“I remember once when mom made a delicious snack dish,” Amy said at a Christmas dinner I attended with my in-laws last night.
“Only Once?” someone cried out.
Amy forgot that her dad, Tom, has cooked virtually every holiday meal over the past dozen years so that “mom,” an ordained Methodist minister, could prepare sermons for church services, and not meals for Christmas celebrations.
Everyone laughed, the Rev. Michele Bartlow, more so than anyone, accepting the left-handed compliment from her youngest daughter. Amy always had a way of speaking the truth in a unpredicatable way. In her mid-20s, she has become the youngest of three sisters to be married, and take up residence in her very own home near the nation’s capital, with husband Steve. The other sisters include Laura, a third year law student in Minnesota, who couldn’t make it home to this section of Philadelphia, called Mt Airy. Rounding off the trio of “girls” is Susannah, who recently earned her PhD, and is now a professor at Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. She also surprised me with news of a search she has been on without me ever knowing how much we shared the past few years.
“The Redskins will make a comeback,” Steve said about his favorite football team from Washington, DC. He reminded me of running back John Riggins and the great years “his” team posted while my Philadelphia Eagles snoozed until getting Coach Andy Reid and Quarterback Donovan McNabb. “I went to a game when a fellow had given away tickets,” he said of team that had seen better days years past. Redskins tickets have been sold out since I was a kid, and to hear that seats were being given away kind of disheartened me. But as long as it is not effecting my team, well, “dem’s de breaks.”
Tom Bartlow, head of the family as well as head chef and retired mathematics professor from Villanova University, spoke few words, letting the food he prepared do all his talking. I cleaned off two plates. And, when have you heard of anyone asking for seconds on a salad? A really dynamite salad. And another helping from a bowl of marinated string beans? Seconds on both, holding up dessert as I patiently chewed each bit meditatively, slowly to savor the taste. I’m a vegetarian now and I think his meal — already the best I’ve had all year — will surely be among the top dinners I’ll have through 2010. That is, until this time next holiday season.
Susannah told me she has meditated for some seven years now. Meeting often, she added, in her gynecologist office with others for group meetings and discussions. She’s not as devoted as others, but I now understand why the daughter of a practicing minister would have no qualms in giving her uncle Michael a Buddha statue for the holidays. The statue rests above a chair decorated in red with incense to the right and candles to the left. I sit there and watch the birds outside my dining room bay window when I am not meditating. It is a private spot. It is practical, it is my hideaway to get away inside when I want to meditate. Often. Whether I need to or not.
The most notable “gift” I got all evening was when Michele disagreed with her sister and my son, and told everyone she thought it was a “great idea” to visit India. “You would love it, Mike,” she said, reminding us of her own visit to Nepal on a mission for her church. She’s pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, a liberal congregation in Philadelphia. Michele practiced “drumming” at the Omega Center, upstate New York, and turned out to be a prophet when she told me how much I would like my visit there in late October.
Little does she know how life-altering that spiritual retreat has become. But, that’s fodder for another blog.
I explain to all that the Buddha was born in Nepal, something many did not know. His travels took him to India, where he found enlightenment and passed on teachings to the rest of the world. I also tell Michele of a woman from India I have “blogged” with, who felt that I was a “good man,” and that if I ever came to India, for me to stay at her home. “If someone made that type of offer in that part of the world,” Michele said. “then, they truly mean it.”
I now have the blessing of my favorite minister to journey on a oddyssey to the world’s spiritual center. I am over any Xmas blues I may have had. And, I officialy declare that I have just begun a journey of a thousand miles by taking this “single step” forward.
And to the Bartlows, I say thank you, and may God bless.