Vanity, vanity, all is vanity

“For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun? All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest.” (from Ecclesiastes)

“This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’” (from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 13)

Will it or not, these verses call to me of the building of Down Home Ranch.

I used to say to my friend Gay that I was certain (as regards the Ranch) that I would live to see the Ranch, but like Moses and the Promised Land, never to dwell there. (This was usually at the end of the first week of Ranch Camp after six 15-hour days.)

Lack of sleep will put you in a gloomy frame of mind.

So, having awakened at 3:00 AM this morning for no good reason at all, and quite certain that going back to sleep was not an option, I got up, made a pot of coffee and downloaded the Mass readings for August 1, 2010.

Hoping for a jolt of inspiration, I got the above and more. The psalm (90) reminds us that we are like the changing grass that springs up at dawn and wilts and fades by evening.

OK. Got it. They say if someone tries to put a halter on you three times in a day, it probably means you’re acting like a mule. Still, a memento mori–much less three of them–was not exactly what I was looking for, but it’s what I got, and doubtless what I needed.

At any rate, I was looking forward to hearing Fr. Larry hold forth on these readings, but he’s gone on vacation so we had a guest priest at Mass. Seated behind him in the choir pit, I couldn’t really hear anything so my mind spun off on meditations of its own.

I got to thinking about my aunt Mary, who gave me many wonderful experiences and much happiness in an otherwise bleak childhood. Mary was of the “Auntie Mame” category of aunthood. Childless, she fussed over me, made me costumes for Halloween, taught me manners, and bought me dresses and forced me to wear them. I adored her.

Mary was my father’s sister. She had raven black hair and violet eyes like Elizabeth Taylor. She was beautiful by any standard.

And she was smart and adventurous to boot. She earned her pilot’s license and moved to west Texas to work in the oil industry. She was the first in our family to go to college, spending a year at UT in the midst of the depression.

She worked for a year in Washington as secretary to Senator Claude Pepper of Florida, and she married often, but never well.

Despite being ahead of the curve in terms of women’s lib, though, what Mary desired most in her life was to be a mother and the various husbands were mainly a means to that end. Marriage after marriage, she would conceive, carry the baby a while, and then miscarry. Her grief over these losses was boundless.

I lived with my grandmother, Mary’s mother, and was still in junior high school when the third marriage tanked and Mary moved in with us. My brother was away at college, so she took his bedroom, and we had lots of time for girl talk, which I loved.

Mary never lacked long for male attention, and soon a handsome young officer from Dyess AFB came calling. As he was 13 years her junior she suggested he might be interested more in me, but nothing was to come of that, and before we knew it they were a steady item.

Then one night out of the blue, Mary came into my room and informed me that she was pregnant.

“What are you going to do?” I asked her, delighted to have a full-fledged soap-opera drama unfolding right in my family’s bosom.

She replied that she would tell Robbie that he could marry her or not, but that she was going to try to carry the baby to term, and if he didn’t want to marry her she would move to Corpus Christi and tell everyone her husband had died in a car wreck. I was thrilled with this plan.

But Robbie indeed wanted to marry her, and the pregnancy ran smoothly through until term, and Kevin Garrow Robinson was born. Mary was 39. She quickly conceived again and Kevin’s little brother Rod was born. All along the problem had been an Rh incompatibility and both boys were O negative, as was their mom.

With motherhood and the wisdom of age, Mary began to feel spiritual stirrings. To those of us who knew her, this had to be the most unlikely development of all.

From Beltway sophisticate that she had been, Mary began changing. I’d married and was living in New Hampshire. When I returned home for a Christmas visit, I was amazed to find her with her hair to her waist and weighing a good 50 pounds more than when I’d last seen her. No makeup and the Neimann Marcus wardrobe outgrown and jettisoned.

She and Robbie had become Pentecostals. She explained to me that one night she had been lying in bed sound asleep when a voice came out of nowhere and said, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee,” which startled her awake. At daybreak she walked out of the house and down to a little church a block away, and knocked on the door. When the preacher answered, she told him of her experience and asked, “Do you know what this means?”

“I sure do, ma’am,” he said. “Come inside and we’ll talk about it.”

Well, Mary’s life continued its unusual arc. She and Robbie and the boys left Texas and lived in Utah and Hawaii, and finally wound up in Western Australia. While I was never sure of Robbie, I never doubted Mary’s faith.

Mary died at the age of 52 of cancer in Australia. I didn’t hear of it until some months later as I’d moved with my husband and family to El Salvador, and we didn’t get much news of anything there. The night I learned that she had died I dreamed that Mary was taking me all over the area around Perth, showing me her life, making amends. It might have been so and I hope it was.

The boys would have been young teenagers at the time. I never saw them again, and though I’ve made efforts to find them, I’ve had no luck. I don’t know if she and Robbie were together at the end or not.

How hard it must have been for Mary to leave her boys. No children had ever been born that were more wanted and loved than those two. I wonder about them every now and then, and prowl about on Facebook looking for them.
Of course I remember them as fresh-faced little boys, while now they’re in their 50s.

You turn man back to dust, saying, “Return, O children of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday, now that it is past, or as a watch of the night.

And these are just things I thought about, during the homily I couldn’t hear.