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Posts Tagged ‘Alex Muir’

From her supermarket bags she unpacked the makings of our meal—potatoes, and veg, and a chicken, still raw. And when I saw it all my heart leapt, because I knew she’d stay a while.

Work had called John away. And days were long, but nights were longer in our wee stone cottage, just baby and me. But that night she came. We had painted our kitchen walls Egyptian Sand, and in their yellow glow I watched as she peeled the veg, covered the chicken, and set it all to cook. I watched her, and we chatted, and then she sat with me. While I nursed my baby. While I gave him his bath. While I changed him and finally laid him down to sleep. And then we ate together. Me, just 27. Her, exactly 30 years older, though the years never mattered much to me. We ate, and we talked, and we sat. Catriona was her name.

That sitting was not the first time, nor was it the last.  Early days in our marriage, we’d often find ourselves at her table. Sunday dinner, beneath the black and white photograph of her husband Alex with the Queen Mother. Alex’s black robes flapping as he greeted the royal outside the old stone church. While we talked with her boys, laughed at their yellow budgie, Bart, smells would drift from the kitchen hatch–roast beef and boiled potatoes. To our right, through the great picture window, Catriona’s garden, where Scottish sun set to sparkle drops of Scottish rain on the lady’s mantle leaves. Catriona would scurry in the kitchen, the rest of us would speak.

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A Christmas Party at our cottage with three of Catriona’s boys, Graham, Ian, and Alistair. Here, I’m expecting the Professor.

And her four boys became like brothers—or like cousins to us, at least. The meal would begin with Catriona’s soup. It always ended with tea. Then the stories came, and the music, when Alex took down his guitar. True tales of dinners with Queens, talk of revival, Celtic melodies that stirred the heart. All shared with the modesty and ordinariness of their brown carpet, their family photos, their stacks of tapes and CDs. The sacred disguised as the ordinary. Sometimes I marveled that they enjoyed the company of little old me.

Catriona was a teacher, and in those days, so was I. And we taught a year in the same school, my class so naughty I’d hide in the cupboard at lunchtime and cry. But after school I’d feel better, when Catriona sat with me. She would crunch her apple, and I would grade away. At report card time, she came to our flat, helped me write them, and once again, she sat.

And when we bought our ramshackle cottage, she came to help with repairs. With the overgrown garden, the red shag carpet on the stairs. When summer came she took cuttings from her flowers, taught me how to make them grow. Climbing clematis, purple hebes, and the bright primrose. And she taught me how to make chicken stock. How she got her scones fluffy (though mine will always be like rocks). I will always remember the squeak in her young voice when she declared, “You’re doing an amazing job!”

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A wonderful Sunday afternoon at Catriona’s (she’s in red), along with her dear husband Alex, son Graham, and friends George and Elizabeth Barnie.  The Professor was almost one.

When the Professor was born, she invited me round—tired, sleepless, bewildered new mum that I was—and promptly sent me for a nap. Below me, my baby in her arms, she rocked him, she soothed him, she sat. I heard all about her boys—stories from when they were small. And I didn’t dream I’d be like her, with four handsome sons in all. And their first bed was his first bed—a little wooden cradle lent to me. And I can hear her say that “Boys are best!” with cheery certainty. Thirty years between us then, but in those days I considered her my very best friend.

When it came time to move south three hours to Dundee, she came for days to help me pack. Moving day, she insisted on driving with me, though I can’t recall how she got back.

As often as I could, I’d go see her. There’d be soup, and scones, and tea. And she’d take out the toys that were once her boys, and spread them out for mine. “You’re such a clever mum! Such an inspiration!” she’d always say. And I was so content sitting with her, just whiling the hours away.

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My sister and niece came to visit from the States. We took Catriona out for tea. I remember John prayed, thanking God for Catriona, which made her cry. The Professor was four.

I learned so much about her, from all those hours we sat. She wasn’t fond of goat’s cheese. She wrote in teensy, tiny, sometimes hard-to-read script. She never said a bad word about another person. And she never complained. Not once.

When we moved back to the States, and she was far away, I’d think of her nearly every day. John and I would speak of “being a Catriona.” We both knew what that meant. I treasured every Christmas card and letter that she sent. I remembered the things she taught me. I remembered the ways she’d helped. But most of all I missed the times when together, we just sat.

When we returned a few years later, she welcomed us with a smile. There was soup, a meal, and tea, and just sitting together a while. She brought out toys for the boys. And she spoke of the joys of the girls now in her life. Daughters-in-law! A granddaughter! She told me they were “just great!” And I longed for a girl, but like Catriona, I supposed I, too, could wait.

Another sweet friend held a gathering—soup, tea, and cakes. And my heart ached from the joy of seeing each dear, sweet face. When the night ended Catriona was the last one to depart. Before she left I gave her hug and a soft tartan heart.

Earlier this year I emailed her, sharing our adoption plans. Of the little girl I’d longed for, because I knew she’d understand. And I dreamed of returning to Scotland, with all my family. I couldn’t wait to see Catriona, and share soup, and scones, and tea. I couldn’t wait to feel the love as together we just sat. Because I guess in my heart, I always felt a bit like Catriona’s lass.

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At Auntie Catriona’s house on our last visit to Scotland. See all her lovely flowers? Here, I’m expecting Little Bear. The Professor was eight.

But early this summer, I got it. A message from her son. And she hadn’t been ill, but an accident, and suddenly she was gone. And I could not stop the crying. And I never knew this pain. And now I understand, so this is what it is…

So this is what it is . . . to be distracted a moment with some ordinary task—spreading the boys’ toast, or tucking in chairs — only to remember and have it hit me again like a splash of ice water on my face, this disbelieving, numbing shock.

So this is what it is . . . to feel a sense of panic, an urgency that something must be done, even as my muddled brain tries to comprehend that nothing. can. be. done.

So this is what it is . . . to search frantically through Facebook posts and old boxes of cards and photos, just to see a face, and read old words once again.

And I could weep, and weep, and weep.

I mourn that I will never again see a Christmas card from her lying on the mat. That I will never again hear her cute, squeaky voice say, “Avonlea, you’re such a pet!” That I will never again stand in her garden while she points out some new flower she has grown. That when we next visit Scotland we won’t sit at her table having tea and scones. That I will never again feel the strength and love I felt from sitting there with my friend. It’s like not being able to ever go back home again.

CATRIONA

“Mrs. Muir’s Boys,” Kenneth, Graham, Ian, and Alistair

She taught me so much. About cooking. About gardening. About asking God’s help to love the difficult people in our lives. But most of all she taught me the life-giving power of offering your time. Of rolling up your sleeves. Of being there. Of showing up. Of simply sitting with someone through life.

For that is what she did. She sat with me through life.

And there is such power in it. In sacrificial, real, tangible love.

She was a teacher, a baker, a gardener, a friend, a wife, a granny, a mum. And though her achievements might not seem noteworthy by society’s standards, for me she was as splendid as she could possibly be. She loved with me an everyday, ordinary, life-changing love. For even when her husband was ill, and she had her own family to care for, she made the time to help a new wife and mum. Despite the challenging moments in her own life, she made a point to sit with me through mine. And I loved her so very much.

And I could not bear the searing pain of such a loss if I did not believe with all my heart that one day, we will be sit together again in a garden, so like her own (oh, won’t she love that Celestial Garden!). If I did not believe her to be already with the Saviour she loved and lived for, her tears already wiped dry. If I did not know that she has been delivered safely to her Heavenly Home (2 Timothy 4:18). She has been delivered safely, though we from this end cannot see. She is safe, and she is home.

A piece of myself has gone there with her, and there it will remain until we meet again.

And the realms of Heaven grow closer still . . .

Many daughters have done well,
But you excel them all.
Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
And let her own works praise her in the gates.

~ Proverbs 31:29-31

Avonlea x

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