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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The love that remains

This morning, I added a dash of salt to the ground coffee beans before I poured boiling water over them.

My mother used to do that. She said it made the coffee less bitter. I said she should use a little less coffee and it wouldn't be so bitter.

"Oh, but your father likes his coffee strong," she'd say.

"But, it's still bitter," I'd say.

"Oh, but not as bitter as if I didn't add the salt."

After awhile, I started buying my coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts on my way to work.

It's funny what you remember about people after they die.

My father used to spend most of his Saturday mornings rebuilding the fuel pump in the car. Swear to God. Or, at least, that's what he said he was doing.

That was after he'd taken my mother to the grocery store. After they'd return and all the groceries had been put away, he'd take the trash to the dump.

He loved doing that. Going to the dump was one of the highlights of his Saturday. He'd talk to the guys who worked there. Sometimes, they would find something they thought he might be interested in. They'd put it aside for him, knowing he would be there every Saturday morning, and he'd bring it home.

This was a cause for great rejoicing in my house. "Look what I got at the dump," my father would announce as he held up a nicknack, or a porcelain tea cup and saucer, or a lamp, or a television set or radio which he'd later disassemble and save for parts.

"Bring it here and I'll wash it in Lysol," my mother would say. She washed everything in Lysol, which she kept on the shelf next to the large box of Oxydol, a huge can of Pledge, a large bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap, and her trusty refillable spray bottle of Windex.

Every good worker has their own tools of the trade.

Mother would wash down my father's treasure, muttering the whole time, "These people obviously didn't go through the Depression. They don't know the value of things. I don't know what's wrong with people these days. No work ethic....."

She'd do this in between doing loads of laundry and other "Saturday chores" - like polishing shoes or ironing pillow cases and handkerchiefs  - while my father would go out to spend the rest of the day rebuilding the fuel pump.

I would see him through my bedroom window, bent over the open hood of the car which he parked just outside the garage where the light was better. Besides, the garage was filled with his tools of the trade - and boxes of the stuff he'd gotten from the dump.

I distinctly remember when car manufacturers stopped making fuel pumps. It was a sad day in my house. Still, my father would be out there, every Saturday morning after his trip to the town dump, wrench in hand.

"Dad," I'd say, "What are you doing? That car doesn't have a fuel pump."

"Well," he'd say, never lifting his head from the inside of the car, "things get loose". And, he'd keep on tinkering. I don't think he really knew what else to do.

This morning, when I looked out the window to check on my car, for half a second I swore I saw the hood of my car open, my father's form bent over into it. Tinkering.

Maybe it was him.

Maybe it's just that it's All Saint's Day.

One of the collects in the Burial Office in the BCP (p 492) begins with this prayer, "O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Chrsit destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light....".

I believe those words, and these, from the preface at Holy Eucharist, "... For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed not ended . . ."

Life is changed. Not ended.

I believe that with my whole heart.

As I've gone about my morning, from time to time I can hear my grandmother's voice singing one of her favorite fados - a Portuguese folk song of lament which speaks of one's destiny or fate.

Saudade (1899), by Almeida Júnior.
Some call it "The Portuguese Blues". That's really not accurate. It's more the sound of what the Portuguese call 'saudade'.

It describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one loves and which is apart. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. It's related to the feelings of longing, yearning.

That's really what I'm feeling on this All Saint's Day: saudade.

Wiki describes it best:
Saudade was once described as "the love that remains" or "the love that stays" after someone is gone. Saudade is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again.

It can be described as an emptiness, like someone (e.g., one's children, parents, sibling, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.

In Portuguese, 'tenho saudades tuas', translates as 'I have saudades of you' meaning 'I miss you', but carries a much stronger tone. In fact, one can have 'saudades' of someone whom one is with, but have some feeling of loss towards the past or the future.
My faith in the resurrection is strong but so is my saudade.

I think that's utterly, perfectly human. And, deeply Christian.

Life is a precious gift, which is why, when it's gone, "the love that remains" triggers the senses and makes one live again.

As I drink my slightly-salted morning coffee, I hear my grandmother's voice and catch glimpses of my father, tinkering over his car.

The coffee is not bitter, but then again, my coffee never is. My mother's was, but not to her. Or, at least, not that she would ever admit. It was the way she learned to tolerate and live with the bitterness that was often her daily drink.

My grandmother's voice is still high and thin and plaintive, recalling her homeland as well the land she made her home but never quite fit in.

And, my father is still the very picture of vigilance and attentiveness to the small, seemingly insignificant details in life, rescuing that which others had tossed aside, seeing the value and the potential in what others considered trash.

These are lessons learned of lives lived as best they could.

Together, they form a trinity of remembrances of my soul on this day of all saints.

Yes, we are "... earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust....", and so our mortal souls yearn and recollect and long in saudade.

The gift of the resurrection and the joy of our faith is the love that remains.


James said...

Absolutely beautiful. So much of it reminded me of my growing up = my dad was always tinkering with cars, too. Thank you Elizabeth for posting this.

it's margaret said...

God bless you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Margaret. Indeed, I am.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

James - Thanks. I think men of a certain generation just did that. Tinker. It's become a lost art.

The Crow said...

This is a beautiful post, Elizabeth; created a longing in my soul for something missing, though I'm not sure just what that is. Still, it was so good to read this today. Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The longing in your soul that you're not sure what it is is exactly saudade. Just sit with it. Let it sing to you. Especially today.

JCF said...

Lovely. Blessed All Saints Day to you, Lizbeth!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou the story brought back sweet memories of my youth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - and also with you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

3rdnlong - Sweet childhood memories are often the best.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

For me, it's my grandfather sitting out in his shop, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, trying out different 45 rpm records on a portable record player, deciding which new records would go on which jukeboxes on his route. Or my grandmother, reading the newspaper with the Cardinal game in the background, the silence of her newspaper perusal broken only with an occasional epithet aimed at Jack Buck and Harry Caray (or later, Jack Buck and Mike Shannon) about the state of the ball game.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - I had one friend write that she used to wait for her mother to come home from work she would listen to the key in the door. When she thinks of her mom, she hears the key in the lock. Funny what we remember, eh?

Kay & Sarah said...

The love does remain, also, the memories. Memories of advice given by my mother still guides my actions. I have stopped talking in the middle of conversations when the memory of her saying, "never argue wit ignorance" came to mind.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I cherish memories - happy ones, sad ones, simple ones - they are all so significant, each in their own way

Lyn G. Brakeman said...

Saudade is so omnnipresent in my heart and mind especially these day. I have saudades for this country and for our Church. I also believe in new life however and with the help of our saudades that reach the divine ear. Thank you Elizabeth. best peace to you, Lyn

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lyn - I think many of us do. Best to you, too.