Friday, August 19, 2011
Lily's birthday, a new moon, and the Perseid meteor shower. Not a bad way to greet the middle of a month, a very busy month with reports to write, spreadsheets to crank, tables to make pretty, people to placate, and about enough to keep three busy, but that's a good problem to have. Maybe.
Her's is certainly a different world from mine. I suppose there's a natural progression to be expected over four decades between us. Do you suppose in another span of time that she will look back and wonder how she got there? Why she's there? Will she finally tweet about it?
It was an after-school afternoon, a Wednesday towards the middle of September. I was 15, sitting in a sweet potato field with my father.
We worked in silence, pulling the orange tubers from the sandy ground, placing them carefully in the wooden bushel crates.
It wouldn't do to scuff a potato. People cared more then, though not enough to dig by hand as in the previous generation.
Daddy opened the row with a deep-set plow, and he grieved over the potatoes he cut and split. Left to ruin. Never to sell.
But the plow was faster, more efficient. The loss was acceptable, just as it was OK for the rabbits to eat the first row.
Besides, Grandmother would cook the damaged potatoes. The waste would be minor. Later, she would cook the rabbits too.
Aside from the sounds of birds and bugs and distant dogs, the only sound was the periodic flexing of the wooden crates as we moved them.
Daddy stopped to check my box. I was prone to not mind the sizing well, and he was careful to only sell the size called Number Ones.
He also was careful with filling the box level to the top. Any higher, and the boxes wouldn't stack on the flatbed truck.
Any lower, and he was shorting a customer who probably wouldn't know, but Daddy would know, and that wouldn't be right.
I rarely could get the sizing right. There were too many ambiguities in the decision. Filling the box was easier, I thought.
He cleared his throat to speak: Mommy and I are joining the church next Sunday. You can, too, if you want.
I nodded assent, and the customary sounds of the field and the work returned.
A few days later in uncomfortable Sunday clothes, I walked with the family to answer the altar call. “Just as I am without one plea.”
The following Sunday afternoon, we gathered at Red Lowery's Pond. He had moved the cattle to an adjacent field.
The weather was threatening rain, and my repetition of Mother's poor joke about getting sprinkled provoked The Look from Daddy.
Yes, I was a smart ass even then. He saw it as a lack of respect. My bosses through the years would concur.
We waded into the pond with Preacher Howard, a man given to many words. He held my nose and dipped me back in the green water.
I was washed in the Blood. “Shall we gather at the river?” Grandmother had assured me that a pond was as good as the river for baptizing.
People weren't so literal then. Now, I worry that vampires have taken the church, and that Jesus is a zombie.
Fast-forward. A lot. A whole lot. I married a Catholic. Yes, I had to produce my baptism certificate for that to happen.
And yes, I did indicate that I was the only soul in that room who had been properly baptized and washed in the Blood. The priest smiled.
Now, it was time to baptize Lily, not in the church, but in the back yard, as an infant, lest she fall and be denied at the pearly gates.
Lily is named after my grandmother, and I do not believe St. Michael could stand before my grandmother and deny entry to an innocent.
Suggesting that St. Michael would yield to the simple command of my grandmother did not hold much sway with the Catholics.
It just got me The Look. Again. Yes, I get The Look a lot.
The Sunday before the event, I drove the 100 miles back home to fetch water from Red Lowery's pond in a quart mason jar.
The water was green and cloudy. A sediment would later form. I paused to remember. Baptisms. Swimming. Drownings.
Once, I refused to swim there because a group of black teens had been swimming earlier. Never mind the cows.
I hope I'm not so ignorant now as I was then, but I suspect tendrils of that nonsense touch us all.
Lily's baptism was a big affair. They called it a celebration. It seemed more like a party. Thinking about the prep still makes me tired.
I had poured the quart of water from Red's pond into a large white bowl used for making bread, sediment and all.
The priest appeared with his vial of water from the Jordan River. He added those few drops to my quart of pond water. It didn't explode.
There was a brief murmur regarding living water, but I'm sure it was not in the usual Biblical sense this time.
No one saw the translucent nymph in the bowl but me, and I remained silent. Mayflies are God's creatures too.
A short time later, Father Jack intoned, dipped his fingers, and touched them to Lily's forehead.
A shaft of September sun split a cloud, and St. Michael breathed a sigh of relief as my grandmother smiled.