Smile! It’s Gaudete Sunday!

Willis Patterson, John McCollum, Richard Cross...

Willis Patterson, John McCollum, Richard Cross with Kurt Yaghjian as Amahl and Martha King his mother in the 1963 production (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Icy conditions kept me home from church today, the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday. How is this possible, you ask? Well, we do not park our vehicles in the garage (the explanation for this will have to wait for another blog entry), therefore the rain that fell all day yesterday, which turned to sleet and then snow when the temperature dropped overnight, produced a thick  layer of ice on the car and froze the car doors shut. It also turned our driveway into a frozen, lumpy, slippery obstacle course. The time I allowed myself to free  the ice-imprsoned  car was not enough to get the job done and arrive at church on time – not by a long shot. Very. Frustrating. Especially since this is one of my favorite Sundays of the year. Even as a kid I loved the third Sunday in Advent.  One reason was because it has a cool name; who can dislike  the  word ‘gaudete’? It is pronounced gow (as in cow)-  day tay.  Even saying it brings on a smile, which is very appropriate because the translation of the word gaudete is: “be joyful” or “rejoice”.

The second reason to love Gaudete Sunday was that it is the Sunday to light the pink candle on the Advent wreath. In our house we had a traditional advent wreath on our kitchen table. The wreath had four candles; three white and one pink. It was something to look forward to, this lighting of the pink candle. Finally – color and light together! Here was sparkling beauty meant to give relief to your eyes and heart during the long, dark winter days, while also presenting the promise of the coming spring.

The final reason to love Gaudete Sunday as a kid was that this was proof that we were actually getting close to Christmas. Somehow the  calendar  lacked the ability to measure time in an encouraging manner. Waiting day by slowly-dragging-day for the 25th of December to arrive was torture, where as counting by weeks using the Advent wreath was quite satisfying; “Three weeks down, and one to go until Christmas,” is what Gaudete Sunday made clear to me.

But what to do today, at home alone on Gaudete Sunday? After a few minutes of thought,  I lit three candles on the advent wreath, and found the CD of the one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, called  Amahl and Night Visitors. This hour-long opera tells the story of a poor widow and her crippled son who welcome  three royal visitors who are on their way to visit the new-born King.  The CD is of the 1951 Christmas Eve production by the NBC Television Theater. You can see the entire 1951 performance, including an introduction to the opera by the composer, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzx-s46vjpY

In the past, the story and the music of Amahl and the Night Visitors had been be able to break through the icy condition of my heart, and warm it up to receive the good news of Christ’s birth with thanksgiving and joy, and today was no different. Happily, the beautiful little opera changed the frustration and difficulties of everyday life into a time of worshipping the Lord.  And I guess that  is the real meaning of Gaudete Sunday, isn’t it?

“You turned my mourning into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”Psalm 30:11

Seattle Before Starbucks – Marguerite Reiten – Part 1

UptownMartinFruchterDoorway

Image via Wikipedia

Even in the 1950’s and 1960’s people in the northern Seattle neighborhood of Ballard found it hard to believe that our family did not own a car, but it was true. Dad  said that in a good year, our family was in the  middle-to-low income bracket, but if he were to purchase a car, we would drop to the much feared low-income bracket for sure. Anyway, that was the reason he gave us kids for not buying a car. Naturally, not having a car forced us to walk or take the bus in order to get anywhere – a constant challenge and irritation.  We envied any family that did have a car, which meant we envied just about everyone we knew. Many of these car-owning folks were generous enough to give us rides from time to time. One such person was Marguerite Reiten, whose house was directly across the street from ours. Marguerite belonged to St John’s parish as we did, and for a period of time she gave our family a ride to church on Sunday mornings.

Marguerite and her ancient, invalid mother lived in a large white Craftsman style house; I thought their house was particularly impressive because it had two sets of steps. One cement set climbed from the street to a paved walkway in the Reiten’s front yard; the second set, very wide and made of wood, adorned the front of the house and led to a grand porch. The front of the Reiten’s house had several windows and a dark wood and brass front door.  Since their house was on the crest of a knoll (as was the entire street on the east side of 12th Ave N.W.), there was a tuck-under garage built beneath it.  In that tuck-under garage was a large, domed, curved, billowy blue, full-sized Nash automobile.

(Here is my older brother Bob’s response when I asked him about what kind of car Marguerite drove: OH my goodness, Teri.  Yes I remember Marguerite Reiten’s car.  It was a Nash.  The full size model.  It looked like an upside down bathtub.  I think it was a two-tone blue color.  Marguerite was a BIG girl.  She was quite religious too.  I think she tried to enter the convent at one time. It didn’t work out. I don’t know why but as a kid I kept trying to paint her as a mean person.  However every time I had dealings with her, which was not very often, she was quite kind and soft-spoken.”)

It was in this voluptuous car that Marguerite drove us – my Mom, and “X” number of kids – to mass on Sunday. (Dad  walked  the ten blocks to St John’s so that he could say the rosary.)  Marguerite herself was large and curvy, like her car. She was tall, fair-skinned, dark-eyed, and wore her thin black hair in a braid on the top of her head, arranged in a band that went from ear to ear. She was missing one of her  teeth, too, although I can’t recall which one. She was an impressive sight to a child; as impressive as her car, almost. And as Bob mentioned, she was very kind to all of us.

One puzzling thing about Marguerite was that even though she had only herself to get ready for church, she was never ready to leave on time. Mom had all of us scrubbed and polished for church by 9 am, but we waited for Marguerite every Sunday. As we stood  on the sidewalk below her house, Marguerite would call to us from the windows so that we could have the minute-by-minute description of her final preparations. She  encouraged us to “Be patient! I’m looking for my missal! Hold on! Mother needs her knitting! Don’t panic – mass won’t start without us. I will be right out!” When she finally did appear from behind the doors of the tuck-under garage, she caused us little girls to stop and stare. This large and elegant lady  invariably wore a floral dress, was bedecked with jewelry,  had deep red lipstick artistically applied, and wore a Spanish mantilla over her hair. She was a showstopper. When the garage doors were fully open, we Kings would file into the garage and climb into the car. Mom would sit in the front seat with the youngest, and the rest of us would find a space in the wonderfully expansive  backseat of the Nash. Magically, there was always enough room for us.

Now the epic journey to church would begin. In the front seat, Marguerite would be talking like a mad hatter to Mom while shifting gears on the Nash like nobody’s business. From the backseat we could look out the  windows of the car and see the neighborhoods of Ballard and Greenwood from a vantage point we rarely had – elevated and enclosed. It was an entrancing time. And there was an element of suspense, too We knew the clock was ticking – 10:45 Mass would start any minute, and we were still blocks away from the church parking lot.  But we were covering ground! It was amazing how quickly we could get to church in a car. And yet I could tell Mom was concerned – her eyes had a thoughtful, serious look, even though her lips were smiling. I don’t ever recall a time when we were late to church, but on the Sundays when we rode to St John’s with Marguerite, we were often still looking for a place to sit as the priest approached the altar – which was perilously close to late according to King family rules. I think it was this tendency to tardiness that eventually caused Mom to gently refuse Marguerite’s offers of a ride, and forced us kids to be content to walk to church.

My sister Margie and I had a weekday connection with Marguerite, too. When I was six and Margie was eight,  Marguerite offered to teach us how to crochet lace at her home. I don’t know if I really wanted to learn to make lace, but I definitely wanted to look inside that big, white house. What would we see when the dark, wooden door was opened and we walked in to Maguerite’s?

Stay tuned to this blog for the next entry in Life Before Starbucks – Marguerite Reiten – Part 2