By: Sister Ines, OCD
“That’s not a sandwich. It’s a mattress!” I can still see the twinkle in my mom’s eyes as she charmingly responded, “Solo es un colchoncito” – “It’s only a little mattress,” and calmly poured the remaining bit of coffee into her mug. As a mother of 12 growing and rambunctious children, my mom had very few opportunities to luxuriate in self-indulgence. Still, we all new that she had a weakness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – a weakness the vast majority of us inherited. And so “el colchón” became the household term for this family treat.
Growing up in a huge family where friendships, disagreements, and daily games and entertainment germinated in the home, we unknowingly developed a common vocabulary and in-house culture. It was the place where we learned how to work together, how to compromise, how to share ideas, and how communicate disagreement. It wasn’t always easy or enjoyable – but it was always formative. My mom’s resourcefulness in making use of just about anything to create something we needed or wanted was something we all inherited in varying degrees. She could take bits of food to create a meal for an army or scraps of fabric to make a dress for our birthdays. A stick and a rag made an easy mop, and images of birds or flowers she’d see in a store window would later be seen embroidered on the sheets and pillow cases she would make as wedding gifts for my siblings.
Immediate family gatherings in our house were no small thing, as they included my parents, siblings, their spouses, and the grandchildren – all of which rounded off at 35-45 people on a low traffic day. With all the household responsibilities, her energy and will to serve never seemed to exhaust. I remember the night after a family gathering which she had spent all day preparing for and then cleaning up after. Even when some of us would try to help, she would usually send us out of the kitchen and ask us to watch over our nieces and nephews instead.
That night, after everyone had gone home except for the few grandchildren who would be staying for a few more days, we children were sitting on the living room couch. When mom came into the room and saw us she decided it was time to play a game. Reaching for one of the balloons that lay on the living room floor, she said, “This is perfect!” She smacked the balloon over to one of the children and said, “Send it to the next person before it hits the floor.” Everyone jumped to their feet, arms and hands flying toward the balloon. Loud laughter and joyful squeals filled the house. We played and played until, completely out of breath, someone said: “Grandma, it’s time to stop. I can’t breathe anymore.” With a twinkle in her eyes, mom said, “Well if you’re all tired out, I guess we should stop.”
The Season of Lent offers us Laetare Sunday – a day of rejoicing. We are meant for joy, and God invites us to embrace it in the everyday moments of our lives. How loving of God to remind us that we are destined to a deep, rich, and eternal rejoicing. Perhaps it was hearts like mom’s that the Psalmist refers to when he says, “make a joyful sound unto the Lord.” But this joyful sound does not come from the absence of responsibility or from having everything we need and want, nor from having the perfect children or home situation.
I can only smile as I think back on those days, still so close and tangible. My mom’s big brown eyes seemed to dance at times when she was caught in sheer delight watching children play and becoming entirely engaged. In the midst of life’s challenges, suffering, and disappointments, mom had a childlike capacity to dream and play, and to make a joyful sound unto the Lord.