There’s lots of fabulous things about my church, but one of my early favorites, one of things I loved even when I wasn’t sure about the church was this pair of sisters. Older women, they reminded me of the aunts from Arsenic and Old Lace; one tall, one short, always together. As far as I know, they didn’t serve anybody elderberry wine.
Marie and Nina. They always sat together near the front of the church, which was quite in contrast to the older people at the churches where I grew up who hid in the back rows. There they were, always sitting together.
For the past many weeks, it’s been Nina without Marie. It seemed very strange the first week, and only slightly less strange in the weeks following. Yet it also always seemed like Marie was still will us, though not physically present. She was ill and in between hospitals and home. Yesterday, Marie went Home-home.
I’m sad to think I won’t see her sitting in that pew again or hear her insightful comments at church small group or grasp her hand during sharing of the peace. I actually know very little about her outside of the relatives who have come to church. But there was one glimpse I will never forget.
At the church’s Thanksgiving potluck, we were to bring our favorite Thanksgiving dishes. I brought sauerkraut made the way my grandma used to make it (minus the turkey drippings.) Most of the locals were befuddled as to what to do with this “condiment” without any hot dogs, but then I heard Marie ask, “who made the sauerkraut?” Not only did she like it, it reminded her of when she was younger. Someone in her family used to make it, from scratch. Here I was feeling all foreigner again and then someone else shared a piece of my culture! I suddenly didn’t feel so out of place. It meant the world to me at that moment.
Marie always struck me as very regal and tall, even though she needed to lean on something or someone to walk. She was also always well dressed. And I would often think, “when I’m older, I want to be like Marie.” Not just for her fashion and strong presence, but also for the warmth and calm understanding that seemed to radiate from her.
I have a feeling that warmth will be back in church on Sunday, radiating from somewhere unseen. ‘Til we meet again…
Photo: painting by Martin Johnson Heade – A Vase of Corn Lilies and Heliotrope, public domain. Held at the St. Louis Art Museum