Leaf Me Alone

My daughter gestured toward the tree in her front yard and exclaimed, “Eve is so messy! In the spring she drops thousands of seed pods. I suppose this fall she’ll drop a ton of leaves!” In a grumpy tone she added, “I’m not looking forward to raking them up.”

I nodded sympathetically and pointed out, “There’s a lot of yard work when a person owns their own home, even when their yard is as small as yours.”

In early November my daughter Tammie will be celebrating her one-year anniversary as a home owner. The day she took ownership and signed the papers, we met Susan, the former owner.

As we waited for the realtor to collate the paperwork, Susan told us, “When my granddaughter, Eve, was in third grade, she gave me the maple tree that stands in front of the house. She came home from school one afternoon with a sprouted maple seed in a Styrofoam coffee cup. I planted it and now I can’t believe how big it’s grown. In my granddaughter’s honor, I’ve named the tree, Eve.” Continue reading

Women to Women

My daughter lifted a tea kettle onto the stove, turned to wipe the kitchen table clean, slipped a fresh shirt over her three-year-old’s head and began to lift clean dishes out of the dishwasher. A stack of soiled ones on the nearby counter waited for their turn in the machine. I spotted a new painting I hadn’t seen before leaning on a side board. I inquired, “Niki, when did you paint this picture?”

She glanced at it and answered with a shrug, “Sunday afternoon. I was in the mood to paint. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I still have some work to do on it.”

I marveled at her work, “It’s beautiful. You are so artistic.”

Niki scoffed, “No. I’m not artistic! The work isn’t original. I get my ideas from the Internet and just copy them.”

Shaking my head, I disagreed, “Not everyone can copy ideas and make them turn out as well. Don’t be hard on yourself. You are very artistic.” Continue reading

Happiest Girl

An old 1980’s popular song was playing on the stereo. Tammie leaned forward to share a thought with her sister Niki. They both began to laugh. I leaned out of the kitchen to look at my daughters, suspiciously questioning, “What are you two getting up to?”

Still snickering, Tammie teased, “It’s nothing Mom. You didn’t know about it when we were in grade school. Knowing about it now won’t do you any good.”

Strolling into the room with a cup of tea, I harrumphed, “Some of your secrets weren’t as secret as you thought. Would you girls like to join me in a cup of tea?”

Just as we were settling down to tea and apple crumble, the home-recorded tape in the stereo started to play the next song. Niki exclaimed, “Whenever I hear this song, it instantly takes me back to one evening during my freshman year in high school! I remember sitting at the dining room table during Christmas break, listening to this song and trying to write the lyrics. I can almost taste the Christmas candy I was eating and smell the roast you had in the oven!” Continue reading

Oh, Deer!

Cresting the hill, I glanced at the clear sky above the western horizon. Purple and salmon-colored jet contrails, stained by the setting sun, crisscrossed above. They looked like random brush strokes on a canvas. Passing the cheese factory two miles from my house, I scanned the highway in front of me. It was clear all the way to the base of the hill where a small bridge spanned a creek.

A field of corn lay to my right and hay to my left. Although the weeds beside the road had been mowed, the ditches were filled with tall grasses. I had spent a pleasant evening with Agnes and Jim, my sister and brother-in-law. Now, as I returned home, I regretfully thought about the empty house waiting for me.

Most events in our lives take place one ‘screen-shot’ at a time. Suddenly that rule was suspended when I saw a tawny-colored blur leap in front of my car, felt a thud, the airbag in my steering wheel both blew up in my face and immediately collapsed as I stepped on the brake. I knew what had happened, wished it hadn’t, and accepted that I had to deal with the consequences. Continue reading

A Parting Shout

Tammie and I silently followed the other pilgrims on tour with us across the dark, predawn paved area surrounding Fatima’s cathedral. Tomorrow we would be flying back to the United States from Lisbon, Portugal. How quickly our twelve days abroad had gone by! Part of me wanted to stay longer; another part was eager to return home.

Each daily Mass on this trip had been like a small calm oasis within our swirling days of nonstop travel and visits to amazing places. This morning the calm was even more marked. We had visited all the Marian shrines we had set out to see. Now our prayers were of thanksgiving and for a safe flight home the next day.

After breakfast we loaded our luggage into the tour bus and posed for one last group picture. Forty-five miles from Lisbon, we stopped to visit the church of Saint Stephen in Santarem where a 13th century Eucharistic miracle took occurred.

In 1247, a woman discovered her husband was unfaithful. She went to a sorceress who promised to restore the husband’s fidelity, if the woman brought her a blessed Host. The woman went to Mass and received the body of Christ. Back in her pew, she took the Host out of her mouth and wrapped it in her shawl. The Host began to bleed profusely so she ran from the church. At her home nearby, she threw the Host into a trunk at the foot of her bed. That night an unearthly light shown from the trunk. The woman told her husband what she had done.

The priest was called and he returned the Blessed Sacrament to the church. Despite the passage of the years, the Host, which has stopped bleeding, has not deteriorated.

When it was time to leave the site, we reluctantly got back onto the bus. Our next stop was at the Gare do Oriente Station in Lisbon. Built for World Expo 1998, the train, bus and metro station was designed for visitors to pass through with minimal stress. It handles more passengers than New York City’s Grand Central Station.

As our bus approached Gare do Oriente, I saw a modernist structure with many metal and glass lattice arches. Nighttime picture postcards shows the airy façade glowing from many lights placed within. Vasco da Gama, a shopping center is attached to the multiple leveled station.

We had an hour to explore, shop and have lunch. Tammie and I took off as fast as we could. An hour was such a short time! We managed to visit two levels and found a small diner where no English was spoken. We pointed to pictures of the food we wanted. Then it was back to the bus again.

At four in the afternoon our bus pulled into a parking lot near the river Tagus where a bright yellow bus parked with the word, “Hippotrip” printed in large black letters on its side. Juan, our Mater Dei tour director announced, “For the next hour and half we will be taking a Hippotrip tour of Lisbon and the river.”

The local tour guide on the Hippotrip bus was an attractive young woman who spoke English well, but had a very charming European accent. Her job was to amuse, educate and entertain the passengers. Only a few minutes into the tour I turned to Tammie and said, “This chick has stage presence. I wonder if she does nightclubs?”

The tour guide said, “Whenever I shout, ‘Hippo-Hippo’, I want you to shout ‘Hoo-ray!’” Stopping to think a moment, she said, “Wait, let’s make up a new shout. How about shouting, ‘Mater Dei?’ We have to let everyone know along the way that we’re having fun!” Pumping the air with her fists, she shouted, “Hippo-Hippo!”

Obediently, we shouted back, “Mater Dei!” throughout the tour whenever she prompted us.

We saw famous bridges, towers and multimedia graffiti that deserved to be in art galleries. On the hill above us was the castle of St. Jorge. Below, we drove around the square, Terreino do Paco, with its symmetrical buildings. In the center of the square was the equestrian statue of King Dom Jose I.

As our guide explained, “I want you to know this isn’t a bus that turns into a boat. It is a boat that turns into a bus,” our vehicle dropped down a steep incline into the water with a great splash. The river tour showed us where the river Tagus empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The next morning before leaving for the airport, we pilgrims once again crept silently though the pale dawn light to reach a room where we held our last intimate Mass of the trip. We had seen many wonders, but the greatest wonder of all was present at each one of our Masses.




Fatima’s Children

The warm Mediterranean sun hung low above the western horizon. Our bus slowed and turned into a parking lot. Our pilgrimage director announced, “We’ve arrived at Fatima. Before going to our hotel, we are stopping so you can shop for souvenirs.”

I looked at the building next to the parking lot and commented to my daughter Tammie, “This is different. Usually there are dozens of small souvenir stores near pilgrimage sites. All I see is one huge store.”

Following the others off the bus, I entered the store and discovered why there was only one building. It was set up like a department store devoted to all things religious and in particular, objects showing they came from Fatima, Portugal.

As I made a circular tour of the store I came across luggage, which I reasoned was for pilgrim trips, veils and shawls to wear in church, statues of every size up to full scale, medals, biographies of saints, prayer books, bibles, rosaries and rosary-making supplies. The variety of each item was staggering. I felt like a child in a candy store. Continue reading

Tired in Avila

In the waning evening light, I spotted the crenulated city walls of Avila. I tiredly thought without any enthusiasm, “Oh, another castle. How nice.” When a person is tired, it is hard to get excited even when seeing something beautiful and amazing.

My fellow pilgrims and I had slept in a castle the night before. Since then we had traveled through Spain by bus for many hours. We had driven through Madrid and on to Segovia. There, we had shopped, visited the cathedral and toured the famous Alcazar castle. That would have been more than enough to do in one day, yet we traveled on.

As our tour bus approached Avila, I sleepily noticed huge gray boulders along the way reminding me of our fishing trips to Canada. The difference was no water surrounded these monster, barn-sized rocks.

The big tour bus was unable to maneuver to the hotel inside the city walls, so we pilgrims carried our luggage the rest of the way up the hill on cobblestone streets. Fortunately, the effort fully woke me up. A four-course dinner awaited us in the dining room. We finished dining at 11 p.m. Continue reading