The Divine Hours of Lent

Sam, the son, not the father….Don’t ever name a baby boy after his father without contriving an alternative name by which to call him! It was a problem Sam, the father, had raised for all the months this one was on the way. But Sam, the son, was Number 6 for us, and I was afraid I would never have another chance to have a male child named for his progenitor, so I insisted. As a family, we have now struggled with the consequences for over three and a half decades.
Anyway, Sam, the son, Mary, his wife, and Henry, their son and our totally satisfactory grandson, came over for dinner last night. They don’t do that very often, primarily because their lives and ours are too full to admit of much kick-back time together. But they got a break, and Sam, Jr called to say they could come, so they did.
When family comes for supper, it’s not really supper in the customary sense of things. What happens is that we all sit around the kitchen table with a glass of wine and some crackers and cheese for a while. Then Sam will get up and get something out of the refrigerator, something like whole fresh English peas and cauliflower flowerettes with a good Blue Cheese dip or fat Mediterranean olives or thin-sliced tomatoes with cream cheese to hold them to the Wasa crackers. Then in a little while, he gets up and goes over to the stove to do something he has obviously already thought about and figured out the details of, but something that always seems as unstudied as his breathing. It will turn out to be hunks of salmon, pan-fried to perfection, or shrimp scampi, or vegetarian lasagna. Who knows. Whatever appears will end up in an hour or so followed with a scoop of ice cream or a slice of pie or both, with maybe a round or two after that of the ever-present bowl of chocolates that sits on our kitchen counter 24/7, though rarely with the same candies more than two days running.
The whole thing is so simple and effortless that it amazes me all over again every time he does it…which is two or three times a week, in fact. Just a little of this and a little of that. No place settings, just a stack of cocktail plates ready to hand beside his chair at the table. No silverware deployed, just a caddy of knives and forks and spoons standing near the center of the small table. No ironed napkins…just take a paper one from the napkin holder…etc., etc. Nobody has done anything so far as anybody can tell, but it has all happened anyway.
The result of this approach to entertaining is two-fold: everybody is inordinately full, although no one really ate anything since there didn’t seem to be all that much to eat; and second, the conversation flows because no one was doing any moving about or eating or deliberated talking. It is, in sum, a magical form of human exchange that should be the norm but, in my experience anyway, is unique, if not outright particular, to how Sam does things.
So last night, it was a little of this and a little of that, and a lot of just talking…what was Mary up to at home? Where were things in terms of Henry’s school next year, his tests to be admitted to first grade and all the paperwork that entails…what did Sam, Jr see as the next things that need to happen at the family millworks, which he now runs…were they going to finish their attic after all this spring….all the usual things families talk about. Henry got bored and went to watch television, taking with him the hot dogs and pan-browned buns that had somehow magically appeared from nowhere…really odd, since they are Henry’s known favorites.
As the evening wound down, we wound down memory lane a bit. I can’t recall now just how the flow of conversation went, but suddenly I heard our son say, “I don’t remember Mother’s getting after us much, really. I just remember that day when she came roaring out that back door there with the ruler in her hand and nearly smacked the living tar out of me. Scared me to death.”
I was appalled. I can remember taking that trusty ruler after the backside of little legs on a few occasions, though usually the simple act of pulling it out of the drawer was sufficient to correct whatever was amiss. But I don’t remember “smacking the living tar” out of anybody, much less a child. “You’re kidding,” I said.
“Nope,” he said. “You didn’t really smack me very hard, but you did roar out of that door like you were going to, and I just remember being scared half to death.”
Relieved to know that the blows had been more anticipated than delivered, I said, “What in the world had you done?”
He thought a minute and said, “I don’t know. Don’t you remember?”
“No,” I said, and meant it. “I don’t remember ever really being mad at you. What in the world could you have done?”
“You know,” he said, “I really, honestly don’t remember. I just remember it was something I positively should not have done and afterward I figured I’d never do again.”
Then, shaking his head at himself, he chuckled a bit, gathered up his family, and went home. I went to bed…except I went to bed re-playing his story in my head. Neither of us remembered the offense, and only he remembered the incident itself. Yet the conduct of both our lives had obviously been affected to some greater or lesser extent by his misstep and my punishment of it….but we didn’t remember. We didn’t remember. All I remember and know is a son whom I adore and totally respect, and what he remembers is a life corrected at some point so as the better to become the strong, vibrant thing it is.
When I awoke this morning my first thought was: May it be so for me, too–and for all of us–when life is done and we sit down to supper with the providing Father.

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