Some of my favorite childhood memories recall taking rides with my parents. Sometimes we would take the bridge over the Normanskill Creek and stop for ice cream at Tasty Freeze, or drive around on Election Day evening looking for bonfires, or ride up and down city streets admiring Christmas lights.
Sundays meant Mass, visiting with family and the occasional drives to nowhere in particular, taking in the scenery, looking at old houses and barns. There were no cell phones to distract us from each other, or the view out the window and very little money to spend. Still, we almost always ended up in the local diner for dinner – and conversation.
On Saturdays, my dad and I would take a trip to Montgomery Ward. We didn’t go to shop, we went to people watch, wandering around the store, stopping in the tool and garden sections, and then heading to the cafeteria for lunch.
I always felt so special sliding that tray down the metal railings, picking out my own hot lunch, which always meant mashed potatoes and gravy, and ending with homemade chocolate pudding in a real parfait glass. My favorite part was the chocolate “skin” on top of the pudding.
While we were eating, may dad would point out different people and ask me questions about them. What kind of work did I think they did? Were they married? Why were they in the store? He would point out different things to study – their shoes, their hands, their clothes, how groomed they were. He taught me to be observant, to pause, to listen, especially for stories.
He made me believe that what I thought was important, and let me know I was loved because he chose to spend this time with me.
It was really hard for me to move away from home when I got married. I missed my parents terribly, but more than that, my children missed out on more time spent with devoted grandparents. So, as often as possible, I took the three hour drive to Albany with all six of my kids packed in to a nine passenger station wagon.
Again, no cell phones, just a wing and prayer that we would get there safely and I wouldn’t lose any of them at the rest stops.
When my mom became terminally ill, and my dad became her caretaker, my heart broke to know their plans for retirement would be unrealized dreams, and their times of taking long drives to anywhere were over.
One day, my dad mentioned that he always wanted to visit Olana, an historic site in Hudson, N.Y., about a half hour from our family home – a unique castle built on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.
So I made arrangements for someone to stay with my mom for a full day, and drove up to Albany to pick up my dad and visit the 150-year-old middle-eastern inspired mansion built by the famed Hudson River Valley School artist Fredrick Church.
We spent the day touring the estate, listening to the fascinating history, sitting on the balcony admiring the awe-inspiring, expansive views over the Hudson River and imagining what life was like back then.
It was like being in the cafeteria of Montgomery Ward, only more beautiful.
We ate at a rest stop on the Thruway, at a time when there were still places that served you food, like in a diner. We talked about things we had never talked about before, like his trip home on a train, while a solider, when he met Eleanor Roosevelt who was traveling to her home in Hyde Park, N.Y.
That day was a perfect day. It was a holy day.
Remembering these times, made me resolve to do Lent differently this year. At this point in my life, there is a need for a broader perspective for a spiritual discipline that will transform not only 40 days, but the rest of my life.
This Lent will be a time of creating holy days and holy moments, giving up the many distractions that prevent us from being present to others, and to God.
Mary Morrell is the former managing editor of The Monitor and an award-winning writer, editor and educator working at Wellspring Communications. She can be reached at mary[email protected], and read at her blog, “God Talk and Tea.”[[In-content Ad]]