Tiptoe......................peeking through the gate

Angels in the Dining Room


     When Peter, Susan and Edmund were 7, 5 and 3, Ross and I decided to plan a vacation from them. I’m sorry to put it that way, because we loved our threesome, but the fact is that any place anywhere would have been fine. As long as it was just Ross and me.

     We’d tried the family vacation before and learned that our Dodge caravan, which should have been a soothing home away from home, turned into a chamber of horrors on a road trip. I’m not talking about endless requests for drinks and bathrooms and more drinks, or the amazing quantity of pinches and pokes that 12 small arms and legs can deliver. No, right in our seven-passenger, all-American car, two adult prisoners, strapped into their seats and unable to flee, were subjected for hours at a time to The Cruelest Method of Torture Ever Devised for an Introvert: Constant Noise.

     A lot of it was innocent. “Can’t we play 20 Questions one more time?” “Can’t we count up license plates again?” “Can’t you turn up our tape? We can’t hear it back here!” “Betsy (the dog) just ate my sandwich!” Some of it wasn’t: “Edmund pulled my hair again and you won’t do anything about it!” “Why don’t we get to stop at McDonald’s like Justin-and-Ashley-and the Whole World?” “This car smells just like Betsy!”

     We had an offer on the table. Some friends in Nova Scotia had spent a week with us at the lake the summer before and wrote afterward, Come on up and see us next summer. So that became the plan. Drop the kids with the grandparents and drive two long days to Halifax. Spend three days with the Burnhams and take two more to get home. A full week of noise withdrawal.

     It worked, and we had a marvelous time, except for one thing. Shortly after arriving home, my back began to hurt. The pain continued through the fall, growing worse each month, until finally in December, while pulling a pizza out of the oven for Peter’s birthday, something snapped. The party went on, but the party-giver listed strangely to the right the whole afternoon. By the next day, I could hardly walk. A day or two after that, I was bedridden.

     Now, what does a mother do when she has three small children and can’t get out of bed? She calls her mother. And mine came, just as soon as she could book a flight. Grandma was a retired grade-school teacher, so she spotted all of Edmund’s tricks before he could pull them. (When Grandma was suffering from dementia shortly before she died, I took over a family photo album to remind her of us. When she saw a picture of Edmund, she put her index finger on his nose and announced, "He was a pill!") With Grandma around, no one was allowed to cheat at Sorry, and no more cookies disappeared from their hiding place on top of the refrigerator . She kept the meals coming and the house clean, but her relentless cough was worrisome and might mean heart trouble. We wanted to protect her, in spite of our need.

     So that’s where friends, a.k.a. the Body of Christ, entered. Without any human coordination, they offered heaps of help and filled in every single gap the five weeks I was on my back. Library books, medical help, carpooling, Valentine baskets, play dates, meals, housecleaning and on-site prayers came our way. When my mother left, a thoughtful friend even brought her flowers. This amazing synergy kept my mother out of crisis and my family from collapsing.

     I thought of this episode in our family history when we moved from New England to the South this past Wednesday. Once again, we were in a pickle. Way too much packing and cleaning to do at the end, and too few hours to do it. That’s when Joy and Cheryl entered the picture. These female dynamos arrived with bottles and brushes and rags and went after woodwork, bathtubs, sinks and the refrigerator. Joy had to leave at noon, but Cheryl stayed until 5 p.m., then went to the U-Haul store to help Peter load his car on a trailer behind the 20’ truck. By the end of the day, I might be forgiven for wondering if she was human or angelic. Meanwhile, Lin arrived with a goodbye gift—silver and lavender jewelry she had created and Elizabeth brought lasagne, garlic bread, salad and chocolate chip cookies for dinner. Our favorite foods.

     But it didn’t stop there. At our new home, hundreds of miles away, the Body of Christ was waiting for us to arrive. Grace and the General (a Civil War buff) showed up to unload the truck and unpack boxes. Afterward, they invited us to dinner at their house. Another wonderful Italian meal. They called the next day to see how we were. It's a different state, but the same love is here.

     Years ago someone told me she was having trouble making friends in a new city. I asked if she would consider attending church. “What good would that do?” she sneered.

     After this last week, I could tell her with greater certainty than ever, "More than you could possibly imagine."