We were already a quarter of an hour late for the Andre Rieu Concert when we made our way through security and past the great glassy doors of the Nassau Coliseum. Now face to face with the snack bar (after leaving home without dinner), the sports-fan fare of popcorn, peanuts, and pretzels was irresistible.
With little cash in my pocket, I asked the man behind the counter, “Do you take American Express?”
“Sorry, M’am, no credit cards.”
“OK,” I said, widening my wallet to reveal a twenty dollar bill and a couple of other singles.
A swelling stream of requests flowed from the mouth of the girls, blissfully unaware of their mother’s shortage: “Can I have a pretzel?” “Mommy, I don’t like pretzels—may I have popcorn?” “Do you think we could order hot dogs?” “Do they sell French Fries?” “Can we bring home candy for Patrick and Maureen?”
The man stood waiting as I dammed the stream with one quick, “Mommy doesn’t have much money,” ordering three pretzels, three waters, and one bag of popcorn. Boxing the snacks in an instant, the man said, “Twenty-seven dollars, please.”
It was quite a bit more than I expected, and I presented the twenty and the stray bills counting out a mere twenty-four. The man stared while I took one last desperate glance inside the wallet, finding (joy of joys) a tightly wrinkled group of bills under a crumpled receipt—three more dollars! “Well, what do you know?” I said to him, laughing, “I have exactly twenty seven dollars.”
If I could paint a picture for you of the look on that man’s face, you would see before you the personification of human kindness, empathy, joy, and relief. He was beaming and thanked me heartily. It was only then I realized the poor man had been waiting anxiously, dreading the possibility that he might need to take back a water or a pretzel from that thin cardboard box.
We found our seats—mercifully on the aisle—with the concert already in full swing. Andre Rieu and his vibrant young orchestra, oddly out of place in the drafty sports arena, succeeded in warming it to the rafters. The girls were captivated, but there was one young one even more appreciative than my four. A small boy with Down’s Syndrome three or four years old—impossibly cute in a long-sleeved plaid shirt—sat two rows in front of us. He kept time to the music with his hands, thrilling to every note. Putting an arm around his father, he received a prompt kiss, before turning to smile toward the couple in the row behind him.
I watched that boy a long time, wishing—and this kind of thing never occurs to me with so many of my own—that he was sitting with us. My lap was strangely empty, and there was something undeniably compelling in his gestures and expression. I was not the only one who noticed it, for he had a circle of fond admirers round about him—not only his family, mind you, but smiling concert goers whose pleasant faces and hearty waves showed how their night was brightened by his unspoiled delight.
Intermission came, and, with the lights turned up, the girls began scrutinizing the aisles and floor of the arena, searching desperately for their two grandparents. We had found out earlier that day that Gram and Pop would be at the concert (just by chance—we hadn’t planned it). I warned them a sighting would be highly unlikely given the enormity of the crowd, yet somehow we managed to spot Gram who was wearing red. If you could mount an enormous Buccaneer ride in the very center of the Coliseum and set it rocking at full tilt, we would have been at one high point on the arc, and my in-laws would have been on the other. The moment they spotted Gram, the girls were elated, adding, “Look, there’s Pop! He’s coming back with coffee!” Even from that impossible distance all four reflexively waved and smiled, stretching high up in their seats in hopes of being noticed.
What is it about grandparents that can turn a cold and crowded Coliseum into a familiar living room? One sight of Gram and Pop and four Heidis begged to be allowed to descend to the deep valley and scale the Alps to pay a visit to the Grandfather and Grandmother, eager and determined as if bent on delivering an apron of fresh-picked flowers or sack of soft white rolls. Unfortunately for my high-spirited lasses, their mother was on hand to play Fraulein Rottenmeier, making short work of the plan, yet I smiled to witness their deep love and affection.
All too soon, the concert hummed to a close. Andre Rieu, as is his custom in every country he visits, played a final selection meant to capture the essence of the place and its people. At the first strains of “America the Beautiful,” the crowd was on its feet singing in one voice, in a tone at once insistent and proud, “America, America, God shed His grace on thee.” A bagpiper entered blasting the first throbbing notes of Amazing Grace and, instantly, thousands of people who had just faced the new American reality of stadium security checks, remembered our firefighters, police officers, and soldiers. This homegrown hymn breathed through old world lungs spoke its wordless message of Brotherhood, Hope, and Longing. In two simple selections, Andre Rieu had grasped the American Spirit—the immortal soul of a faithful people.
Making our way out through the crowd, I was already reflecting upon the good people blooming all around us like blossoms bursting forth from a garden well-tended—the man behind the counter, that happy little boy and his admirers, our Gram and Pop, and Andre Rieu himself—who with bow and fiddle and bagpipe had pierced through to reach the all too often hidden heart of a nation. With these thoughts still playing in my mind, I turned the key in the ignition and put our van in reverse, wondering for the first time how I would escape from the tight spot in that unceasing flow of traffic. Before I had even a moment to wait, a white-haired woman in a sedan paused and waved me on with a friendly smile.
“What a nice woman!” I exclaimed to the girls, turning my wheel instantly and flitting to freedom as readily as a boy who hears the final bell at school. Raising a hand out my window, I waved the driver’s salute of gratitude, offering up a heartfelt and heart-lifting prayer of thanksgiving for all the flowers strewn in our path.
may be found In the Shade of the Old Oaks: Twenty Years Later.
It is also the most heartwarming!
And if that isn't enough to keep you smiling this morning, take a look this Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy come to life: Little House in the Shade of the Old Oaks. It comes complete with the prettiest Laura and Mary imaginable!
I have been remiss in not writing an enormous thank you to those of you who participated in this year's Homeschool Blog Awards. You would have heard from me sooner, but I couldn't bring myself to take The Timeline of Mercy off the top spot. (Many thanks to those of you who wrote to Brigid. Beautiful friend that she is, Brigid is Cottage Blessings' most devoted reader and was deeply grateful for your prayerful comments. Hi B!]
Thanks to you mothers, not to mention the loving support of friends and family, Cottage Blessings received awards for "Best Live-What-You-Believe Blog," "Best Encourager," and "Best Crafts, Plans, and Projects Blog." While I know I fall far short of being the best in anything, least of all those wonderful categories, I am grateful for every vote and the kind hearts beating behind them.
Congratulations to the dear friends and fellow bloggers who won awards, and many thanks to Laura, Heather, and Sprittibee, and the other mothers who graciously give of their time to host the Homeschool Blog Awards each year. A special thank you and hearty congratulations to Mary Ellen Barrett, who allowed me to participate in "O Night Divine," winner of the award for "Best Family or Group Blog."
More important than anything else, please pray for Heather, a young mother and coordinator of the blog awards, diagnosed with a brain tumor this week. May God hold her and her family in the palm of His hand.
Congratulations to all the winners and nominees, particularly these friends:
Lissa, The Lilting House, Best Unschooling or Eclectic
Theresa, Lapaz Farm Home Learning, Best Unschooling or Eclectic, first runner up
Karen Edmisten, Best Cyber-Buddy
Dawn, By Sun and Candlelight, Best Super Homeschooler
Mary Ellen, O Night Divine, Best Group or Family Blog
Elizabeth, Real Learning, Best Mom Blog *and* Best Business and Curriculum
Love2Learn Blog, first runner up, Best Group or Family Blog
Suzanne, Blessed Among Men, Best New Blog
Cay, Cajun Cottage, Best Nitty Gritty Blog, first runner up
Danielle, Danielle Daily, Best Humorous
Jennifer, S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen, Best Geographical
Congratulations to all the nominees as well!
December 6, 2002
I write a notice to our local Immaculate Heart of Mary homeschooling group:
As you know, the Little Flowers close of season party is next week, December 11th. It was originally scheduled for 2 pm, but I've decided to move it up to 1 pm to get the most of the daylight. It's supposed to rain, unfortunately, but the children wouldn't really be able to play outside in the cold anyway, so we will not postpone. The theme of the party will be "Our Lady of Guadalupe" because her feast is the next day. A wonderful craft and activity are planned, so I hope you will all try to attend.
December 11, 2002
The weather is icy and rainy. I briefly consider calling off the party at the last minute, but hesitate to postpone with Christmas coming.
The party is in full swing. [MacBeth and her family visit for the first time--she and I hit it off instantly.] Brigid O'Neill brings cappuccino bars--a special treat for her coffee-loving hostess. The children enjoy creating Juan Diego paper dolls and pose for a group picture near a Guadalupe banner painted by my friend Lorraine and her children. Emily O'Neill, Brigid's seven-year-old daughter, appears on the right, wearing a white turtleneck and dark jumper.
The place is a mess! Brigid, who normally leaves promptly at 4 pm, has stayed behind to clean up. When she finally gets four-year-old Danny and seven-year-old Emily into the car, she returns to say goodbye, making the observation, "It's viciously slick out there!" The family leaves, beginning the Rosary, as is their usual practice.
The moment the house is empty, I make a quick phone call to Lissa in Virginia, leaving a message on her machine saying, "This was such a great party! I really wish you'd been here!"
A speeding eighteen-year-old's car flips across the divider on the Meadowbrook Parkway, landing on the hood and roof of Brigid's van, before overturning his SUV more than once. The crushed roof narrowly misses the heads of the two small children strapped in the back, barely grazing little Danny. Emily has the presence of mind to unstrap her young brother and drag him out a broken car window to safety. She stands next to her grievously injured mother in the pouring rain, refusing to leave her side.
Brigid's mother calls with the news. She does not have any details except that Brigid is in critical condition and the children are well. The other driver was able to walk away from the accident. Brigid's husband is on his way to the hospital.
I call Lissa and leave another message very different from the first.
Lorraine writes to our local group:
Brigid O'Neill was in a very bad car accident this afternoon. She is in critical condition, unconscious, in ICU. The children are fine.
A trio of mothers heads straight to the hospital with relics and a small image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Those of us at home begin an emergency nine hour Novena. Lissa, Lorraine and I alert the larger internet homeschooling community, begging for prayers from the CCM mothers and anyone else we can find. [Many of you remember this well and were a part of the enormous prayer and fasting effort offered for Brigid by hundreds of mothers.]
December 12, 2002, The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Lissa, helpless and distraught in Virginia, is setting out for the Adoration chapel in Staunton to pray for Brigid when two packages arrive, both sent independently by her two best friends. The first is a pair of pink and blue personalized Rosary Beads from me--an early birthday present. The second is a care package from Brigid--cappuccino bars with the note, "If you can't come to the party, we'll send the party to you." (Brigid had spent $36 overnighting them to Virginia.)
December 23, 2002
Just in time for Christmas, Brigid squeezes her husband's hand on command, in his words, "the best Christmas present ever."
January 3, 2003
A saintly woman from Westchester contacts us asking to take the pilgrim image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Brigid's bedside the following Sunday at 3 pm, "The Hour of Mercy."
January 5, 2003
I write an update to our local group (slightly edited here):
Patty B. brought the Image of O.L. of Guadalupe to Brigid today, and it was just beautiful. Tracey and Elizabeth were there when we arrived, and afterward we were joined by Dan, Brigid's mother and father, Mary Anne, Kathleen, and Patrice. It was very moving. The image was huge, over 6 feet tall. Patty told us all about the miraculous healings and conversions associated with this particular image, and then offered to bring it to Brigid's children . . . . [I]t was dark and the snow was coming down fairly hard, but Patty insisted on bringing the image inside my house before she left. My children were each able to kiss Our Lady and kneel before her to say the Memorare. You can imagine how blessed I felt, especially because Brigid's wonderful parents were there as well. Brigid's father actually took pictures of my family with the Image! It was incredibly special.
Now I just hope Patty made it home tonight in the snow. When I expressed my concern, she smiled and replied calmly, "How can I not be safe when I have Our Lady with me?" I guess we've found ourselves yet another saint.
January 2003 to April 2007
The pain and suffering, joy and hope, along the road to recovery is Brigid's story to tell, and I cannot begin to do it justice. These years haven't always been easy--not by a long shot--but she is with us, and her children have their beautiful mother back again.
April 7, 2007
A newer member of our local homeschooling group leaves a message (read by me on April 10th):
I would like to offer the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the IHM moms. Easter Wednesday is the only available day left. . . . . Can you offer a suggestion for where we all can meet for a couple of hours, somewhere halfway?
It just so happens I am already scheduled to host the first day of Little Flowers on Easter Wednesday. I gratefully accept her offer, requesting that she bring the Image to my house.
April 11, 2007
Brigid and her children attend the party, three living miracles and reminders of God's mercy. Brigid has but one request--a picture to send to her Mom:
At the end of a grace-filled day, I take another group shot. This time Emily stands third from the right in the back row. Many of those tall young ladies were little ones in the original Guadalupe photo, and some of their younger brothers and sisters--babies back then--now stand alongside them. Time marches on.
Somehow, it seems, Our Lady has brought us full circle, continuing to ask, in her words to St. Juan Diego, "Am I not here who is your mother?"
Yes, she is here. She has always been here, standing by our side as faithfully as that little girl in the rain.
May we never cease to thank our Mother--the Mother of Mercy--for the gift of Brigid's Life.
This Timeline of Mercy is dedicated to Miss Emily O'Neill, on the occasion of her twelfth birthday, which happens to fall--not surprisingly--on Divine Mercy Sunday this year.
[Voting has ended! Thank you so very much!]
Today is the last day to vote in the Homeschool Blog Awards, and I would *very much appreciate* any last minute votes you might be willing to send my way. Here are the five direct links:
There is no way I could adequately express my appreciation for the support already received there. You have been kind and generous beyond my wildest dreams. Whatever the results at the end of the day, I feel loved!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
As those following the homeschool blog awards know, today is the last day to vote. There is one race that is so close at the moment, I cannot help but call it to your attention. Karen Edmisten is, as I type this, tied for second place in the category "Best Cyber-Buddy Blogger."
Now, normally, I would not bring this up, particularly when two women I am crazy about--Jennifer (As Cozy as Spring) and Cheryl (My Thoughtful Spot) are competing in the same category, but we are coming toward the end, and, it seems to me, at this point, it wouldn't take much to put Karen over the top.
When I first heard the title "best cyber-buddy," I didn't really get it, wondering what it even meant. Then I read the description:
"A blogger that you haven’t met, but you think you would enjoy meeting and hanging out with. She/he is a person that you would love to co-op with or live next door to. Who knows, maybe one day we will get together somewhere at one of these bloggy meetings I hear about. I’m so jealous!"
Oh, how I would love to have Karen next door!
Of course, I would also love Jennifer and Cheryl--in my dreams, we would have a regular cul-de-sac of cyber-buddies!
But with Karen so close--so painfully close--to the top of that category, couldn't we please just give her one nice last push today? If you haven't yet voted in the Cyber-Buddy category, please take a moment to put Karen Edmisten over the top:
And, because they are such dear women, I am confident Jennifer and Cheryl will agree with me!