Age 0-6: I was born in Massachusetts, the oldest of seven children. My father, a heavy equipment operator and ace shade-tree mechanic, was known as “Big Jim” to everyone, and I absolutely worshipped him. He was 6’2,” and 10 years older than my 5’2″ mom (whose ancestors were always reputed, by her parents, to include French royalty, who had escaped and emigrated to Canada after the Revolution). Every day, my dad went off to work, and my mom kept house and looked after their (then) five small children (ages 7 and under). “And life [seemed] wonderful all the time,” as the song goes.
A Broken Nose, and I Learn of the Invisible God
One of the ways Mom coped with this army of small ones was to delegate age-appropriate tasks. One day, the three oldest of us were supposed to be going outside to fetch pieces of firewood for our Ben Franklin coal and wood-burning stove. Well, our old dog began growling menacingly at my favorite kitten. Fearing a calamity, I dropped out of my place in the tyke procession, threw down my piece of wood, quickly snatched up the little ball of fur, and climbed onto the roof of an old panel truck, which was parked in our yard next to my father’s dump truck. (Remember, my father was a mechanic. Don’t all mechanics seem to collect, or hold onto, old broken-down vehicles?) My thinking was that if I threw the helpless kitten into the bed of the dump truck, the cranky dog couldn’t get her. (She would have just starved or dehydrated herself to death!)
My hastily thought up plan was never to be, however, for the frightened feline turned to face me and clasped her sharp little claws into my jacket, holding on, literally, for dear life! As I strained to toss my little charge up into an arc which (surely, I reasoned) would have landed her in the bed, and the perceived safety of the very tall dump truck, the kitten pulled at me frantically. As you may have guessed, down I went, hitting the tailgate of the truck with my nose, on my way (head first) down to the sandy ground far below.
I managed to get up, bleeding from my nose, which hurt a lot, and stagger along beside the panel truck, gripping its sides, until I reached the end of it. Glancing in the direction of the front door, I spied my mother coming outside to see why I’d missed my place in the wood-gathering line. She saw me just as I was crumbling to my knees and falling face first into our play sand and gravel pile, semi-conscious. She gathered me up and carried me into the kitchen, where she placed a wash rag full of ice cubes onto my smashed and torn nose, and held it there against my sobbing protests, as she considered what to do. Oh! It hurt!
We lived a mile from our nearest neighbors and had no phone (few people did back then—difficult to imagine now). And…she did not drive. My paternal grandfather, a dairy farmer down the road, had once told her to blast on the horn of one of the vehicles in the yard, if there was ever an emergency, and he would drive right over. Since my mother could not have walked the mile or more to his house with all five children in tow, in time to get me quick help, she opted for the horn. She told me to hold the ice against my face, while she went out to the yard.
Well, I was later to learn, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction that day. Nevertheless, she kept up the frantic attempt to signal for help, praying silently for someone to hear the horn and come to help. Someone did hear, and someone did come to help, and you may not believe how it this all came about.
It just so happened that a distant cousin of my mother, who lived 80 miles away, and whom she hadn’t seen in several months, had picked that precise moment in time to drop in for a visit! God, my mother later explained, was the Someone who heard the horn (my grandfather never had), and her cousin was the “someone” who had been summoned to help.
Mom’s cousin’s wife watched the remaining children while he drove my mother and I to the doctor’s office. For some reason, the doctor had no one to assist him in holding me as he stitched up my nose. My mother, of course, being the devoted mom she was, quickly volunteered, and just as quickly dropped to the floor in a faint, after she had tried to hold my face, as the doctor began to push the needle and thread through the bloodied and swollen skin of my deeply-lacerated nose.
By the time we made it home that afternoon, I had 2 wire thread ends sticking out at the end of my nose, a butterfly clasp on a tear under my right eye, a cast on my right forearm (fractured), and an ace bandage around my left wrist! And, as I sat at our dining room table trying to sip on my bowl of hot and comforting tomato soup in spite of a terrible headache, I listened as intently as I was able, to my mother explain how God had seen me fall, and had sent help just when we needed it!
Isaiah 65: 24 says: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.”
Oh! What a marvelous mystery to me was this huge, all-seeing God! I had to know more. Where was He? (Ans. given: “up there, in the clouds”) How could I find Him? (“Look for Him.”)
Always slightly independent (being a first-born and all), I thus began a serious search to learn about, and get to know, this truly amazing God. That following spring, I began to spend a lot of time lying on the ground looking up into the sky, scrutinizing each cloud, hoping to catch a glimpse of, and meet this big God Who, apparently, cared about me.
After one or two days of fruitless effort, I finally asked my mother why I couldn’t see Him. She explained that He was invisible, which, of course, didn’t satisfy me at all. (How could I get to know Him then?) So, it was decided that, at five, I was old enough to start going to Catholic church services with my father. Oh! How wonderful: I was to have undivided time with my father and I would get to go to God’s House, and finally, get to know Who He was!
I didn’t get to meet Him yet, though, during those Catholic masses I attended with my father. However, I learned a lot about Him from the murals painted all over the vaulted ceilings. AndI learned about the saints of the church, and about angels, from the many statues ceremoniously placed throughout the magnificent cathedral. And I thought I had heard what Heaven sounded like, as I listened to the magnificent pipe organ, which rose high above me at the back of the church.
I pondered what I had learned of God so far (in between “Shushes” for asking questions): He was “Great;” He was “All-seeing;” He was “All-knowing;” and, I was told, He was “All-powerful.” But, What did that mean?
Next: Chapter 2 • I Ponder the Mysteries of Life and Death