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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"I have called you friends"

The odd and wonderful thing about memories is that, with some of them, you never know you have them until they surface suddenly, without any announcement or advanced notice.

Earlier this morning, I was preparing to say something 'pithy' about Sunday's gospel (which, of course, we all remember being John 15:9-17) for the Wednesday morning, 7 AM Healing Eucharist (Thirty minutes, easy in, easy out, with an additional 10 minutes or so of prayers for healing and laying on of hands, and followed by Breakfast at Angies).

I read these words of Jesus, "You are my friends . . ." and ". . .I have called you friends . . ." and suddenly, from out of nowhere, I had this memory.

As children growing up in an immigrant family, watching the television was a Very Big Deal. It was considered an extravagance, tantamount to having the theater come right into your living room, which we couldn't have, in a million years, afforded.

The television - black and white with lots of snow, and 'rabbit ears' on top - was prima facia evidence of at least a little piece of the realization of The Great American Dream.

Even so, there, every Sunday night thanks to Ed Sullivan, Big Name Stars appeared in our very living room: Ethel Merman, Carol Burnett, Steve and Edie, Julie Andrews, Milton Berle, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, Topo Gigio and, of course, Elvis "The Pelvis" Pressley and The Beatles.

The whole family would gather 'round the set and, after the show ended, we prolonged the entertainment by putting on some impromptu talent shows for our parents - and, truth be told, each other.

I remember my brother, John, being four or five years old, and singing a spot on impersonation of Bobby Darin's "Mack the Knife", including the finger snapping, smart-aleck head bob, and the whole hip-leg motion thing.

Mind you, I don't remember much of Bobby Darin singing this, but I remember my then very little brother (he had been very sickly as a child and so was really small and frail at that time) raising howls of delighted laughter and vigorous applause from us all.

But, it is Ethel Merman singing Cole Porter's 'Friendship' from the film adaptation of the Broadway Musical "Anything Goes" which came flooding back to me this morning.

My siblings and I LOVED to reenact this scene. We took turns being "Ethel" (I mean, who hasn't, really?) in the different verses, from the oldest to the youngest. So, the first verse belonged to me, then next to Madeline, then John, then Diana.

I can see us now, in that small living room in that impossibly small tenement apartment above my Grandparent's apartment, our arms around each other's necks in a goofy, awkward embrace which challenged our balance, standing (or, trying to) in front of the coffee table (does anyone use those anymore?), singing to my parents who sat in rapt attention on the couch.

No performer ever had a better audience.

The ending, however, belonged to us all as we sang the final verse:

"It's friendship, friendship, just the perfect blendship.
When other friendship have been forgit, ours will still be it.
Yada, yada, yada dum, dum, dum.
Cha, cha, cha.
Wow, wow, wow.
Ding, ding, ding"

And then came the grand finale of the evening - in our best Ethel Merman -

"Good evening, friends" we would sing, arms wide open, taking a long, deep bow, and then up to blowing kisses to the 'audience'.

I remember the time when my siblings were my best friends. In those magical moments every Sunday night, we could not imagine how our lives would change, how the world would change, or where life would take us.

I sang that song, then, as a lark.

As my brother's mind begins to succumb to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease, I am aware that I sing it now as prayer.

And, it brings me peace.


Kay & Sarah said...

Sing your prayer loudly and passionately. There will be an answer.

My mother-in-law has been diagnosed with senile dementia. She still recognizes us but the day-to-day things she cannot remember. If we call to take her out to a movie or a meal she usually doesn't remember when we get there. However, her memories of the past are with her and they are very happy memories of her family, her children and others in her life. I am so thankful that her memories are good ones. She does talk about the same memories over and over but at least they are happy positive memories. I will listen gladly.

Jim said...

Prayers and songs ascending.


June Butler said...

Lovely remembrance, Elizabeth. I remember the small screens, the snow, the rabbit ears, moved around to get better reception when the picture got really bad. Why I even remember back before TV, gathering around the radio!

I join with you in your song and prayer, and my prayers will continue for John and for all of his family.

Lindy said...

That's a great rememberance.

TV was pretty commonplace by the time I came along, young thing that I am. But, I do remember the first time I saw COLOR TV. Was amazed to learn that Captain Kangaroo's blazer was red.

susankay said...

What a lovely memory, song and prayer.

My favorite sibling memory is using the window seat in our living room as a stage to perform wondrous "shows" for my appreciative parents -- we usually ended up collapsed in laughter for some reason. And when my sister and I laugh, we SNORT -- none of this ladylike stuff.

Important to remember that those memories are every bit as real as what happens now.

Prayers will continue for you and your family -- and also for your Love -- it is terribly hard to see pain and not be able to make it better.

Unknown said...

Yes, what a beautiful memory. Live it again with your brother.

As I would sit with my Grandmother I wondered whether this disease was really that bad. It seemed to me that the people that lost their health or that were paralyzed were much worse off. They had their mind but were trapped in a body knowing all along what was happening. As for my Grandmother, she was always happy. She was young again in her mind.

You and your family continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. God bless you.

Catherine said...

Sing that song to your brother, Elizabeth, when he has no words of his own. My father spent several years unable to speak, but he could still sing. When he could no longer sing, he whistled (much to the delight of the staff at the nuring facility). One December Sunday I took off from church and homework to go visit Dad. He couldn't speak, he did not recognize me, but I tried to get there once a month to feed him lunch. I was too late that day; he had already eaten, but the residents remained in the dining hall because a group was coming in to sing Christmas carols. When they "O Holy Night," my father's face lit up. This was "his song" on our Christmas Eve neighborhood caroling. That day was and still is one of my most treasured presents.

walter said...

Dear Elizabeth, thank you for the intense feeling that you have been called to share also here with us in Rome. I revisit when we( my mom and dad and my sister) use to watch television in Ostia in the coolness of summer nights. At that time we rented a room and the landlord invited us to watch their television(black and white). Furthermore I enjoied a lot the video you have inserted on this post. Yes, this is another opportunity to agree with Paul: God is the Ruler.

With Love,

Walter Vitale, Buffalo Shepherd