Mychal Wilmes: All God's creations are not disposable
"Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The lines are taken from Emma Lazarus' "New Colossus,'' which she wrote to raise funds for the pedestal that the Statue of Liberty stands on. The sonnet didn't garner much attention until her death when friends began a successful campaign to have her complete work in plaque form riveted inside the pedestal.
The words bring a smile because it embodies my mother's philosophy.
A lamb orphaned in a dog pack attack recovered in our house; a three-legged kitten injured by a mower and its best friend lived with us; a fawn with a broken leg healed with the help of a crude splint and heat lamp. The open door welcomed piglet runts and duck and goose weaklings.
All God's creatures were not discardable.
When Alzheimer's forced her from her home, a guilty conscience threatened to overwhelm me. The nursing home, from my youthful experience, was foreboding. The air was tinged with medicine smells, the halls filled with addled minds in worn-out bodies and hand-scrawled signs that warned against spitting in the water fountain.
The worst became the best because mother found new friends. Bingo became a thrilling sport with fruit as the winners' reward. Although the favorite chair and the sunlight that warmed her while she read Reader's Digest books or made potholders was no more, the new home encouraged her to keep on keeping on. A working kitchen can never have too many potholders, but her work tested the theory to the extreme. I treasure her creations and they remain in use with the heat-darkened bread pan and silver ladle that doled out chicken soup to hungry children.
I considered those things and others during my last visit at a time when the spongy ground had given up its last frost. Dad was there, too, along with others. We didn't always get along for reasons silly and serious. He detested rock 'n' roll on the barn radio because the cows milked better with polka. The cows were baseball fans, too, with Herb Carneal and Halsey Hall calling the action.
I linger longer than I should and remember when St. Henry — a blink and you'll miss it place in its prime — included a small gas station that also sold beer, pop, candy bars and snuff. Farmers stopped when it rained enough to stop planting or on winter afternoons when card games challenged skills. If I was good, which meant being quiet and invisible, the rich reward could be orange pop or a Milky Way bar.
The church, which was moved here by Swiss, Irish and German settlers in the 1850s, remains immaculate in its golden age. The statues are bright and the stained glass windows that bear the names of families who donated them lead to heavenly thoughts.
Mother was proud when her son volunteered to be an altar boy with the others and crushed when Father Dudley — who served in the best Irish tradition — said I was much too nervous to serve. As an adult, she pushed me to become a lector with the responsibility of reading two Bible readings. Mother was happy because I was reasonably good at it.
More than a few rural churches not unlike St. Henry have closed in recent years because of population declines and changing Sunday habits. The losses take an emotional toll on those who received baptism, first communion, confirmation and exchanged wedding vows inside their walls.
I pray that it never happens to St. Henry, because everything that is important to me is found there.
Although the gas station was leveled years ago, I can still taste the pop's cold sweetness.
I told Kathy that I want to be buried in the cemetery. She protests because it would be a long way for my children to visit. It may be to them, but for me it will always be home.