I spent most of Sunday afternoon at my grandparents' church for a fundraiser dinner. It's a fairly small church with a devoted but dwindling and graying congregation, and the turnout was small—180 adults, 10 children. The fundraising part is really not the point, the priest informs someone. It's an opportunity for people to get together. He irks me. He's a relative youth compared his flock and seems a little too content to let them wait on him hand and foot. I don't see him lift a finger the entire time. I bite my tongue.
My grandparents, my grandma especially, are devoutly Catholic. I'm not a church-goer myself, and never learned the Catholic doctrine—my parents ducked out of that strain before I came along. I know this saddens my grandma, and I know she has uttered many a tear-inducing prayer for the safekeeping of my meandering soul. Even so, I enjoy these dinners. (I've been to three...even helped serve spaghetti at one.) It makes my grandparents happy, and I enjoy spending time with them in their element. And I enjoy being a guest to gatherings in communities to which I would otherwise be foreign; getting a glimpse of others' lifelines.
Grandma is 82 and grandpa is not far behind. They are on their feet for nearly the whole three hours making sure everything is running smoothly: water pitchers and coffee thermoses filled, tables waited, places cleared and reset, volunteers directed... They are truly a wonder to behold. My grandma is captain of this ship. This is what she does.
I show up half way through, buy my ten dollar meal ticket, and pass inside. I spot my grandma across the small, outdated gymnasium (there is a school there as well). I wasn't expected, and her face lights up when she sees me.
My grandparents offer to sit and eat right away, though they're not yet hungry, but I say I don't mind waiting until they're ready. We stand, chat, and survey the scene. The tables are decorated with pastel paper placemats and napkins. The centerpieces are real pansies (with a fake daffodil inserted here and there) that my grandparents bought 4 days prior, and then repotted. They wrapped the larger pots with pale pink, green, orange, and blue paper salvaged from the Easter lilies—the two of them stayed up until nearly eleven at night working on this.
After thirty minutes or so I'm thinking I'd like to get off my feet, but I don't dare say it.
When things have slowed down we sit for the meal, make the sign of the cross, then recite the basic meal prayer ("Bless us, oh Lord, and these, thy gifts...")—these are the only two Catholic rituals that I can do with confidence. Then: baked chicken (breast and wing), green beans and carrots, mashed potatos with gravy, a bun, and white cake with cherry pie filling and whipped cream. And coffee.
We don't rest long before it's time to clear the tables, gathering the unused napkins, placemats, utensils. In no time the room is empty, the tables taken down and rolled into the back room. I stand by my grandma in the middle of the gym and give her a hug. I love hugs, I tell her. There's just something so comforting about being squished. She says people tell her that she gives the best hugs and indulges me with another. My grandpa walks up. Erin wants a hug, she says. She does? he says, Well... and he wraps his arms around me.
It know it means a lot to them that I came, and I can't think of a better way to spend the day.