It is a Tuesday afternoon. I stir the white sauce that is slowly thickening on my front burner. On the back burner, a large kettle is beginning to simmer with carrots, onions, celery, potatoes and seasonings. The shrimp is thawed in the over the sink mesh colander, waiting for its turn to be added to the chowder that I’m putting together for our evening meal.
I hear the door into the laundry room entry way open and feel a surge of anticipation. He walks into the kitchen with that familiar tread. My brother is here! I put down the scissors I am using to cut the shrimp and dry my hands. He is not a hugger, but he doesn’t mind a hug sometimes and this is one time when I get away with it. His smile is steady, but there is a quiet in his bearing that stabs my heart. He has traveled many miles alone over the last thirteen months, and today was no different. There are 600 long miles from his home in South Carolina to Shady Acres, and he has driven them repeatedly in the last year.
It isn’t long until the door opens again and in come Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys. We had invited them to join us this evening. These two. Our Daddy’s brother and our Mama’s sister. Their presence and persons comfort me like no one else can. Their support and understanding and love have been inestimable, and in them are the tangible remembrances of the two who were our parents. It feels so right to have them here.
The doors keep opening and shutting behind my beloved siblings and their spouses. Bert and Sarah come, bringing tender and delicious homemade biscuits. Alma comes with luscious looking pumpkin pies, lamenting the fact that Jerrel has a DFA meeting, and then Mark and Polly complete our circle, with Polly bringing a marvelous tossed salad to round our the simple meal. There are beloved faces missing. Nel and Rose are in Pennsylvania. Frieda is in Heaven. Daddy and Mama — I fight back a catch in my throat, and purposefully put it away. We will be glad for who we have in this place, at this time. We gather around the long dining room table, ten of us at this gathering, and Uncle Jesse prays the blessing.
How many times did I hear Daddy’s voice, raised in prayer at a meal time? It’s been a long time, but the words of my uncle’s prayer wrap themselves around me with familiarity and quiet comfort. He thanks God for the food, for the opportunity to be together and prays for blessing on this time shared and for the ones who made the food. Around the table, the hands are joined and we listen to his quiet voice.
And then the “Amen” is said and the food is passed and the conversation weaves a pattern of memories and laughter and tears. We share so much common ground with each other and with these two whose genetic heritage is the same as ours. There are stories of Grandpa Dave, and the laughter is vibrant and genuine. We ask questions and talk about our childhood. We wonder how our daddy would have handled getting old and infirm and dependent and agreed that God was incredibly merciful to him and to us when He took him HOME.
We don’t speak much about our Sweet Mama. The missing has settled into a deep and dark chasm for me and there are days when I feel like my heart will burst with all the things I need/want to tell her. I know she is safe. I know she is happy. I know that it really was God’s timing. And I also know that it won’t always hurt this bad. But it’s hard for me to talk about her without the tears. At least for now. And so we remember the good times, several “safe” things, and draw strength and comfort and courage from the time we spend in sweet, sweet fellowship.
All too soon, the night is over. Uncle Jesse and Aunt Gladys have a somewhat long trek back to their home in Dover and it’s dark. I worry about them heading off into the November cold, but they are cheerful, dispensing hugs and thank yous and beaming good will to us all. My brothers and sisters and their spouses gather their leftover food and also depart. Certain Man takes down the table, puts away chairs and helps to straighten the dining room while I load the dishwasher and put away leftover soup.. The neight has been exactly what I’ve needed. When I kissed my auntie good by, I smelled the sweet smell of cologne and her cheek was so soft against mine. It wasn’t my Mama’s signature Chantilly, but it was reminiscent of how important it always was to our Mama that she smelled good. Oh, Mama! How I miss you!
The years did pass so swiftly. Sometimes it seems like Daddy and Mama have been gone forever. This isn’t something new or unusual or peculiar to the children of Mark and Alene Yoder. It’s just life. We had excellent parents. Truly the best! Human, flawed, and with their own foibles and peculiarities and sometimes follies. But so right for us. So full of faith that they lived before us, and they loved us. This night reminded us so much of our Daddy and Mama. But for me, the one thing that shone the brightest though the presence of our precious Uncle and Auntie was the faith mixed with that unconditional love. We were so blessed. We are so blessed. The gifts that we’ve been given through no effort of our own, are gifts that many, many people all over this world have not been privileged to have.
For the gifts of Heritage, warm memories, siblings that are good friends and an extended family who cares — for these good gifts, —
My heart gives humble, grateful praise.