Irene set the Table with Gratitude
The power went out last night and I woke up when the low hum of the fridge stopped and the computer beeped, thinking I need to get it together for Thanksgiving, and started making mental lists: brine the turkey (at least it is thawed) make that new wild rice and quinoa dish that cooks inside its own green pumpkin-like squash that I want to try because my friend Beth said it is really good and I can make it a day ahead. Wash the napkins. Make sure there is a comfortable rocker for Eliza and baby James (yes my daughter and a one month old are coming from Juneau, so there will five children under four. Maybe I should just put a roll of paper towels on the table?) It is still rainy and mild, which is weird, so I haven't filled the window boxes with greens yet like I usually do in October. The house looks bare.
At five my husband asked why I was awake.
I said I need a comfortable rocking chair for Eliza and the baby and to cut some greens. He said bring the rocker from the living room upstairs, it's got a woven seat. "Everything's fine,"he said. “The house looks good.” And it is fine, of course it is-- but while I don't expect perfect—I do want things to be nice- and welcoming, and special. I think that's a good thing.
Yesterday I wrote an obituary for Irene Ward (she was 90 and she died peacefully of old age. She had, her daughter said, a pretty good end, if there ever is such a thing.) Her granddaughter told me this:
"So many of my memories are about her phenomenal sense of style, but I don't know how else to say that she was really the person who taught me that none of it is trite: that dressing well is a compliment you give to those around you, a form of respect for yourself and them and that creating a beautiful and inspiring home is a gift you give to your family... She created a beautiful world around her. She particularly excelled at the holidays - setting the loveliest tables, decorating and putting together a feast. As a kid, I just enjoyed the magic, but as an adult I understand how much work, study and care went into all of it. I look back and realize that the beauty she created was one of her ways of communicating her love and care to us."
Here's something that I learned about Irene, that I think explains the source of that love and care of those dear to her. Gratitude. Which is different than giving thanks. Gratitude comes from knowing that the story could have ended differently, and that it often does.
Irene's parents fled Russia during the revolution. Family members were killed, land and homes and a whole community were lost. She grew up dirt poor on a beet farm in Colorado and didn't speak English until she went to school. Three of her seven siblings died as children. She married a South Dakota rancher and had five children of her own, and worked beside her husband to make a go of it. Her youngest boys were twins. One was killed in a hunting accident by his best friend. Her marriage didn't survive it. She was 51 when she came to Haines, to visit her daughter, who was then a young school teacher. Irene stayed.
She started all over again. She remarried, and became an adored and stylish grandma and step-grandma. And now, instead of fretting about the holiday before me, I keep thinking about what Irene's granddaughter said-- "She created a beautiful world around her." Sometimes, in this world with so much woe, that’s plenty.
Here's something else that I love about this big wheel of life and the way it turns-- Irene's service will be at 1pm Saturday at the Presbyterian Church so that it will be done in time to attend the Lighting of the Library, which is being all decked out for the season by all those volunteer elves, at 3pm. (You can still help, just stop by the library today or tomorrow.)