My grandma taught me about grace when I was very young.
When we stayed with my grandparents on the weekends it was our routine on Sundays to go to morning Mass. Once we got home, us kids would spread out on the living room floor and Grandpa would sit in his recliner while we all read our favorite section of the Sunday paper. Grandma stayed in the kitchen and made dinner. The mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken (sometimes pigeon for Grandpa), corn, coleslaw, homemade bread, bars, and strawberry Jell-o served in the tall-stemmed dessert cups were always on the table at twelve o’clock sharp. We all took our usual spots at the table, and prayed: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Then we ate, and ate, and ate.
Grandma always washed dishes immediately after dinner and I always dried. She reminded me often, as we shared this part of her routine, that she could have had an automatic dishwasher put in the kitchen when they built their house, but she saw no need for one. I saw that I had a need for one as standing still while drying dishes was one of my least favorite activities. But I never expressed my feelings about it, because I loved having the opportunity to stand beside my grandma, exchanging thoughts about life as she washed, scoured, and rinsed, and I dried and put away. It was through our ritual of doing dishes together that I realized how alike my grandma and I were. I eventually realized that she hated doing dishes as much as I did, but that she also recognized the merit in keeping busy. I’m pretty sure she also recognized that routinely standing next to someone while doing a chore was a good opportunity to really get to know them.
After dishes were done and the kitchen table was wiped down, we would sit down at the table to play the card game, Thirty-one. When I was young, Grandma had us play different variations of it depending on the ages and number of players. My favorite version was where every player started out with three pennies from the penny jar that she kept full for playing card games with the grandchildren. Before each round we all put a penny in the pot. We were all dealt three cards and the goal was to end up with a hand with a value closest to 31. The ages of the players determined whether or not we considered the suit. We would go around the table, drawing and discarding as we worked on raising the value of our hand. Once someone thought they were closest to 31 they would knock and everyone showed their cards. The person closest to 31 won the pennies in the pot.
I loved when my grandma knocked decisively on the kitchen table. I never saw her lose when she knocked. I didn’t mind losing my pennies to her because I was delighted to see that this lady, who was so dedicated to her domestic life, also had a very competitive streak. When she decided she was going to win, she did. My favorite part of the game happened when someone ran out of pennies and Grandma would say, “Now you’ve got grace, so you’ve got another chance.” The person with grace would get to play the next round without putting a penny in, and if their hand won they could collect what was in the pot and keep playing.
When I was around six years old, my grandma explained to me that grace in Thirty-one is just like God’s grace – he always gives us another chance, even though we don’t deserve it. Amen, Grandma.
I wish everyone understood the gift of grace.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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