Archive for the ‘trail markers’ Category

Thanksgiving

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone at our house.  I think this one will go down in the books as one of the most unusual.  It was unusual because this year, both of my children are married, and their spouses were with us for dinner.  That was especially joyous, since their work schedules usually make it impossible for all of us be together at once. 

I generally insist on having Thanksgiving dinner around 1 pm.  This allows time to play games in the afternoon and eat turkey sandwiches later on. But the pie baking got delayed (my fault!), which caused the turkey roasting to be delayed (no, we don’t deep fry turkey at our house, thank you!).  We had to juggle oven times to get all the side-dishes properly cooked.  My new daughter-in-law shared her grandmother’s sweet potato casserole and macaroni & cheese recipes, but an error in the cookbook resulted in several phone calls and a longer-than-expected cooking time.  Of course, a fussy grandbaby only added to the general confusion.  Just as frustrations were beginning to build, in walked our son-in-law — off work earlier than expected and able to join us for dinner — a wonderful surprise.  The meal was hours later than intended, but as I looked around the table  at my family I realized all these delays were for a good reason. 

Yes, the turkey was tender, the gravy was tasty, the stuffing — which included sausage — was interesting, the sweet potato casserole and macaroni &  cheese were yummy.  The pie crust was appropriatly flaky.  But as long as we were all together, it wouldn’t have mattered if we were eating pizza or peanut butter sandwiches.

I know all too well that even on Thanksgiving, many families deal with issues far more serious than an ill-timed dinner.  Past hurts, broken relationships, missing family members, health and economic problems can all combine to create deep sadness, or explosive interactions.  Others face the holiday alone, hoping for the generosity of strangers to fill the void.

I don’t know what future Thanksgiving dinners will be like at our house.  It may be a while before all of our feet are under the same table together.  At some point, I’ll no longer be the kitchen manager, but hopefully I’ll still be able to put together a decent pumpkin pie.  No matter the circumstances, I hope I can always find a reason to be thankful, and rejoice in God’s blessings of family and love.

“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what he has done.  sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.”  Psalm 105: 1-2 (NIV)

Copyright 2011 Mary E. Egidio

Love’s Pure Light

In order to save my ceramic nativity set when my daughter was small, I crafted a play nativity set out of plastic canvas and yarn.  Elizabeth would spend hours rearranging the pieces and acting out the Christmas story.  I would laugh to myself when I would inevitably hear her say, “Hey Mary, can I hold your baby?”

I just couldn’t picture the work-roughened hands of a shepherd cuddling an infant, or a royal king stooping down to embrace a poor child in a manger.  It made perfect sense to her, however, that if these people were going to make a trip to see a baby, they wouldn’t want to leave without holding it.

She wasn’t really so far off.  When you see a young baby, it’s only natural to admire them and comment about how cute he or she is.  But if you actually pick up that baby, a whole other phenomenon takes place.  Somehow, holding that child, gazing into his or her eyes, connecting with that uniquely God-given personality — that baby just gets into your heart!  Perhaps the shepherds and wise men were drawn in the same way to embrace the infant of Bethlehem and experience the miracle of His love in their hearts that first Christmas.

As we make the journey to the stable in Bethlehem again this year, let’s not just gaze on the Child in the manger and turn away unchanged.  Let’s embrace the Child of Bethlehem — the pure light of God’s love — and let Him shine into our hearts and make us new.

Don’t leave without holding the baby.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)

Copyright 1999 – Mary E. Egidio — (Originally published in “A Christmas to Remember — Advent Devotionals“) Permission is granted to share this post, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.

Body Language

My dad died of lung cancer in 1974, at the age of 63.  I was 19 years old. My mom was a Registered Nurse, so we kept him at home as much as possible, until the last hours of his life.  In his healthy days, he was six foot four, a robust 250 pounds or so – nicknamed ‘The Chief’.  At the end, he was down to 180 or less, looking more like a refugee. 

I was in college, living at home, studying at a ‘branch’ campus of a school I hadn’t planned on attending until the cancer changed my plans. I wasn’t too happy about the arrangement at first, but my mom needed the help, and I was the only one of my two siblings available. So I was elected.

Our lives got into a routine in those days.  I took care of the cleaning, while she took care of his personal needs, for the most part.  Eventually, the Cancer Society arranged for a part-time LPN to come in a few mornings a week to give some relief.  The nurse was at least ten years older than my dad, but was a hearty Scandinavian who had already spent hours putting up quarts of home-grown peaches or baking pies, and would leave our house to work the evening shift at the nursing home.

He taught me to cut his hair, while he coached, and eventually trusted me to shave him with a razor.  “So Frank, how did you go deaf?” he’d tease, as I’d hesitantly trim the hair that grew from his ears.

In my free time, Dad and I would play cribbage — of course, he taught me.  My last birthday gift to him was a new cribbage board, on which I’ve since taught my own children.  Or we would watch baseball together.  One of my last memories with him was watching the 74 World Series — the Oakland A’s with their handlebar mustaches and retro uniforms.

Toward the end, when he was mostly confined to his bed, I would help him walk down the hall, or eventually, stand up beside the bed on a walker and walk in place to prevent pneumonia.   While up, he’d peek out of his bedroom window and make some comment about the weather or the neighbor’s car.   We would massage his legs and push against his feet, to keep him from developing ‘drop foot.’  This man who had been a career army officer, and had marched his share of miles, was now unable to walk on his own.

I have to tell you that in his healthier days, my dad had problems with alcohol.  He spent most of his free time at the American Legion, and I can remember my mom making me call there and beg him to come home.  As I got older, I began to realize that every family didn’t have the fights and the yelling.  I learned to be ashamed, and I hated him for it.  In fact, I can remember wishing he would wrap his car around a tree.  Somehow, in the last months of the cancer, that all changed.   We talked, and laughed, and had fun together like normal people. And while the cancer was slowly eating away at his body, God was using it to heal my heart from the anger and hurt.

Ironically, one picture that is indelibly etched in my mind is my dad, every Christmas Eve, sitting in ‘his’ chair in the living room, opening the family Bible and reading the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke before we went to bed.  We were devout Catholics, and this was the only time of year I can remember the Bible ever being opened in our home, other than to enter a death or birth in the ‘family record’ pages.  Despite the annual Christmas ‘fight’ (anyone from an alcoholic family knows what I’m talking about), Christmas Eve was kept sacred.  “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed…”  A tear still comes to my eye when I hear those words each Christmas.

I can only remember one of his drinking buddies ever coming to see him.  Of course, he was shocked at Dad’s appearance and didn’t come back. We learned that cancer was a pretty lonely experience, at least in those days.

At some point, we called my brother in California and suggested he might want to come home.  The two of them spent hours talking, my brother sprawled out on my parents’ bed beside Dad.  Dave took a job as an aide at the local hospital and planned to stay around for a while.

Then one Friday, totally unannounced, an old family friend appeared at our door.  He was a Catholic priest who grew up with my mother.  My grandmother and his mother were the best of friends.  He lived miles away, in New York state, but here he was at our front door.  He came in, visited with my dad, heard his ‘confession’ and performed a home mass.  He didn’t just bring communion, he said mass.  After he left, my father wrote a letter to my sister, who lived a couple hours away in Buffalo.  He told her there were angels in his bedroom.

The following Monday evening, Dad took his last breath. Seeing him in the hospital bed, so still, we realized how frail he had become.

My dad taught me how to make a pie and fry a chicken, how to sew, and how to understand football. He instilled in me a love of good music, from ’50 Timeless Classics’ to the Mills Brothers to barbershop.  He gave me an understanding of human nature.  I carry with me his sense of humor, and the appreciation for a story well told. I’ve tried to pass these things, although not always successfully, to his grandchildren, whom he never knew.

Thanks, Dad. If it hadn’t been for your life, and your death, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.