Monday, August 14, 2017

Porch Conversation

Larry and I were talking on the porch the other morning as we drank our coffee. These morning conversations take circuitous routes, starting with the hummingbirds, moving on to the dogs and the cats to what is wrong with the riding mower to what canning needs to be done. This particular morning the conversation included some political talk too, as we discussed how the President's pastor seemed to be advocating for a nuclear attack on Korea, and how religion has in some cases been so twisted and so far from what it should be--or what it should be in our view anyway.

This led to talking about praying. For those of you on Facebook, you know how many prayer requests come on any given day. Some for terrible, serious events in our friends' lives, others for what seem to be pretty trivial reasons, still others so vague that no one really knows what they've been asked to pray for.

I remember as a child we said the rosary in our very Catholic home almost every night for years. The custom pretty much ended when Mom began working evenings. I guess Dad didn't have the heart to continue it without her, although he did try. By then my older brothers were working and seldom came home after school, often rolling in late at night; the times were changing and everyone seemed to be on the go. I moved out when I was seventeen, and I do not know if the rosary was continued after that for the rest of the family or not. But when my parents were elderly they joined several prayer warrior groups, and prayed a lot, both morning and evening, for long lists of people. They also said the rosary every night as part of their prayer rituals.

After Mom's death, I would call my father every evening and say the rosary over the phone with him. I had long ceased going to church and the words were rusty and strange at first, but as the months passed I got better at it, even remembering the various mysteries. Those were tranquil times; Dad and I would talk a long time both before and after the rosary and I got to know my father better than I ever had. We were complete political opposites but that didn't matter. I did not argue with him about his views, because what would be the point? He was 83 years old and not likely to change; arguing would have only upset him and that was the last thing I wanted to do, as he was dealing bravely with the grief of losing his love of 61 years. The last time I talked to him, the evening before he died, we'd said the rosary, and as one of my intentions, he asked me to pray for him, something he'd never asked for before. I should have realized that he know he was close to death. I treasure the memory of those evening phone calls.

As Larry and I talked that morning, our conversation moved on to those calls with my Dad, and how being religious or spiritual doesn't necessarily mean going to a church, it can happen anywhere. Then Larry said, "I remember one neighbor, well he and another man would go out in the middle of the road and pray."

"What?" I asked. "In the middle of the road? Literally in the middle of the road?"

"Yes, they'd kneel right down in the road and pray sometimes. I don't know why, but I remember seeing them do it. No one seemed to think a thing about it."

Vincent Van Gogh, Man Praying, 1883.
I try to envision these two men, both coalminers, probably wearing bib overalls, on their knees in the road praying out loud, and the neighbors just passing by with a nod, and maybe a word or two. Why would they pray like that? What were they praying for?

One of the men, Larry said, had a large family, 11 or 12 children. They lived in a house with a dirt floor, although in earlier years they'd had a big house with lots of windows. He didn't know what had happened that made them move to the small, dirt-floored house. Maybe an injury in the mines; the man couldn't work, so he wouldn't get paid and there was no disability or worker's comp pay back then. Maybe the mines had shut down for a while, putting the man out of work. So many things could happen in the days before the social safety net was in place. Larry said the man's wife had the biggest, widest feet he'd ever seen, and that her feet were so tough she could have walked on hot coals and not felt the burn.

Another thing he remembered--the man was hard on his family, and drank a bit. His wife left him a few times but she had to come back because she had no skills beyond housework and cooking and couldn't survive on her own. And then there was all those children who needed her. Despite her husband's temper, she would return. Maybe this was why his friend took him out to the middle of the road to pray?

I will never know the answer to that question, but this story, like so many of Larry's memories, tells certainly recalls a time and place, where life was hard, the people harder, and where the power of prayer was probably called upon regularly to help them get through troubled times.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Rosie Deere said...

I enjoy your conversations so much.

Mac n' Janet said...

Beautiful post. My Dad and I had opposite views too. We were estranged for a number of years after he and my Mother divorced. But finally I realized this was senseless and initiated contact with him. We had a number of conversations through the next few years including one only days before he died. Like you I treasure those memories.

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