Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ozarks 15-16.10.04: Red Enameled Berries and Wagging Fingers

The phrase “refulgent splendor” was made for today’s sunrise. It needs a Greek Orthodox choir chanting in that excited, ecstatic way—a pulsing, pounding crescendo—to celebrate it. The sunrise seems to flow from my dreams . . . of going into a Presbyterian church whose interior is all hammered bronze, or the Episcopal church, which is Baroque, white plaster with intricate pastel ornamentation.

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Sitting at Kats Rest watching the waterfall, which keeps cutting deeper into the overhang that forms it, so that now it’s a chute. Soon it will be a gully of some sort.

Thoughts in the dark of the moon. Another church dream last night—this time that old trope of going to communion. I get to the communion station, and, without warning, there are no more hosts. No announcement—only a switch to another place . . . .

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Purple stars and spikes of aster. Wind pouring from the south as the sun westers, presaging change, rain again in a day or so. Still, the sky’s brilliantly blue and the air crisp and spicy as newly picked apples, or pumpkins touched by frost.

Along the road, red leaves and cones of sumac. The dogwood on the north side of the creek has brilliant red enameled berries.

Listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing “Goody, Goody” as we drove up here, a sudden ray of illumination of my parents’ murky past. I think of this as one of those warm, fuzzy songs my mother sang to us when we were children, akin to “Little Brown Jug” or “Three Little Fishes.”

I can see her now, how she’d wag her finger as she sang, “So you gave her your heart, too, just as I gave mine to you. And she broke it in little pieces . . . . Hooray and hallelujah, you had it coming to you . . . . Goody, goody.”

As I listened carefully to the entire song for the first time in years, I suddenly realized my mother was singing those jubilant (those bitter and reproachful) words not to us children, but to my father.

How many other Southern children my age cut their teeth on that song, imbibing generous doses of maternal poison along with the mock gaiety of the finger wagging, the jazzy beat? How many other Southern women of the post-World War II period sang this song for their husbands, dancing on their heads with glee?

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It’s the poetry of Catholicism I miss—simple homely things turned holy, frail plain earthy vessels of the divine: water, fire, salt, oil, bread, wine. A listening ear becomes the portal to God’s heart in confession, gentle caressing hands a sign of God’s sending forth and commissioning in confirmation, or of God’s healing and promise to abide with us in our journey in the last rites.

But the hands now administering these rites! And the mouths now speaking the words!

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