Ten-year-old Parker pours the pancake batter from the side of a large-bowled spoon. He has that little knack for knowing just how much will make a three-inch pancake. He knows when the bubbles pop and the holes remain, that it is time to flip. One, two, three, four perfectly round, perfectly golden cakes evenly placed on the square griddle we dug from the shelf below the stove top. He lays them gently in piles on a pan beside the stove while the bacon squeals in the oven, simmering in its juices, filling the whole house with its woody aroma. Ruby, meanwhile, clamps her eight-year-old fingers around a small Idaho russet, pushing her weight into it as she guides it down the pocked surface of the silver grater, up and down she goes, like the rhythm section in a kitchen band, the shredded potatoes gathering in a pile in a deep red bowl. Gumpa stands at the kitchen sink peeling the ridiculously small potatoes I bought last week, a ten pound sack for $3.49. Next time I’ll spend the money for the bigger ones. I squeeze the juices out of the spuds and scatter them in hot oil in the massive heavy fry pan on the back burner. Ashley has taken ten blessed minutes to walk the dog all by herself, for once. Walter picks the one spot in the kitchen where all of us will be repeatedly stepping during our chaotically orchestrated Shrove Tuesday dinner preparations. It is here he plants his two-year old body, a broken Jack-in-the-Box, a Lightening McQueen Lego car and two train engines. We all try to step over him while he plays. Fearing I’ll trample him, I ask him if he would mind moving over to the stairs to play, but he is afraid I will not watch him if he goes “all the way over to there.” There is an out-of-season half a watermelon on the counter top with teaspoon craters dug into it. “I told Ruby she could just dig in”, Gumpa whispers when I discover it. I’m fine with that, because I know in that deep-down place where I hold my treasured memories that this is a moment to keep. I have this little cluster of love swirling all around me in my safe place: my kitchen. It is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, and I will sit at our dinner table with these people I love and pray, then partake.
After blessing the food I explain that today is Fat Tuesday, which makes the kids giggle. Shrove Tuesday, which makes them scrunch their eyebrows and shift their eyes. The day before Ash Wednesday,…you know. We finally ask Siri to help us out with by finding photos of priests and ashes. We spend just enough time learning about Christian tradition, and holy practises, and our Catholic heritage to keep their attention. We feast on eggs and bacon and buttery syrup because, in the olden days good Christians did not eat any of those things between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, 47 days later. So on Tuesday they used up all they had in their larders. Then the next day began the fast, designed to prepare their souls for the redemption represented by the holiest of all holidays, when Christ atoned, was crucified and was resurrected.
It is befitting of us as Christians to embrace such good practises that draw us closer to our God. Whatever we choose to forsake, or embrace, during the season of Lent, let us consecrate it to our spiritual welfare.
I am not one to make political comment on public stages, but I thought it was interesting that our new president’s first speech before congress fell right at the same time that we prepared our last feast of pleasure before Lent. I was reminded that we all need, especially now, divine guidance, reassurance, and hope.
We are Mormons here. Dyed in the wool, true blue believers in the saving power of Jesus Christ. Gumpa, as a child, wore the white robes of a Catholic altar boy, carried the sacred beads of a rosary, and lifted his head before his parish priest to receive ashes in the shape of a cross on his forehead. And while he has since embraced what we believe to be a fuller truth, we still revere the faith of our forefathers.
And so begins the Lenten season. My sacrifice, once again, includes devoted and dedicated time and thought put down as words on paper for forty days of Lent. It’s not always pleasurable for me. I am often writing into the wee hours of the morning. I can't think of things to say. But I do it anyway. I find the repeated sacrifice to be soul stretching for me.