting with consistency.  It seems like a natural partnership.  I can readily recall my children having been justifiably angry with me for being wrong as a parent and making related missteps because I was wrong as a parent, but they were never mad or disappointed with me for being consistent as a parent.  Case in point: they may not have liked the food I prepared for dinner week in and week out (I have never claimed to be a great cook – sorry gang), but they seemed rather appreciative that some sort of meal would show up on the same table at the same time with the same characters in the same seats each night. 

On the flip side, I relish the moments that are truly inconsistent, the times that I have no idea exactly what is going to happen next, and am aware of that feeling in my stomach that tells me that something very unknown is happening.  Mary Poppins, in Mary Poppins Returns, says is best when she leads the Banks children into a mystical and magical moment, and states, rather firmly, “We’re on the brink of an adventure, children. Don’t spoil it with too many questions.” Consistency is being damned at this juncture, sent away, chided, and left behind.  All jets are set to go, and imagination takes over.

And again, to every thing, there is a season.

I honestly hope, in the deep recesses of my heart, that I understand the difference between the beneficial consistency and the non-beneficial consistency, and  know when to use the appropriate bucket.  Certainly the turn of a new year gives me plenty of opportunity to work on it.

And if there is ever a moment, when my childhood church reverts from its current status as an offsite location for a regional university back to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, and I show up at 10:00am on a Sunday, I know exactly who I will see on the St. Joseph side of the aisle! 

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It’s a tradition for my daughter and I to consistently stand on the same side when being photographed. Just sayin’

 

Turn, Turn, Turn

“To everything . . . turn, turn, turn.  There is a season . . . turn, turn, turn.  And a time for every purpose, under Heaven. A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep . . .”  The Byrds, 1965.

At the time, it didn’t seem that small.  It just didn’t.  But, I suppose it was. Throughout the normal year, there were eight of us – six children (four boys, two girls) and our parents.  In the summer, however, the number increased.  Our grandmother arrived in May for a two month visit, and our cousin joined us in June for the summer.  And at least once each day – and sometimes two – the entire group would gather around the  wooden kitchen table  – oblong in shape with two benches and two end-chairs  – to eat.  With five to a side and my grandmother and father at the ends, it must have been elbow to elbow.  It just didn’t seem so at the time.

When it started, the home was 888 square feet – not including an unfinished full basement and a backyard. It had three bedrooms, one bathroom, and what would now be called an “eat-in” kitchen.  As I entered my teenage life, my folks expanded the house, tearing down the small bedroom wall to create a living-room/dining room combo, and adding a family room and a larger bedroom. Finally, well after I had moved out, they added a deck which spanned the entire length of the rear of the house.  Again, at the time, none of it seemed small.

There was a need for creativity, however, with only one bathroom and a minimum of eight residents.  On school mornings, showers started early and lasted a few minutes or less if possible.  The house had two sinks and it wasn’t beyond anyone to use the one in the kitchen to brush teeth or wash hair.  As the family aged, my father kindly set up a make-shift shower in the basement – weaving a hose through the ceiling joists, centering it over the floor drain, and encircling it with a shower curtain for as much privacy as a shower in the middle of an open basement could have.   It seemed luxurious and we felt lucky to have two showers.

Throughout the ensuring years, my parents added a large round, above-ground pool in the backyard – right next to the two story tree house, built by my brothers, and eventually secured for safety by my dad.  We had a one car garage which was fine during the time that we only owned one car.  As we learned to drive and bought more cars, we simply parked them in the street as best we could. Everything seemed to fit – nothing seemed too small.

In fact, our small house worked so well that on Christmas in 1976, my parents invited my aunt, uncle, and their four children to stay with us for the holidays. Total home population was fourteen residents, fifteen when my grandma arrived, with my parents welcoming many others on a daily basis to visit with our visitors.  For two weeks, we ate in shifts, showered on a schedule, slept wherever floorspace permitted, and, in general, made concessions on almost everything and anything related to space.  With a Christmas tree and presents filling up an already full family room, the space should have felt tight and cramped.  But again, it did not.

It never did.

Not too long ago, my husband, my son, and I went to that family home to stay overnight.  There were only three of us in the house at the time – as my father was staying at my brother’s house for the evening, and my mother had passed away a dozen years prior.   As we sat at the kitchen table, I thought back to the times when there would be a minimum of an additional five to seven individuals eating dinner in the same space.  Toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, we would eat, talk, laugh, fight and cry with each other, meal after meal after meal after meal.

Something in the world has changed, however, because looking at that kitchen today with a yardstick and a ruler, it definitely would be considered small. It just would be. In fact, thinking back, there were times when rather than navigating through those sitting at the table,  the best way to walk through the kitchen was to exit out the back door, walk around and enter the front door.

The kitchen may have been small.  The bathroom may have been small.  In fact, the whole house may have been small;  but, what wasn’t small was the life of the folks living in that home.  From that small house, we learned a lot.

We learned to share – everything – closets, clothes, towels, bedrooms, shower space, radios, cars, food – nothing was sacred. In small spaces, individual ownership of things is tough – making sharing a natural, seamless, normal function. I look back on it and recognize that it was a blessing to learn the concept of sharing so prominently and passionately.

We also learned to be flexible.  People – cousins, grandparents, friends – moved in and out of the house all the time. In fact, the house seemed empty without someone staying with the eight of us.  We just shifted, moved, and/or switched places to meet the current needs without fanfare or concern.  A sleeping bag here – a blanket there – add a couple of pillows – and voila – we found the space.  With such flexibility, my parents reaffirmed the idea that it was our family that was blessed – to have so many folks who wanted to live with us.  We were the fortunate ones.  We were the lucky ones.

We learned that there was a time for everything. Everything was scheduled to make sure that life in the house ran like clockwork. Dinner time – 5:00pm.  Shower time – scheduled each morning.  Bedtime – on the half hour after 7:00pm depending on age.  Everything had its own moment, and it was best to capitalize on those moments.

Finally, as I march deeper and deeper into the 21st century, I only hope that I have learned to share well, to be flexible enough, and to know that “to everything there is a time and a purpose, under Heaven.”

At the edge of the world - a big and beautiful place.

At the edge of the world – a big and beautiful place.