We moved into our avocado-green-Brady-Bunch-throw-back-on Patton street when I was three. The year: 1975. “You know, I found this house for us,” Mom would brag and continue, “We were on Lonnquist Street and we loved that house, but since I was constantly pregnant, we needed more room. Your dad would work late and I would drive around looking for houses. I single-handedly found this one.” Clearly, there was little that was ‘single’ about my mom back in the day. She had devotees who were soliciting her attention moment to moment. “Mamma…Pleazzzzzeee. Whhhhhyyyy??..Was likely the common refrain. The back of the station wagon allowed her to confine our pleas. Shredded and goobered animal crackers embedded in the floor mats, they pacified us and allowed her to address the task of finding a home. Riddled with children-likely sans car seats as she checked out new possibilities, Mom found our home. #4, Matt was either in tow or on the way (I think).
On arrival day, I’d used my hands to pull myself across the front stoop and waddled into the house, while mom and dad were preoccupied with boxes. As I headed straight for the jagged, volcano rock that greeted anyone who entered, I made a very regretful decision. The salt and pepper stone was to become my un-welcoming committee. Super 70’s. Very Fantasy Island. And very problematic to little hands and toes. How ironic that these evil stones were to protect a dainty waterfall and a statue that had yet to to rest and bless our new home?
If I try to play out when I first met her-the statue- I can’t retrieve that memory. But what I do remember and what I have can recount today, is a conversation that my mom and I had at least twenty years ago. Like all critical conversations, I didn’t understand quite the significance of my mother’s words at that time. When asked about her beloved Madonna Mom stated, “Why wouldn’t I pick her? I was flipping through the Lladro catalog and I found HER. Or I guess, she found me? It’s like she was speaking to me right at that moment. Look, I was tired. I had a new house, I had a ton of small children. I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. I had an empty ledge to fill in the fountain. But when I saw her on that page in that catalog, I knew that was my Mary. When I picture Mary in my mind, she is The Madonna. That’s all there is to it. In that likeness. In that image.”
I find it interesting now, that I never questioned why our Mary looked different than us. I knew she was a shade or two darker than me, but she was just this beautiful woman who reminded me of my mom. It’s not odd that a former Franciscan nun have a statue of Mary, but what is perhaps different, is that she resembled the contents of my mom’s morning coffee, not the cream. The morning light would cast this glow on the Madonna through the beveled glass window as I climbed aboard my mom’s lap. My mom would have reheated her coffee for the 8th time that morning, and I’d listen to her read stories from the bible. Now, I can’t recall exactly what psalms she read or what exactly we talked about, but what I do remember is that feeling. I wish to God I could recycle that damn feeling for myself. For my kids. For anyone who ever feels alone. Scared. Sad. In need.
I was reminded of that feeling when I was with one of our students last week. In his young life he has experienced a level of violence and trauma that most of us will never know. Yet, this young man radiates peace and understanding. His little feet don’t touch the ground when he sits on the couch, they dangle like mine when I was his age. He reads, I listen. I read, he listens. We talk. When I have to leave him I often wish I could give him a version of the Madonna to be with him. To watch over him. To protect him. I don’t have it though. And it kills me.
In the quiet of the house I had these two iconic women protecting me, watching over me, loving me. My mom found peace in Mary’s presence. I like to think that she found a compatriot amongst all the “I want.. I need.. Gimme this and gimme that..” I want to trust that she was able to have silent conversations with her when she needed it most. That she was able to pray to her for guidance and patience. Shouldn’t we all have a compatriot of sorts? My mom has always been mine. My dad is hers now. Not everyone can say they have had such a luxury.