Thank Heaven for Little Girls

I love sharing pictures of my new house with you and I hope you like seeing how far we’ve come since September.  The reason these postings are few and far between is that the rooms have to be clean before I photograph them (got to keep it Pinterest safe!).
Today’s feature is Lorelei’s room.  Her room makes me really happy because it is a blend of a few salvaged things from our old life and new things that were given with so much love.
I also love it because she’s seven and it’s about time she had a nice room to call her own.  When she was born we still lived in our big Victorian house.  There were four generous bedrooms and one small one–so guess who didn’t have a room of her own?  Not that she cared–she slept in bed with Mommy and Daddy, we kept her clothes in a dresser in William’s room, and her toys were in a basket in the den.  We were excited when we moved to the next house–there was a small room just right for Lorelei.  There were problems, though.  No closet–except for the utility one with the leaky, noisy AC equipment.  Her room was part of what had originally been a mother-in-law apartment, which meant she had to go through Teddy’s room to get to hers–and Teddy did not always want her barging in.  Finally, it was a long way to Mommy in the middle of the night!  Inevitably, she ended up sleeping with us again.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Her room suffered only water and smoke damage, so we saved a few things, some of them quite precious, as you will see in the pictures.
This picture (one of a pair) hung on the wall of my Uncle Walter’s nursery, just about 100 years ago.   My grandmother unearthed them when my little sister was a baby, and they hung in her room throughout her childhood.  When we moved to the Victorian house, we put them in William’s room (he was the baby then).  I don’t even remember why, but they were not hanging up at the time of them fire, but were in a sheltered spot in the basement where they suffered very little damage.  My middle sister had them reframed behind special glass to preserve these treasures and now I have them back–the only family heirloom I have left.

Detail from the picture above

Here’s another picture that made it.  Actually all the pictures on Lorelei’s walls were saved, but most have now been relocated to other ares in the house–including a couple now in the room of their original owner, big sister Emily.
One of the very first people to respond with concrete assistance after the fire was Laura, a friend from law school days whose generosity I wrote of in an earlier post.   Her little girl is growing up and was ready to part with her four poster bed and matching mirror, and her Disney Princess lamp.  And Laura loaded all this up in a U-Haul trailer and drove to and from Nashville (that’s six hours round trip, folks) less than a week after the fire.  Did I mention that we had not even seen her in over ten years?  I hope it won’t be that long until we see her and her family again.

A bed needs a mattress and sheets and pillows and such, of course, and those were provided by friends from church.  They had them ready long before we had a house to set them up in.  Aren’t they pretty?  And other people provided spares, both old and new.
We used an end table (and where it came from I couldn’t say) but we still needed a dresser.  Enter more Good Samaritans!  If you live in Knoxville you’ll have heard of The Brown Squirrel furniture store.  I’ve been hearing the commercials my whole life!  And its owners have kids at KCHS.  Mrs. Matthews came by the house with a notebook and a measuring tape, asking what we still needed.  Within a couple of days, we had a dresser and a rocking chair.

Note the afghan, another treasure salvaged from Lorelei’s room. It’s the one Mima made for Teddy’s crib.

One last piece of furniture rounds out the room–the fanciful bookshelf below, which was a gift to Emily on her–I think–seventh birthday.  I did the best I could, but it’s still a little sooty.  Like so much of the furniture we once had, it came from Myrtle’s Mess.

Oh, and did I mention the closet?  No one likes to think of a little girl having all her pretty clothes burn up.  When it came to donated clothes, Lorelei won the jackpot.  I had friends I’ve never even met in real life mailing her boxes of beautiful things.  So thank goodness that her new room also has a walk-in closet!

Here is Lorelei on her very first night in a new bed in a new room in a new house:

Just don’t ask me where she sleeps now.
 

The Future Is in Her Hands

I recently wrote about how cool it is when your kid is good at something that you aren’t able to do at all.  But how about when your kid is BETTER than you at something you are pretty good at? 🙂
My family are writers from way back.  My mother has a journalism degree; a former journalist for the Catholic press, she’s tried her hand at everything from children’s books to plays to feature articles on a variety of topics.  Her great-grandfather was the founder of the Kentucky Irish-American newspaper.    I know there are more and if she’s reading this she will probably chime in!
I like to think I am a good writer.  I’ve been making up stories before I could write them down.  I was co-editor of my high school paper and won awards back in the day.  I churned out A papers throughout college and got an Honors degree in English.  I was a reporter and columnist for the Catholic press for many years.  I wrote some pretty good X-Files fanfiction a few years back.  And of course there is this blog.
But my daughter Emily is the real writer.  She writes all the time–it’s necessary to her.  She fills up notebooks with partial stories, lists of names for characters, character sketches, story ideas.  She’s written two entire short novels.  She’s majoring in Creative Writing and plans to go to graduate school to continue studying writing.  All she wants to do is write.  I have no doubt that she will be a published author some day.  She is amazing.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so, because last week she was awarded the Rev. Andrew C. Smith, S.J. Poetry Prize at the Honors Convocation at Spring Hill College, where she is a Junior.
I cried when I read the poem, which hit pretty close to home (you’ll see) especially considering what I had just written myself the day before.  But Emily doesn’t think it’s that great, and I had to beg her to let me publish it here.  If you disagree with her, please leave some love in the comments.

The Future is Out of Reach When I am Holding the Past in My Hands
Nothing turns my stomach like the acrid odor
Of charred photo albums
And the five waterlogged childhoods
Lying smeared and ashy within.
The leather of the albums cracks
Like a battered body,
Housing secret pain.
What the flames did not get to,
The hoses made short work of.
Scorched snapshots
Bleed ink and memories
That my mother cannot face.
Twenty-two years of marriage
A life
A family
And a history
Leak into the whorls of my fingerprints;
My newborn face
Grandmother’s blouse
The green of the hospital walls
Swirl together and muddy the waters
And stain the skin on my hands
Coloring my calluses
Losing this picture feels like losing her twice.
There is mildew on my first birthday card
And I could drown in all this roasted ink;
These charbroiled mementos
Of a time when we had no idea
what real suffering was.
I salvage the past two decades that no one else will touch.
Great-grandmothers grandfathers friends cats Christmas trees rocking horses china dolls wedding gowns school uniforms jack o’lanterns baptisms
Form a fine layer of ash beneath my fingernails.
My hands are black with what we’ve lost.

A Breath of Smoke and Ashes


It’s there every time I go into the garage.  The smell of fire.  It’s there, and then I’m here:

That’s not a place I really like to be, figuratively or otherwise.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a thing:  I don’t drive down that part of Northshore any more, no matter how inconvenient the detour.
But I can’t avoid the garage.  And the boxes of pictures and books that survived the devastation.

I’ve decided that the books will stay in the garage.  We will put them on shelves, and whenever I decide to read one I will attempt to clean it then.  Occasionally I will pick one up and flip through it, and leave the garage with sooty hands that smell of fire.


Then there is the box of photo albums and baby books, miraculously rescued from a cabinet in the office.  The pictures need to be removed from the albums.  They are probably deteriorating.  I can’t make myself do it.  Emily will finish the job she began over Christmas this summer, I’m sure.

Right after the fire I worried that I would always be haunted by the smell of burning, that I would never be able to enjoy the scent of a campfire again.  But that’s not the case.  Campfires, smoke from a barbecue, the aroma of someone’s fireplace in winter, even the mulch fire running amok near downtown right now–that doesn’t bother me.  It’s the singular scent of our own personal fire that I find uniquely disturbing.
Seven months later it both seems long ago and very close, especially when another loss makes itself felt, when I suddenly think of something that I have only no, I don’t have it anymore.  It’s a little joke around here, saying, “I had that, but IT BURNED UP!”  But there’s a morbid part of me that keeps me lying awake some nights going room by room (not of the burned house, which to be honest never really felt like home, but of my Victorian house), looking in each drawer at things that are gone, remembering even what the drawer pulls felt like, torturing myself with my incredibly clear visual memory and discovering new things that I haven’t had a chance to feel sad about yet.
 
 

Easter Blessings

As I’ve written before, I love Easter.  It’s my favorite holiday.

This Easter felt like even a bigger deal than usual to me.  For one thing, all holidays post-fire feel like milestones.  I know what happened to us doesn’t compare to a death in the family, but things are different now.  Not only are we in a new place, but we’ve lost all the trappings of celebrations past–the baskets, the bunnies, the decorations.  Easter has never been about decorating for me, but I do particularly mourn the loss of my three Polish Easter eggs, brought to me from Poland by a Georgetown History Graduate student back in 1990 when I was the secretary of the History Department there.
So the first thing I had to do was use the last of my Target gift cards for an Easter Basket shopping trip.

Jake with the new Easter baskets, waiting for me to finish up at Target

Stress and finances have made inroads into the once annual excursion for new Easter clothes–getting a new Easter dress was practically a religious observance for me well into my college years, and I took great pride in the matching outfits I scored for the three “big kids” when they were small–but this year several of us decided to get some new things.  Jake had a nice suit John bought him last fall, and he and I found an Easter tie (thank you to the giver of the TJMaxx gift card!).  John took Teddy out suit shopping, but finding a suit that would accommodate his large chest and relatively small waist proved impossible, so he ended up with a blazer and pants.  I took Emily dress shopping, and I actually used my own Christmas Kohl’s gift card to get some new things for myself (more on my lack of personal possessions in another post!).  The little people were content with “new to them” items given us after the fire.




I waited a little late (Yikes! the day before!) to go bunny shopping.  It turned into a three-hour odyssey, and in the end finding matching bunnies for four out of five kids (one considers himself past wanting bunnies on Easter) proved impossible.  Lorelei has carried her sheep around every day since, and William was delighted with his possum (to replace one lost in the fire) so I needn’t have worried.


The Easter Bunny brought plenty of candy.  There was much speculation by William and Lorelei on the nature of the Bunny, where he comes from, what he looks like, why he does what he does, and who his “minions” are.  There were also sweet rolls for breakfast.  There are always sweet rolls (hot cross buns, really, only I’m not crafty enough for that so they are just glazed) or cinnamon rolls made from the sweet roll recipe (and I was trying for less mess and stress) on Easter morning.  This was my mother’s tradition, but the glitch this year is that no one has the recipe any more.  I had copied it down years ago in my notebook of special recipes.  My mother lost the original and had taken to calling me if she needed it.  You know what happened to my notebook.  I couldn’t find the exact recipe online.  Between the two of us we figured it out–they tasted like they were supposed to!
Easter Mass is the greatest celebration of the Church year.  We made sure to arrive early–in fact we were so early we had to wait outside for the previous Mass to finish up!  But that was okay because we were treated to an Easter Parade as folks exited, and we got to talk to the people who go to ten o’clock Mass!  The Church looked beautiful, and we sang the right songs.

 
We’ve had guests over many times since we moved–four birthday celebrations and a Christmas Open House–but we had not yet hosted a holiday dinner.  We went out on Thanksgiving, and my sister did Christmas.  We had not hosted a holiday dinner for quite some time, actually–the last time was two Easters ago, at our then-new house, the house which is now burned down.  We were so happy and hopeful that day, with no way of knowing either the very bad or the very good things that were headed our way.
Anyway, I decided Easter would be a relatively stress-free way to begin our turn at holiday hosting.  We made a rule that no one could bring more than two things.  My mother brought fried chicken and angel biscuits.   My sister Anne (Betsy and her husband were not with us this year) brought macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.  I made baked beans, green beans, and sickeningly sweet tea–just the way we all like it.  Emily made lemon bars and mint juleps.  My father and stepmother brought a butter pecan cake.  Anne’s mother-in-law brought a ham.  And even Lorelei made some cookies (with Jake’s help).   All together there were 18 of us for dinner!  We did it buffet style and it went smoothly and was delicious.
Of course Easter would not be Easter for the little people without an Easter egg hunt.
photo credit: Emily Sholly

It was a truly blessed Easter.  How was yours?

Red Red Red

In my pre-fire life, I used to think about redecorating my kitchen.  Apparently some people actually do that kind of thing, but in a single-income seven-member family, you replace things when they break with whatever you can afford–you don’t “redecorate.”  Granted after twenty-some years of marriage and five kids, most of what we had started out with had been broken and replaced already. Nothing matched, and I’d quit caring.  It was so miserably hot that I spent as little time as possible in the kitchen anyway.
Still, a girl can dream, and I used to dream of a red kitchen.
Post-fire, the kitchen was gone along with everything in it.  Located next to the garage which seems essentially to have exploded, it was incinerated.  Shards of dishes were buried in the ashes beneath the former location of the cabinets where I kept them.  Jake dug through the ashes where the pots and pans were kept, hoping to salvage my favorite cast iron pot, but its bottom was gone.  The only things that remain are two spoons we found in the yard, some plates and cups that were left out in the car, and the last remaining fork from our wedding flatware, which Jake retrieved for me from the blackened hulk of the dishwasher.
One of the first of many, many gifts we received post-fire was a set of Paula Deen cookware.  And it was RED.  Suddenly I realized that redecorating was a necessity and the red kitchen could be a reality.  Happily, the palette of the new house lent itself harmoniously to the red theme.  Target gift cards supplied coordinating appliances and accessories–it’s actually amazing how many red kitchen things there are!  Serendipitously red kitchen gadgets arrived from friends as if by magic.  Even the donated dishes (I’m still way too thrifty to buy red dishes when we were given at least three separate sets) harmonize with the redness, and I find their definite late-80s vibe comforting.
Our new kitchen is open to the adjoining family room, so there are a few red accents there too, and I got a red rug and hung some red pictures down the hall to the office.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and it makes me happy every time I look at it (when it’s clean, that is).
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Bye Bye Britannica

I’m not even exaggerating when I say I almost cried when I read that the print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is no more.
I’m not a dinosaur, okay?  I can’t remember the last time I cracked an actual book to find information (besides, all my reference books are gone).  I’ve prided myself for awhile now on being able to quickly access any information needed by me or anyone else in my family online.
But my love affair with encyclopedias goes way back.  Back to the first report we had to write, in fourth grade.  Everyone in the class had a state–mine was Kentucky–and we actually got to leave the classroom to go to the Resource Library down the hall (it was just an alcove with a couple of carrels and some shelves) to use the encyclopedias to find out the all-important state birds, flowers, and trees.
There was a set of old encyclopedias in every classroom.  I remember impatiently waiting my turn for volume C so that I could write the short Columbus Day paper we all had to turn in.  My method was to take each sentence in the encylopedia article and rearrange the words.
A few years later found me making trips to the public library to work on a country report, copying (by hand) every map I could find of Vietnam–topography, weather, agriculture.
I can’t remember how old I was when my father brought home a used set of encyclopedias that a friend at work was getting rid of.  I was so excited.  True, they were the 1959 edition of World Book, but a whole lot of history happened before then, you know?  I had no trouble at all using them for my report on Ancient Egypt.
When I was in the 7th grade, I won the Regional division of the National Spelling Bee.  The prize: a brand-new set of the 1980 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  If I recall correctly, they were worth $900.  They looked magnificent, displayed on the shelves in our den.  The fine print on the whisper-thin pages held so much information.  They were so intellectual that at times I still used the beloved World Book.   I loved the Micropedia section, which was kind of a miniature Internet–you could find anything in there!
The encyclopedias were boxed up 18 years ago, when my childhood home was sold.  For 16 years I carried the enormous heavy boxes (well, John and the boys carried them) from home to home.  They spent six years in the basement of our first home.  Seven years in the attic of the next one.  Finally, in our last house, with its built in shelving in the den, there was room to set them out–and John’s World Books too.
Well.  You know how that ended.  They’d long been unnecessary.  Now with their value as shelf art destroyed, it didn’t make sense to drag them around any more.  But when I read that article yesterday, I wished that I’d saved them just the same.

Sanctuary

When I was eleven my family moved to a new house. It was a split level, and I had the basement bedroom. I had a three yellow walls, one wall with yellow roses, and wall-to-wall spring green carpet under my French Provincial 1970s bedroom suite, complete with canopy bed (covered with one of Mima’s afghans, of course–yellow and green!). I wish I had a picture to show you. I guess it was a little loud, but it looked like springtime, and I loved it.
As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in the privacy of that room.  I used to love to sit on my floor, listening to my record albums (usually my soundtrack to the animated version of The Lord of the Rings), drawing with my colored pencils in my special sketchbook.  I studied there, in front of my wall heater. I wrote a book there, reading chapters aloud to my sister as I finished them.  I talked on the phone for hours there (by pulling the long cord of the downstairs extension into the room!).  I entertained my friends there.  I cried there.   I loved being able to go downstairs and lock myself in, away from everyone.  It was a sanctuary.
For four years in college, I shared a bedroom.  Then I got married, and quickly was sharing my bedroom not only with my husband, but with a succession of babies and small children and an abundance of clutter.  First we had a creaky old bed; later we switched to box spring and mattess right on the floor to keep rolling babies safer.  When we moved into our Victorian house, I had high hopes for the bedroom-as-sanctuary:  it was a large room, with a fireplace and a door which once led to a balcony.  We even had a loveseat, but it quickly became a magnet for clothes waiting (and waiting, and waiting . . . )to be hung up, and the rest of the room quickly filled with the clutter that was overtaking the whole house.
The bedroom in what the little ones have christened “the burned down house” was kind of an anti-sanctuary.  We could not even get our boxspring up the stairs of this 1960 split level, so we had our mattress right on the floor.  It was stiflingly hot from May through September, and there were no screens on the windows, so that we learned to live with pollen everywhere and an abundance of flying and crawling friends.  We usually had two cats in bed with us, not to mention Lorelei AND William.  There always seemed to be either dirt (courtesy of the aforementioned bedmates) or crumbs (thanks, to John, who WOULD NOT STOP eating crunchy snacks in bed) amongst the sheets.  And this room was smaller than the last, and the clutter just as bad.  I hated going in there, frankly.
But now.  Oh my.
Can I just say that going up to my room at night is just about my favorite part of the day?  And not just because I love to sleep.  No, it is that sense of sanctuary that was pretty much completely missing from ANY room of the last place we lived. (And is it any wonder, in retrospect, that I never felt quite safe or at home there?)

The room is enormous.  And there’s no clutter because we don’t own any.
There’s a huge bathroom with two sinks and a spa tub.

Lorelei enjoys the spa tub

It has a walk-in closet.  You’d laugh if you saw a picture of that.  John, who was given all my Uncle Charlie’s clothes, and received shirts and ties from many other sources as well, NEEDS the closet (for that matter, as an attorney, he needs the clothes).  My side, on the other hand, is sparsely populated at the moment!
I love the furniture in the room, donated by a friend of my father and step-mother.  And there is no accumulation of knick-knacks to detract from it (the collection of . . . shall we say, CRAP, that used to sit on John’s bureau had been annoying me for years.).
And the bed.  Oh, the bed.

The bedspread is EXACTLY like one I inherited from Mima that was lost in the fire.  I never got to use it because it was too long with the bed always being on the floor.  The sheets are Ralph Lauren with a ridiculously high thread count.  Getting into this bed every night with my book and my book light and my reading glasses is truly one of my greatest pleasures in life.


By now it probably goes without saying that every single thing in this room–the pictures, the linens, the books, the furniture, the pillows–even the nightgown I sleep in each night–came from the love and generosity of friends, family, even strangers.  That makes the room feel like even more of a blessing.  I feel safe and loved here.
What about you?  Is your bedroom a sanctuary?  Do you have another place that is–or has been–a sanctuary for you?

Cat People

This morning, the first thing on the agenda is to take Mace to the vet for his first set of shots.  Mace is one of three now half-grown kittens who adopted us when we moved here.

Jake holding the first kitten to appear

We didn’t start off being cat people.  John never had a cat growing up.  In fact, he SAID he didn’t like cats.  Certainly, he was allergic to them (dogs, too).  My family had one cat when I was growing up–only because my little sister begged.  Celeste was a part of the family for 17 years, but we felt like she was an exception.  She was not like the other cats.
We never made a decision to own a cat, either.  Cat ownership was thrust upon us when Rosemary appeared on our deck, homeless and expecting kittens, when Teddy was a baby.  She stayed 15 years.  Mima urged us to keep her.  Children should have pets, she said.  She’d pay for all of it, she said.  She did, and we did.  Rosemary was a sweet, undemanding, affectionate cat.  For a time, we had a companion for her, another stray–a fat furry black and white creature named Tosco–but they never got along well and when he wandered off one day and did not return no one missed him much.
Rosemary disappeared one day shortly before we moved to the house that burned down.  She’d been gone for a few days before, but this time she didn’t come back.  I still miss her.
Lorelei and William decided they each wanted a kitten of their own.  I did not consent to this.  John and Emily between them brought home two kittens from Emily’s roommate’s cat.  Both were supposed to be girls; both turned out to be boys.  Carrying on a theme, we named them Pepper and Parsley.
Watching those two grow up was a joy.  They had so much fun playing together.  We had five acres of woods behind the house and it was a wonderful playground for them.  Wildlife abounded, and Parsley was a merciless hunter, killing something just about every day.
Those cats were spoiled rotten.  They ruled the house.  Rosemary was rarely inside.  Those two had windows open so they could come and go as they pleased.  They slept right in the bed with us.  I posted so many pictures of them on Facebook I embarrassed myself.
Lorelei in my bed with her kitten, Pepper.

Under the tree

Spoiled Rotten

Brotherly Love

After the fire, we never saw Pepper and Parsley again.  Pepper hadn’t been seen that day.  Parsley was in the house when the boys left at 4 p.m.  By ten, the house was in flames.  There was a window open for Parsley, of course.  We hope the fire scared them, that they ran into the woods, that when they came back to a foul-smelling blackened shell and we weren’t there, they found someone else to love them and take care of them.  That’s what we hope.
Lorelei and William didn’t care about the house.  They didn’t care about their toys.  All the cried about was their kittens.
So it seemed like God had a hand in sending those three little kittens to our porch only a few days after we moved in:  Cicely for Lorelei, Mace for William, and Mr. Kimutis (after his religion teacher) for Jake.  They will never replace Pepper and Parsley, but they are sweet and loving and have helped us heal.
First night

Eating us out of house and home

It's a bed if we say it's a bed

Saying her prayers

Drying off after getting caught in the rain

Just pitiful

New and New to Me

For seven years, our family lived here:

It was built in 1889, and parts of it didn’t seem to have been replaced since then.  It had been patched and smoothed over so that we did not realize what we were getting into until it began to disintegrate around us.  We are not handy and we could not afford the extensive renovations it needed and deserved.  But we loved it, and no modern home will ever have that much personality.
To go along with our old house, we had lots of old furniture.  John’s first apartment was furnished with his grandmother’s old living room furniture and his grandfather’s old bedroom furniture.  We added my old bedroom furniture and then started acquiring things from my friend’s antique shop.  The old furniture suited the old house.  We had armoires, a secretary, a sideboard, bookcases.  As older relatives died, we inherited heirlooms, an old cabinet radio, paintings, clocks.  Almost everything we owned was pre-owned, and we loved it all.
Well, it’s gone now.  And maybe it would be out of place in a four-year-old house anyway; I don’t know.  One thing’s certain:  we don’t mind at all that all the lovely things we have now are only new to us, because that is what we are used to.  That is comforting.
Here is a picture of my favorite piece of furniture we were given:
This came to us from a church friend.  It was her mother’s old kitchen table.  I can’t tell you how delighted I was when I saw it. (I had not idea about most of the furniture until it arrived in our home the day we moved in.)
My grandmother had a table that was very similar.  This was the kind of kitchen table a lot of people were still eating on when I was a little girl.  And someone even gave me some Melmac if I want to be even more authentic!
Here’s a close up:

This little breakfast nook turned out to be the perfect spot for the table:

 
I think that John thought the table’s placement there was temporary and that when we get the Queen Anne dining room furniture from his grandmother’s home would would be moving the oak dining set from the formal dining room into the kitchen.  But he is wrong.  This is not going anywhere.

Some old things you treasure just because they are old.  Others are special because of their history, their sentimental value, their family connections.  Someday I will write a weepy post about some of the heirlooms that are no more.  For now, I will just say that I feel sick at the thought that so many things no longer exist to be passed down to the next generation.
That’s one reason I was thrilled to acquire the item below, which while currently brand-new, will become an heirloom one day:
This beautiful quilt was handmade for me by my friend Emily.  She blogs here about her various crafty projects in progress.  I am amazed by her talent!

Right now this beautiful heirloom-to-be is putting in its time as camouflage for the old office chairs that provide additional seating in our living room, nice side chairs being one of the few things that have not yet come our way.  It is also being used by John to keep him warm when he naps on the living room couch.

Evidence of Conviction

“If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
As Christians, our lives are supposed to be our witness.  In the Gospel of John (13:35), Jesus said to His disciples: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  And this was true of the early Christians, according to Tertullian: “Look . . . how they love one another . . . and how they are ready to die for each other.”
I would like to think that my life gives some indication of my beliefs:  my kids go to Catholic schools, we attend Mass regularly and are active in our church, and of course Facebook and blogging have given me a public platform to witness to my beliefs.
But I also used to take comfort in the many visible, outward manifestations of Catholicism with which we adorned our home.  We didn’t just head out to the Catholic knickknack store one day and come back with a bunch of decorations; no, our collection was meaningful and gathered over several years.  Almost every room in our home bore evidence of our family’s religious convictions, daily reminders of what we believe to be the real purpose of our lives.
For some reason last year I went around and photographed several of my pictures and now I am so grateful that I did. 
This is a portrait of the Blessed Virgin as a child.  It had a companion which I did not photograph of the Child Jesus.
Obviously, this is the Madonna and Child.
And here’s the Holy Family.  I purchased all of these, at different, times, from my dear friend Antoinette Fritz, the proprietor of Myrtle’s Mess in South Knoxville.

When I was a little girl, we lived across the street from two brothers from Lebanon, Hafez and Joseph (Youssef, really).  Hafez and been in the U.S. for awhile, but his brother, who was a college student, was newly arrived and didn’t speak English very well.  We becamse friends with them, and you cannot imagine how incredibly exotic this was in Knoxville in the 1970s.  The above picture was originally a gift to my mother from Joseph.
This was the Polish Madonna that once hung in my laundry room.  It was my blogging friend Dwija‘s tweet about this picture yesterday that inspired today’s blog post.
Finally, my Kitchen Madonna.  I loved this visual reminder that Mary was a homemaker, too.
I also miss our crucifix, and the marriage cross that we received as a wedding gift that hung above our bed, and the statue of St. Patrick that I won in the Irish Basket at the St. Joseph Fall Festival, and the small print of the T.Chandler painting of our church, and the multitudes of crosses and rosaries, and more.  I know that what’s in our hearts is most important, but these outward manifestations are important to Catholics, and my house feels bare and soulless without them.