H/T to internet friend and RevGal Ellen, who posted on Facebook: This is in honor of all working people everywhere, and in memory of the many generations of peasants, artisans, domestics and factory workers in my own family whose labor helped build both Europe and the United States.
I think of my great-great grandfather, Henry Meadows Butler, who was a miller, and his wife Louisa, who was the daughter of a miller. Henry's father was Richard Butler, a tallow chandler. Louisa and her second husband, William Davy emigrated to Chicago in 1879 and they started a company burning clay ballast for railroad cars. My Butler grandfather was still engaged in this family business when he married my grandmother in 1912 and they moved to Texas.
Later the family owned a dry cleaner's, and after a financial reverse, my grandmother and great grandmother did ironing at home.
I think of my Gramma Beth's grandfather, John Dawson, who left England for America to avoid debtor's prison. He took his wife and daughter with him (my great-grandmother, Gramma Etta). My Gramma Etta invented a thread cutter that pinned to the blouse of the seamstress for easy access. It was patented.
I'll be working this Labor Day, about which I have moaned somewhat. Looking at it, I don't have much to complain about. I am part of the "knowledge economy;" my tools are words and images, my workplace a computer station. My office is cool and warm in approximately the right degrees at about the right times. In fact, I "suffer" from pain in my arm brought on by sitting still and using a computer for hours at a time.
This morning I an looking at a picture near my computer of the group at a Church Women's Retreat that we took in early March of 2007, and pondering the friends in it who have gone through so much in just the last year. That day there were only beautiful smiles, joy of being together in a beautiful place, headed to breakfast.
We didn't know, that day, what the days ahead held. We never do, right? And for every story that I know...there are many others I don't.
But just from my knowledge, the group members have been through the following since that photo was taken: knee surgery, death of a father, husband's possible loss of job, unexpected death of a sibling, teenager issues, stroke, severe injury/illness of spouse, adoption of a beautiful Chinese daughter, brain surgery, huge blow to career plans, and, and: Janet. She is in the back row next to me, wearing red I think, smiling over the shoulder of the girl in the green sweat suit. Janet was so happy to be with us for this retreat, having missed our last one due to helping a friend, and previous ones due to her battle with breast cancer.
She got very sick that weekend with what we thought was an upper respiratory infection. We didn't know, that day, that she had acute myeloid leukemia. The later spring of the year saw her head to the hospital and wait for, and eventually get a bone marrow transplant. It was supposed to cure her. We had prayed so much.
It was not. It was, as I later learned, "a smoldering case." Janet left us for the kingdom of the saints on December 10, 2007.
She is, of course, very present in so many ways in our lives...but not in the way we would most prefer. If you look in the back of the photo at the white van, you will see a mama unloading little ones: Janet's daughter and her three little boys, and Lucy was pregnant at that time with the precious little granddaughter that Janet did get to see and cuddle before she went. Her greatest joys in her life.
The Communion of Saints is very close to me. I remember in Eucharist every Sunday certain of those who have gone before me, leading the way. Today is one of the liminal spots in the year when they are so close. I am grateful to bear such memories and such love in my community. Not just from Janet, but from every person pictured. Every person I pass and greet. Every person who blesses me with their presence. You.
The Mexicans celebrate this day as Dia de Muertos or "Day of the Dead." It is a festival and a remembrance.
I've been trying to think what would be appropriate for such a momentous occasion, and decided that I'd wait and see what the day brought to me. And it just arrived, in the form of an e-mail from Tennyson's mom with a link to a memorial to him that she and his dad put in the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World:
TENNYSON LeMASTER REMEMBERED
Even after one year, Tennyson, our hearts break and we gasp at the thought of your passing, and we continue to mourn. We pine for you immensely: your voice, your love; your humor and your wit! The world lost a wonderful person on July 5, 2007.
You may rest in peace, however, assured that neither your Daughter, your Mother, your Father, nor your Brother has forgotten you. Neither has the Red Lefty band. And neither have your many other Friends and Relatives, We all remember you through tears and heartache, and we shall miss you forever.
MOM AND POPS
And here's a brand new picture of him, one I've never seen before, from a CD I just got in yesterday's mail. No coincidence, I'm sure. It's the back side of a German-produced CD of a band he was in in the mid-90's called Polio. I think I heard them play once. Tennyson's in the middle, on top...dimple in chin.
I miss you, my friend, but I also know you are always with me.