Queen of the May

In May, the smell of lilacs, Viburnum and dandelions filled the air, just in time for Mother’s Day and the May Crowning.   Bonita and I kept an eye on the lilac bushes, two at the side of the house, and one on the way to the barn.  We prayed they’d be ready to pick by Mother’s Day.  Mom loved flowers.

Every year St. Joseph’s had a May Crowning; the whole month of May was for Mary, but only one day was for everybody else’s mother.  I guessed that’s what happens when you’re the mother of God, but that didn’t seem so fair to me, ’cause Mary only had one son and he was perfect, so Continue reading

May Flowers

In May, the smell of lilacs, Viburnum and dandelions filled the air, just in time for Mother’s Day and the May Crowning.   Bonita and I kept an eye on the lilac bushes, two at the side of the house, and one on the way to the barn.  We prayed they’d be ready to pick by Mother’s Day.  Mom loved flowers.

Every year St. Joseph’s had a May Crowning; the whole month of May was for Mary, but only one day was for everybody else’s mother.  I guessed that’s what happens when you’re the mother of God, but that didn’t seem so fair to me, ’cause Mary only had one son and he was perfect, so her job was easy.  My mom had nine kids; ‘course lots of work got doled out to the Big Kids, leaving Mom to sew all day and go grocery shopping.

Sister said the girl who got to be Queen of the May and crown Mary on Coronation Sunday was always somebody really special, and every single girl she chose in her whole, entire life went on to become a nuns, too.  She gave me her pinched look when she said it: not the kind of look that said, ‘somebody like you, dear,’ I was pretty sure she was thinking, “Fat chance, kiddo.”  Sure enough, she chose Annette.

Annette was another friend from school and catechism.  Her mom was super-strict and made her and her two big sisters, Cecilia and Marie, wear old-fashioned dresses way down half-way to their ankles, so Annette’s legs hardly showed at all, and got in the way of running fast.   My best-friend-on-the-bus Betty said Annette and her sisters were named  after the Dionne quintuplets; some Canadian babies born way back in the Depression who were like twins, only five instead of two.  I heard the doctor said those quints were tiny as baby rats when they were born, but Good Housekeeping changed it to puppies, ’cause most moms reading Good Housekeeping hate rats and that would make them sad to think of babies looking like rats.  I know my mom hates rats, but she loves babies, no matter what they look like, so she’d probably be okay with tinsy rat-looking babies, too.

Annette got to walk up first in the Coronation procession, carrying a pillow with a wreath of all sorts of pretty flowers made of silk.  The rest of us walked along behind singing:

Mary we crown thee with flowers today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May.   Ave, Ave, Ave Mar-ree-ya, Ave, Ave, Mar-ree-eee-ee-ya!

Annette was super nervous, almost shaky-afraid that  she would drop those flowers.  Connie said she never wanted to do something like that.  I would.  I would march right up there, climb up that little ladder, with no helping hand at all,  and plop that crown of flowers right down on Mary’s head snug as a bug in a rug, then I would turn and smile at everyone.  I was pretty well-known for my smile, especially after I lost all my teeth.  Uncle Gerald took a picture of me all by myself, just smiling out huge with no front teeth, everybody said it was the best smile they ever saw.  That was after I stuck my tongue out through the hole, while Uncle Gerald was taking  a group picture, and I made Dad so mad he jerked me aside and gave me a good talking-to about how much better my smile was than a tongue sticking out, and I should be ashamed.   I sure did get a lot more attention with that big toothless smile, so I had to admit, Dad knew what he was talking about.  He was a pretty smart man.

After church, everybody said how pretty Annette looked and what a good job she did and how maybe some day she would be a nun.  Annette said no, she was going to be a cop, which made everybody laugh in that she’s-just-a-kid-isn’t-that-cute, sort of way, and turn their heads to the side to see who else was laughing at Annette’s silliness.  I could tell Anntette felt kind of embarrassed.  She whispered to me and Connie, that she was so going to be a cop.

After church Bonita and I checked on the lilacs.  The purple flowers were all balled up tight like tinsy clumps of grapes about the size of B•Bs, but oh, they smelled so good.  I pulled a branch down close to my face and sniffed that sweet aroma down deep.  Grandma’s bottom dresser drawer smelled just like that from the sachet she put in there.  She kept a bunch of brand new white nighties with lacy collars in that drawer.  She told me she was saving them for when she was dying, so she would look pretty when she had to stay in bed all day long.

“One more week to go.”  I said to Bonita.  “I bet they’ll be blooming by then.”

“Come on, let’s go check the snow bushes.”  We ran over to the opposite side of the house where Mom’s quince bushes were blooming.  Maybe another week for those, too.  They were still holding on tight to the limbs, no snow yet.

Annette never did take vows of chastity, neither did Connie or I, so Sister’s perfect record had no chance of surviving the three of us.  This week lilacs are blooming all around the neighborhood, all except at my house.  I have five bushes holding out for Mother’s Day this Sunday;  I hope I see full blossoms soon.  I can hardly wait.

On Becoming Saint Adela

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a saint when I grew up.  I learned all about the saints in catechism. In order to be a saint, I had to give stuff up and pray and be good and think about God every minute.  My favorite saint was St. Francis, ’cause he lived outside, and spent time picking flowers and talking to squirrels and birds.  That’d be the berries, to live like that.  Sister said he gave up a lot, living like a poor person, even though he was from a rich family.  I didn’t think that was so hard; we went camping in the summer and it was a whole lot of fun, eating outside and just cleaning up in the lake.  Besides, St. Francis knew his Dad was still rich, so if he got tired of smelling worse than a pig sty, he could always go visit his Dad, take a bath, and have a little rest from his poorness.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/St_cecilia_guido_reni.jpgThe easiest way earn sainthood was martyrdom.  Sister said it was really hard to be brave enough to die for the faith.  I wondered why, ’cause if I died for God, straight to heaven I went, no matter how bad I was up until that time.  No waiting around in Purgatory to suffer for my Venial sins.  Purgatory’s was like being put on simmer: souls burned, but not on the high flame of hell.  If I went to Purgatory, I would suffer for some time, depending on the number of Venial sins, and how many people prayed for my soul,  then the gates of heaven would open, and my lost soul would see the face of God.  I was pretty sure I didn’t have any Mortal sins; that would get me an indelible blemish on my soul which never washed off, probably like India Ink.  Still, I could be forgiven for Mortal sins, if I confessed to Father.  I guess it’s like having a grape juice stain on your shirt; God just pretends not notice it anymore, ’cause he can tell you wished you weren’t so darned sloppy all the time, so he says, “That’s all right, just be more careful next time.” But you gotta say you’re sorry first.   I went to Confession every Saturday after catechism, just in case; if I died with a Mortal sin on my soul, straight to hell I’d go, no chance for forgiveness, no matter how much people prayed for me.  Confession was kind of tricky, too; if I failed to confess a sin, that was a sin too, so then it was double-trouble.  I figured I’d probably be in Purgatory at least a little while; it was pretty hard to avoid.

Anyway, if I got lucky, someone, it would probably be a communist from Russia, would stick a gun in my face and say to me, “I’ll kill you if you refuse to say you don’t believe in God.”  Well, hey, I already knew I’d go straight to heaven, no need to pay for any sins, so fine, shoot me.  I’d look them right in the eye and say, “Nope.  I won’t do it.”  Not only would I go straight to heaven, I’d get a “Saint” in front of my name and everyone would know who  I was.  That’d be easy as pie.  Still and all, I didn’t want to be like St. Cecilia who got her head whipped off with a sword.  She just lay there with her head bleeding and hanging on by a thread, praying that she’d stay alive long enough to get some message to the bishop.  I was willing to die, but I could forgo all that pain.

Sister told us about St. Therese, who saw her name written in the heavens when she was just a little girl.  She got to be a saint and she wasn’t a martyr.  I kept looking for my name in the stars after that.  You would think it would be as simple to see an “A” as it is to see a “T”, but no such luck for me.  I never did see my name in the heavens, not even one letter of it.  All I saw was the Man in the Moon scowling at me.  Mom told me that the Man in the Moon saw everything that I do, and if I’m good all day long, I’d see a smiling face.  If I saw a frowning face, it must mean I was bad sometime during the day.  I looked up in the night sky:  no “A” and a scowling Man, then I’d think back over the day.  Yep, sure enough, I was bad. Again.

Well, maybe I could be a nun then.  I was pretty sure it was easier to be good and to have a clean soul, if I went to church every morning, prayed six times a day, and sat around in between drumming up questions and answers for kids to memorize for catechism on Saturdays.  I loved the way the nuns’ habits smelled like incense, and I would never have to brush my hair.  My friend Connie, said the nuns shaved their heads;  so they could get those starchy things on  really tight, otherwise there would be bulges on their heads where the hair bunched up.  I could choose my own nun-name too, maybe I could be Sister Mary Francis.  If I was lucky, my job would be taking care of the bird bath, and after I was a saint, there would be statues of me, too.  I could see it: right beside St. Francis, would be a statue of St. Adela (also known as Sr. Mary Francis.)

I changed my mind about being a nun when I realized nuns can’t have any kids of their own, and martyrdom sort of lost its appeal.  There’s a lot of people I really like being around: my kids, my grand-kids and all the other people that I love.  Besides, I’d hate to leave my husband, George, alone; I think he would miss me.  These days, I’m still trying, I’m still making mistakes, and some days it can feel like I’m hanging on by a thread.  I try to say I’m sorry right away when I’m wrong, and I hope I get forgiven when I don’t recognize when I’m wrong.  I’m trusting that someday when I see God he’ll say:  I know you tried hard, and that’s good enough, even if you were pretty darned sloppy a whole lot of the time.