When we gather around the table on Thanksgiving, none of us really knowing how to pray together, I remember and miss my grandfather. It was my grandfather who prayed for me, who prayed for our whole family. His prayer was as lush and full as his voice and thick white hair. Our precious heavenly father he would begin after we’d joined hands around the dinner table, and on from there. Sometimes he spoke for so long I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, and I’d squint at my grandmother’s china through my eyelashes. The plates were white with pink rosebuds and gray leaves.
I thought the leaves should’ve been green, instead of gray, but I didn’t really think about my grandfather’s prayer and what I thought it should say instead. I did wonder sometimes what it would be like to have a heavenly father, or a precious heavenly father, which must’ve meant you liked him better than a regular father, the kind in heaven, or the kind like my father, who drove around in his squad car looking for bad guys, a father who kept his gun in his sock drawer and took my sister and me miniature golfing on his weekends after he left us.
My grandfather wasn’t even my real grandfather, if I wanted to think about it. He married my mother’s mother when I was three and my little sister and I were their flower girls. Not that I remembered it, but they had pictures in frames on the wall in the sewing room where I could see them, and that made it real, and my grandfather was realer to me than any father, precious heavenly or not.
Whether he really prayed too long or not, I really don’t know, because everything grownup takes forever when you are a kid, until you are a teenager, then everything is just boring. My grandfather liked to thank his precious heavenly father, who I figured out was God, if there was such a thing. My grandfather liked to thank God for the most ordinary things, that my mom and my sister and my father, before he left, and I were there for dinner, that we had arrived safely, even though we only lived 45 minutes away off the 405 and my father was a good driver and our car had never broken down. He would ask God to send us home safely, and it seemed to me that if there were a God, that God would be too busy and too important taking care of the movie stars who lived nearby, or the President, who lived far away, to be interested much in whether or not we’d get stuck in traffic.
My grandfather always ended his prayer by saying, “Thank you for the food prepared here. Bless it too our bodies. Amen.” Well, I knew that my grandmother was the one who got up early on Thanksgiving and Christmas and stuffed the turkey and put it in the oven. She was the one who shopped at Von’s, the one who mashed the potatoes, baked the pies, whisked the gravy. It seemed to me that she was the one we should be thanking.
And what did it mean to bless the food to our bodies? Was it protection from overeating or botulism? Magic that would keep us from the Alka Seltzer or groaning, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”?
I heard that prayer with its standard opening and closing and very subtle variations in the middle at every dinner my grandparents served at their home, even if it was just my sister and me visiting with no other grownups in sight.
I didn’t know then that my grandfather was living out a spiritual practice. I didn’t know that deep down I wished I had the faith to pray like my grandfather did. I didn’t know that I would find God, or rather that I would be found, even found out, by God. I don’t call the God who found me precious or heavenly or even father. I think that’s because I don’t have an image of God in my head, or maybe we’re not close enough for me to think of God as family, and head of my family at that. But the God I know is as constant as my grandfather, and my grandfather’s precious heavenly father. Like his God, mine never seems to tire of the mundane details of my life, or my continual thanks.
Thank you for finding me, I tell God. Thank you for my grandfather. Thank you for all he taught me even when I didn’t think I was paying attention.
©2006 Cathy Warner