Ancient History

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The following post originally appeared here on December 5th, 2004. I am reposting it in honor of my Grandma Alice, who died on December 23rd, 2005. Today would have been her 90th birthday.

Tea and the Tempest

It wasn’t tea for two, but it felt cozy anyway.

Yesterday I took my grandma to my church’s annual Christmas Tea. It is a very well done and elaborate event, with a reputation that draws in women from all over the Denver metro area. They hold it on three dates and ultimately host 1000 women each season. This year’s theme was Celtic—the music, the decorations, the favors. It was lovely. 89 more years for those eyes

I have always admired my grandma. She is sharp, inquisitive, courageous, funny, and has a taste for adventure. She raised seven kids—five boys (one of them is my dad) and two girls. Merely talking to her is an adventure. She has stories that can make you laugh, cry, and contemplate. She has been practically everywhere, from above the Arctic circle on a fishing boat to the African savanna on safari to the sublime landscape of New Zealand.

My childhood memories of her are vivid and my impression of her then was that she was always on the move. She cross-country skied for years, was a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, and loved hiking the Rockies. The pictures lining her living room walls show her at various locations all around the world, on mountaintops or seasides, surrounded by the expanse of nature in its might. She loves the natural world and she loves the God who is the Creator.

So it was especially meaningful when the Celtic-themed program began yesterday and we were reminded how the Celts were intuned to nature and God’s creation. Living on the green isles of what we now call Britain they were surrounded by astonishing lush and craggy beauty, both sea-swept and woodsy. Pictures of the landscapes where the ancient Celts dwelled were flashed in front of our eyes while the music played. The room was lit by hundreds of candles, and these things came together in an atmosphere of reverential awe.

The story of Christmas was interwoven in this backdrop, a reminder of what the season means. Seasonally speaking, it is the darkest and coldest time of the year, but renewal is ours when we remember who lights up the dark nights and warms our cold days—and why. The Celts were some of the first in Europe to embrace and protect the faith, and they planted their intricate art and passionate music into their expressions of faith. We were shown pages from the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels that I remember studying during my art history days in college.

We were also given the words of St. Patrick:

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I felt a profound connection between these words and my grandma’s outlook on life. She has been around the world and back again. She has weathered the “tempestuous shocks” of loss and stood on the eternal rocks. Through it all, she has maintained her devotion to God and lives showing so much love, not only despite the tempest, but because of it.

As I drove her home, she made me laugh, like she usually does. We were talking about how hard it is living with short daylight hours. She told me about her grandmother, who thought that February 2nd was a wonderful day—the first day of the year you could eat supper without having to turn on the lights!

I don’t have to wait for February 2nd or the first day of Spring to know that warmth and light are near. I have Emmanuel and the gift of a grandmother, and many other family members, whose lives demonstrate that beauty.

***Photo of my grandma at six months old

10 comments to

  • Russ Eldredge

    How blessed you are to have such wonderful grandmothers in your life! What a beautiful and rich legacy they’ve left you!

    Thank you for sharing such beautiful experiences!

  • Six months old? Seriously? Wow, she had a beautiful head of hair for a baby.

    Thank you for re-posting this, what a wonderful way to remember her. And a Happy birthday to Grandma Alice.

  • mopsy

    Well, I wasn’t there, so I have to trust the handwriting on the back of the photo (it also notes it was sent to an uncle fighting in France during WWI). 🙂

  • That’s really cool. I love history when it’s the stories of real people’s daily lives. I’m sure the uncle’s spirits were lifted when he saw her pinchable cheeks. Old photos are a treasure, thanks for sharing with us.

  • Sounds like you take after that branch of the family! And that poem–it’s Patrick’s rune, isn’t it, that Madeleine L’Engle uses in A Swiftly Tilting Planet? I’ve never seen that version–it’s beautiful.

  • Mopsy, I could read your writing all day…

  • It is a blessing to have had such a wonderful grandma! I was blessed with 2 such grandmas and they are both examples of how I would like to be with my grandkids.

  • goslyn

    What a beautiful post about your grandma. Happy birthday to her.

  • Julana

    Your grandma was not old “in her head.” What a woman.

  • Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman. How blessed you are to have had 2 such wonderful grandmothers in your life.

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