In the mail today, I received an invitation from my home church celebrating their 100th anniversary. It’s on a Sunday so I can’t go but it’s got me thinking about this place. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this place a lot over the weekend.
On Thursday, I went on a pastoral visit of the most indulgent kind. I was visiting with a previous pastor of my home church. The Rev. Dick Ryder moved into town a few weeks ago and visited our church in South Portland while seeking for a church home. I had never met Dick before this encounter. I missed him in church when he worshiped with us — and he was long gone by the time I found my home at FCC. I had other pastors in this wonderful church but Dick wasn’t one of them. But I wanted to meet him. I wanted to connect over this very special place. I wanted to hear his stories.
And we did. We talked about the people we knew. We talked about who had died and who is being cared for in nursing homes. We talked about who had moved and those that we remember fondly.
That’s when our conversation steered toward this particular family — a family that had been good friends of my parents once upon a time. We recalled the business they owned downtown and the things they used to do at the church. And then, Dick paused. “I remember,” he said after a short silence. “I remember when Ann called. She had a young friend who had just lost a child to crib death. She asked if I would be willing to visit, even though they were not church members.”
I stopped breathing as Dick explained that he had no idea what crib death was, and he felt he needed to know to be a good pastor. So, though he agreed to visit, he didn’t call this friend right away. He went to Reader’s Digest (the headquarters were in my hometown) to figure out what the hell crib death was. (Yes, those were his words.) When he had the answer he needed, he felt less prepared but he called. He went over to the house. He visited with this young woman.
This is when I interrupted. This is when I asked what year this was. He’d already said it was spring — April or May. He paused again and said he thought it was 1977 or so. He looked at his wife for confirmation. There was some other event that happened at about that time. They compared notes as older couples do. They agreed. It was about then. 1977 or so.
I exhaled, “I think that was my mother.”
The shock of this realization captured us all. We didn’t speak for a moment. We just stared at each other before Dick interjected, “Well, let me finish this story. You… No, no, let me finish.”
So, he continued. He told me about this visit with this young woman. He told me how kind she was. He told me how she showed him where the baby had died. And then, he reflected on a few years later. A few years later, when he was asked (once again) to march in the Memorial Day Parade which he didn’t think he had any place in, he saw her again. She was standing on the sidewalk.
“In front of our house,” I added. “The parade goes right in front of our house. We would watch the parade from that spot.”
Bewildered, he stared at me again before he continued. “Yes. She was there — and we saw each other through the crowd. We didn’t talk but she waved. And I waved. Then she made some big gesture and she pointed down.” He paused again. “She wanted me to know she had children. She pointed down. She wanted me to see she had children.”
The fact that I was not crying at this point mystifies me. And then, he added, “That was you, wasn’t it?”
I can’t remember what I replied. It was jibberish. That I can promise because it’s so rare that anyone knows anything about my mother. The stories I do have about my mother from those in my hometown all articulate one story. My mother never got over the fact that my sister died. She never understood (as if anyone could) why a four-month old baby would die so suddenly. She never recovered, they told me. For these women, this explained why my mother lost her battle to cancer. She lost the will to live. And she did die. My mother died only a few years after this story concludes. Dick remembered that too. He remembered when a young woman died but he didn’t make the connection. He didn’t realize it was the same woman. She never joined the church, but I did. It was six or seven years later — when another pastor was installed — that I started to call this same church my own. I won’t share this story in the letter I write to my home church as they celebrate the 100th year of their ministry. I’ll try to think of something else, because really, this is my story of redemption.