Praying for Mother to stay
A somewhat delicate situation developed during my fetchin'-up, and I've long wondered if it should be given more thought. I was the firstborn of four. And as my introduction to piety, and all the other good things, my mother taught me a short child's prayer. She'd had it as a girl from her Scots mother, and she in turn from hers, in a heritage that went back to the first mother of the Hebrides. It had kept everybody honorable. We all paid our taxes on time, never got afoul of any laws to speak of, never ran for public office, and ate brown eggs. We've been good people. Probably the wee prayer at Mother's knee has been influential. It is, also, a prelude to wonderment: Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon this little child; Pity my simplicity, And suffer me to come to Thee. Then, before I was to say "amen," I could add my personal beatitudes, and I would say, "God bless Mummy and Daddy, my grampies and grammies, Uncle Bije and Aunt Nora, all the poor people," and anybody else I might want to include, except that I left it there and that was it. It was my sister who saw the possibilities and developed the blessings into a major production. She was three years younger than I, so in due time she was caused to memorize the same prayer. From our adjacent bed and crib, she and I would supplicate together under Mother's devout direction before Mother closed the door and went downstairs to the living room and frittered the evening away knitting, sewing, darning, tatting, and things while the house was so quiet. The moment of evening prayer was routine. We got our jammies on, with concomitant delay and amusement, and Mother was the best person to have around for such ceremonial activity. Then came the wee prayer and a few proper words from Mother about being a good little boy and a good little girl. Then we'd get a real clapper of a love-pat to make us smart, and we'd be tucked in. We got a kiss on our foreheads and the covers arranged, and it was good night, sleep tight! When my sister was big enough, she did her extra words about blessing folks. Once, after she had taken care of Mum and Dad, the various uncles and aunts, cousins and grandfolks, she added, "and God bless Mr. Prout..." Mother said, "Whoa! Who's Mr. Prout?" My sister said, "You know Mr. Prout!" My mother said, "I think not. Who is he?" I believe, if you wish to give this some thought, you'll be inclined to feel, as my mother did, that meeting an unknown gentleman unexpectedly in the coziness of your daughter's prayer is cause for inquiry. So you will not be surprised that my mother pressed the issue. Mr. Prout, my sister explained, was the man from the gas company. At that time, we were piped for city gas, and we had a meter in the cellar. The meter took 25-cent pieces only, and when we had used a quarter's worth of gas, the meter shut off the supply until we put in another quarter. Mother would put a cake in the oven and say, "There! Now my quarter'll run out before it's baked!" And when my father cleaned out his small-change pocket, he'd put the quarters in Mother's gas cup on the kitchen shelf. Mr. Prout came once a month to go down to our cellar and take Mother's gas quarters from the meter. And although Mother said nothing to indicate it at the time, I sensed, small as I was, that she hadn't expected to find Mr. Prout in my sister's prayers. But in thinking it all over, you'll agree that Mr. Prout came into this beneficence in logical fashion and nobody should be astonished. My sister recognized that the more blessings she could invoke, the longer my mother would stick around before saying good night, and Mother was a good one to keep hanging around as long as you could. Thus began, in my sister's precocious mind, a deliberate plan to delay our mother's departure by padding the list of benedictions. I never timed her, but I think she ran over 20 minutes the night she included the members of Congress, one by one. MY mother, never duped by excuses to delay bedtime, did indulge Sister in these benison requests. Only when there were guests to play whist, or she was working on a difficult bluebird on a hooked rug, would she butt in and say, "All right, Skookins, knock it off. You'll have the angels up all night as it is!" One evening, my sister besought a blessing on Jimmie Morton, the red-headed boy in the corner house who had a brown puppy and chewed bubble gum. My mother said, "Who?" My sister said, "You know Jimmy." My mother said she didn't seem to place him; "Which corner does he live on?" My sister said, "Oh, any corner. I made him up." It was part of Sister's strategy to keep Mother with us a few more seconds, and after that for quite a few years I kept wondering what did get blessed and what didn't. Mother accepted Jimmie Morton and would ask my sister how he was doing in school and if the pup was growing, and she'd say, "If I ever catch either of you chewing any of that bubble gum like Jimmie Morton, I'll skin you out with a dull knife, I will!" So we never did, and she never had to, and one evening my sister said we didn't need to pray anymore about Jimmie Morton; he'd kicked the bubble gum stuff. Mother said, "You see how it is?"