Friday, June 24, 2011

The Book of Everything

My mother has an ancient Bible, one that was given to her by her mother on the occasion of her wedding to my father. My parents read from that Bible every morning of their 47 years of married life, until the very day my dad died, and now my mother goes nowhere without that Bible. I can remember my brother and me kneeling with our parents around their bed after being woken up much too early for school, and my mother assigning verses for us to read, and then my brother and me closing our eyes and falling back asleep, pretending to be praying as my mother blessed our family, and her sisters and brothers and their families, and all who were sick and in need and on and on and by the time she was done she had blessed pretty much the whole world. 

Now her Bible travels with her on her trips to Jamaica, to New York, and back to St. Lucia, gathering cards, letters, photographs, notes, lists and other bits of paper along the way. My mother keeps everything in that Bible that she doesn't want to lose track of. She still reads from it every morning, and then she will leaf through and let her eyes rest upon whatever the pages fall open to. Last Sunday morning she shared some of those memories with my daughter and me. 

The card below is a birthday greeting from her first grandchild, my 21-year-old niece who looks so much as my mom did as a young woman. The envelope says, "To Grandma" in my niece's 8-year-old hand. Underneath that, my mom has written, "From Leisa, very precious."

The photo that my mom is holding in the next picture is of her oldest three grandchildren and two St. Lucian friends, who also call her Grandma. Until two years ago, all these children spent every August at "Grandma's Camp" in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, just a few steps from the beach. When they got rambunctious, waiting for her to be done with chores or cooking or phone calls so she could take them to the beach, my mom used to send them to run laps around the house. Or she would set them the task of washing the car, which made them squeal with delight at the chance to get soaking wet from the garden hose as they turned the water on one another and made the little white Honda that my dad cared for so well, sparkle.

The summer this picture was taken, the kids liked to line up and sing "Stop! In the name of love," as well as various calypso tunes, with major volume and choreography. They aren't singing in the photo below. My mom was so impressed by their performances she made them pose for posterity. This was eleven years ago, now. The kids, starting from left, are 10, 6, 2, 8 and 8 years old here. That's my niece at left, then my daughter, and my son is the only boy. The girl next to my son is the daughter of my mother's long time housekeeper. She and my son are born two months apart. She is now 19 and stays with my mom in St. Lucia at night so she won't have to be alone. The little one is now 14 and taller than my daughter. I remember back when she was two and my kids arrived, calling "Grandma! Grandma!" she screwed up her little face wondering who were these impostors calling her Grandma by that name. My mom is still the only Grandma she knows.

The poem below is from one of the younger grandkids in Jamaica, written when she was 7 years old (she's now 10). It is titled, "A Welcome Poem," and it reads, "Welcome! Welcome! Welcome! Welcome back Grandma G. I hope you stay very long. Thank you for being able to be here for my birthday but next time please be here for Adam's birthday. You are a very special person and I am lucky to have you as my Grandma G." This poem, too, was carefully folded and placed between the pages of my mother's Bible.

Among the photographs the be found between the scriptures, I was surprised to find this one of me from when I was 11 years old.

As my daughter and I looked through all the papers and pictures with my mom, she told us the stories. "People call this my filing cabinet," she said after a while, closing the big book and holding it meditatively. And then she sighed, smiled, and placed it carefully back on her bedside table. That's when I got this last picture.

P.S. I love my mother's hands. Much like her time-worn holy book, they look as if the whole story of her life could be told there. 


  1. I feel as if I have been to the holiest of churches, reading this, seeing these pictures. Thank you for all of this. For showing me how much a grandmother can mean. Her love neverending and holy.

  2. P.S. I was looking at my own hands tonight, thinking that yes, these are the hand of age and I saw the beauty in them.
    So again. Thank you.

  3. Sigh...What a beautiful, beautiful post. Your mother, your daughter, you, all of it. Seems to me that your mom keeps the holiest of belongings in her bible and very soon she will have a new one to add. That photo of her granddaughter and herself. There are no words.


  4. What a beautiful, beautiful post that I read avidly, every single word. There is so much soul and quiet beauty in all of your photos, in all of the faces and hands and eyes. It's truly special, Angella -- an honor, really, to witness.

  5. Ms. Moon, a grandmother can be truly holy as you say. I know I have seen it. And that is why I recognize it with such warm feeling in your relationship with Owen. It is wondrous, and it will be his rock. If ever you have a moment's doubt about that, call up the sound of "Mer Mer!" It is the most beautiful sound, imagining it. Love.

    Debra, you know, I did think to send her this picture of her with her granddaughter! I know it would end up in her bible, blessed with the rest. Love to you, dear one.

    Elizabeth, thank you, sweet friend, for such an open-hearted reading and looking into the photos. Thank you, most of all, for being here. Love and hugs.

  6. This is so beautiful and wonderful and all kinds of amazing all rolled up into one.

  7. What a beautiful thing...
    thank you.

  8. What a family you have. And what an eye for photographs. Especially that one of your mother's hand on the bible, and your daughter and mother embracing.


  9. Beautiful words, beautiful pictures, beautiful hearts. Thank you, Angella, I feel like I know your mother so well.

    Looking at the last photo of your mother and your daughter, I realized your mother's bed is almost identical to my mother's. Seeing this makes me want to take similar photos of my mother and her life in the retirement home. I have always resisted doing that because I fear that I'm not good enough to do justice to her.

    Also, I am not sure how she'd feel about my sharing her picture on the internet. Does your mother know about your blog? I've showed Facebook to my mother, which kind of delights her even though she's also a little confused by it, but I've never tried to explain my blog to her. I'd like you know your thoughts, if you care to share them.

    And I hope you are feeling better. :)

  10. Gasping. Wow. The all of it--beautiful.

  11. Rotton Mom, thank you for appreciating this, and for being here.

    Yolie, I know you're walking this same walk right now. Love.

    Dierdre, i took so many pictures of my mom while I was there, and of the corners of her house, of the things, the objects that I took for granted growing up, which now seemed to shiver with import. i wouldnt even take the camera to the beach because I was afraid to lose it, to lose the photographs of my mother and her things. So i am especially glad the pictures speak to you. I was trying to capture something and you make me feel that I did.

    ellen, from your very first comment here, all the way back when I started, we realized that our mothers are so similar, and our relationship with them, too. You should definitely photograph your mother at this stage. There is such a dignity to them, we can learn from them. As for sharing the photograph, I think it depends on whether you think you mom would mind. If you're not sure, ask her. My mom doesn't mind me sharing her photographs even though she doesn't quite know what a blog is and I have purposefully not shared the address of this one with her. She hasn't asked. She seldom goes online anymore. I would be inhibited in what I write here if she were a reader. I would not want to distress her in any way, and I would censor myself. I need to not censor myself, for my own sanity!

    grady doc, thank you, dear woman. I am glad you are here.

  12. What a lovely, lovely post. So very touching to see her treasured Bible and all the precious goodies tucked inside. You warmed my heart today. x

  13. I was going to start with how much I love your Mother's hand, noted immediately, but you finished with that! :)

    This all just leaves me breathless.

  14. Love. Love. Love. The love of God. The love of family. The love of memories.
    Pure Love!
    And I love you ~

  15. So beautiful -her and your writing and the photographs, the all of it.