Most of my memories of my dad are benign, which is better than awful. There are awful ones, too, and some not awful, but that’s a matter for another time. The image I conjure up of my father is of him sitting in a chair or on the couch, a cigarette smoldering between his fingers and an open bottle of beer on the floor beside him. I have recently learned that this is not a fully accurate depiction of the man. People who have worked with him seem to have had considerable respect for him, and even noted his kindness. I suppose we did not bring out the best in him. There was a time when we had little money, much of my childhood, in fact, so when Dad left the chair, I slipped my small hands down the sides of the cushions and often came up with a handful of pocket change. We used that change to buy gas for the car. Gas was something like 17 cents a gallon, so a quarter could get us all the way out to Ann Nelson’s house.
Gas money was very much an issue for us. Sometimes, when the station wagon choked and puttered as we were going up a hill, mom would turn off the motor at the summit, put the gear in neutral, and we would coast down, the string of children in the back seat pumping our upper bodies forward right at the bottom of the hill, hoping to get a little thrust to get us up the next hill. Pleasant Hills, PA – it was an ironic name for our town.
When Dad left for good, and Mom wrapped her faith around her wounded heart, she became empowered to seek her own fortune. Except that she had raised babies instead of going to school, even though she had a brilliant mind, and the good jobs were saved for college graduates. With no education she got jobs wherever she could. She worked in the bakery at a Giant Eagle grocery store. She sold subscriptions to the Chamber of Commerce Magazine. Eventually someone told her she ought to try real estate, because she was good with numbers, sales and contracts, and she was particularly good with people. So she took the necessary classes and the rest is history. She ended up being one of the top seven agents in the greater Pittsburgh area, a member of the Million Dollar Club, (when a million dollars was a lot of money in house sales in one year) and she earned her GRE degree and became a broker. There are people whom I love, and will always love, who came into our lives because my mother represented them in home transactions.
She was an extremely hard worker, often working from early morning until the wee hours of the night, working multiple clients a day. The dining table in Libby’s house has signatures and numbers embedded in the pine tabletop, evidence of years of contracts signed in Mom’s home.
Liberated by her ability to control her own finances, my mother made it a personal policy to always have a full tank of gas. To her, HALF A TANK might as well have been EMPTY. I suppose it was a response to those lean years when we scrounged for quarters in Dad’s easy chair. Add to that the fact that her childhood was spent surviving the Great Depression.
Besides keeping her eye on her gas gauge, Mom had an internal gauge that kept an eye on her supply all sorts of other things. Toilet paper and laundry soap; she had quite the stash of that. And plenty of comfortable shoes lined the floor of her closet.
Besides checking the gauge on her temporal needs, mom was pretty good at keeping an eye on the deeper matters in her life. She was an avid reader, and a curious soul. She gravitated to intellectuals and philosophers, at least people in our church and local community who had that kind of personality. Her friend Barbara was very bright, and was a thinker, a gifted musician, and a reader as well. They went through a period when they studied astrology, the sun signs, and other para-normal sorts of things. I remember mom telling us that the Spirit whispered to her that she needed to gauge herself in this matter. “Equal time”, she told herself. She required herself to spend equal time studying scripture as she did the other stuff. She said that eventually she lost interest in astrological signs and predictions, and the questions about the gospel of Christ, that seemed to arise in her para-normal studies, dissipated. Looking back, I am grateful that our mom shared this kind of experience with us. Perhaps this is one of the benefits of her not having a spouse with whom to share such things.
Anyway, I got to thinking about my mother’s gauge a couple months ago, when matters regarding our church and gay issues stirred up my heart and confused my brain. I join many who struggle with these matters but still have a basic trust in the restored gospel of Christ. I could sense my mother whispering to me from her heaven place: “Fill the tank, Cori.” I felt her nudging me to strengthen my faith, to build my spiritual muscles, because what troubles me now will be small compared to what may trouble us in the future. I sense this is a time of pruning, a time when the wheat and tares are being tossed so they can be sifted out. Through my life it’s been relatively easy for me to hold my religion to my heart. But it’s getting harder, because the ways of mankind are confusing, and logic can be a real bugger. I sense my mother telling me to keep my spiritual tank full, and when I am running around and using up my faith, be sure to refill when it gets to half full. This will give me reserves to use when we are traveling the big hilly landscape of life.
This, my children and my friends, is a skill I hope you add to your HOPE CHESTS as well: Keep your eye on the gauge.
____________________________________________________During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.