The last time I told this story was here in fall of 2011. My story of St. Francis for those of you who already know him needs a few updates now in 2014. Read on, there’s more to the story.
Many summers ago my aunt in Houston was moving from the family home where she and my uncle had raised their children in favor of a smaller home in an effort to downsize and make other transitions in her life. Her husband had passed away several years earlier. In my adolescent life, I remember my uncle’s death as one of the first I had experienced in my family. He and my aunt shared a full life together. They shared their experiences with us via letters and postcards. They traveled quite a bit and my brothers and sister loved visiting them. One trip they took was to Italy for the Rome Olympics back in 1960, so in that Olympic year we looked forward to hearing about the trip. While there, they purchased a statue of St. Francis and had it shipped back to their home. St. Francis occupied a place in the backyard garden for several years.
In making the move to a smaller home, my aunt had sold off, given away and moved larger pieces of furniture with the help of a moving company. One Saturday, my father, brother, sister, a friend of mine and I, went to help her move her treasures, the things that she wanted to move personally. She had a pick-up truck at her disposal, a station wagon and our family to help her. We came with two cars to complete the job of moving the treasures she did not entrust to movers.
It was a hot day in July. We carefully moved items, wrapped them in sheets, or packed them in boxes placing them in the bed of the truck or on various car seats. I remember walking through the house and remembering the happy times we had spent on visits there. I recalled the happy reunion of all my uncles and aunts in the family room, sitting, laughing and cutting up. I remembered my cousin baking brownies in the kitchen and dancing to music as she baked. She seemed so grown up to me as she swayed to the rock-n-roll tunes she played. I remember reading the Sunday comic section of the newspaper on the floor of my uncle’s study. So many memories.
Then, I remember standing on the balcony of the second floor of her home to survey the lovely garden one last time. Another memory. We had gone on Easter egg hunts in that backyard. I still remember it was late morning as we worked moving things to the cars under the hot summer sun. There was no breeze.
I heard my dad call to my aunt asking, “What about St. Francis, does he go too?”
My aunt called back, “No, he stays.” At that instant a wind blew up in the back yard rustling the leaves of the trees that shaded the yard. The stone figure of St. Francis fell face forward into the mulch of the garden. We were dumbfounded and speechless.
“That does it. He goes,” my aunt gasped. And so it happened that we scooped up St. Francis, wrapped a blanket around him, and placed him in the bed of the truck. One of the first things when we arrived to her new home was to decide on a suitable spot to place him so he could be viewed from the living room and dining room, and he could view family life within. Within our family circle, we call it our “miracle of St. Francis.” Over the years, several of us siblings have searched and found the perfect statue to place in our gardens as a reminder of that occurrence.
Recently, in Northern Virginia at my sister’s house, as I sat in her back room, I would gaze out the window and focus on her St. Francis. She and I reflected again together on that one unrepeatable moment.
What is a miracle? I like Storm Jameson’s definition, “The only way to live is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle, which is exactly what it is: a miracle and unrepeatable.” All of us together that day, experienced something rare, unique and unrepeatable. In an instant, it was as if a husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle didn’t want to be left behind. The little statue of St. Francis could have been reduced to just decorative statuary in a garden, an interesting souvenir from a memorable trip. But the wind rushing up as it did, pushing St. Francis face down stirred us to rescue him from that undignified position. Now, when we reflect on this, because we experienced it, it’s easier to believe in another miracle. Still there’s a conundrum. If we wait in anticipation, the element of surprise we experienced that day is taken away. Perhaps there are different levels of awareness of miracles. We can appreciate every day and realize the miracles that surround us, and then there are the breath taking ones that stir change, make us take a different course filling us with insights not thought before…they humble us deeply. So I take Storm Jameson’s observation every day noticing what’s delightfully unrepeatable, yet I will remember the moment when a whole family on a hot lazy day, woke up to a miracle that has moved our family in recent generations.
Several Christmases ago, daughter #2 and my husband searched statuary gardens and then gave this St. Francis to me. Father and daughter together found the one unrepeatable gift that transcended perfume, chocolate or flavored coffee. He stood outside our living room window, a reminder of a family “miracle”. Many have sat in the chair by that window and noticed him, felt his presence. Unrepeatable moments.
Last weekend, as Rick and I moved our treasures that we will not entrust to movers, we took St. Francis to his new home out in the country under a beautiful oak, where we can view him from the back porch, the back room window and our bedroom, and he can greet all who come up the driveway.
One more note: Perhaps my aunt reacted as she did not only in memory of her husband, but in memory of her father. You see, he came to Mexico City for business interests and was appointed the Consul General from Holland to Mexico in the early 1900’s. When I took students to Mexico, DF, I told her our hotel was an old one, the Hotel St. Francis on Reforma (the main boulevard of Mexico City).
“That’s where Papi (my grandfather) stayed when he first came to Mexico and before he married Moesje (my grandmother),” she informed me.