The strong scent of lilies yesterday afternoon transported me back to my childhood and Easter season Sundays with grandmother and the rest of my extended family. Forty years ago, I was a little girl, the youngest of four siblings who piled into a station wagon and traveled many Sundays after Mass across Hudson River’s Tappan Zee Bridge with our parents to spend the afternoons with my dad’s parents.
Someone at my parish this weekend donated a bouquet of lilies to rest at the feet of the statue of Mary near the altar. I sat in a nearby pew at the 5 p.m. Mass.
How clearly I remember Grammy and Papa’s house, especially during this Easter Season. At Eastertime, Grammy would make us multi-course meals, and her home was filled with flowers. She would give us plastic eggs with dollar bills inside, Easter cards, and struffoli, a Neapolitan dessert of fried dough covered in honey and sprinkles.
As these memories came streaming back to me during Mass, I realized how blessed I am to have grown up with a wise grandmother. She knew there is a life beyond this one, a life we cannot see; there is a God who calls out to us, who watches our lives, who speaks to us through them and who we will meet at the end of our earthly lives.
My grandmother, Maria Theresa Salerno, never learned to read or write. She spent her life working – in the tobacco fields of her native Caserta and later, in textile factories in Rochester, New York. I knew what she valued when I visited her home and saw the paintings of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the rosary above her bed, and the religious statues on her bureau drawer. She remained a seamstress into her old age, using a spare room in her home for her business of mending clothes and hemming dresses. She also made aprons and dish towels and pot holders, which she would display on the door to this room. She loved to tell us about her customers.
Once, when I was a child, my grandmother told me this story: she was sick. She woke one night and saw a vision of the Blessed Mother in her bedroom. She told Mary she wanted to die. The Blessed Mother told her “It’s not your time yet. Your family needs you. You have more work to do.”
Because of Grammy, I grew up never doubting there was a reality beyond this one and a world of angels and saints who we could talk to and who could talk to us. I knew Grammy had had a life of hard work and suffering but I also knew from her that God transports us beyond the smallness of our beautiful and difficult lives. And so I never doubted that what God did for Christ He does for us too. As today’s reading tell us: “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
because it was impossible for him to be held by it.”
When Grammy died, I was a teenager. I remember imagining angels and saints welcoming her to her heavenly home, where she could relax over coffee and enjoy long conversations with our Blessed Mother.