This column originally appeared in The Citizen in 1999.
Like a song you start humming in the morning and can’t get out of your mind, one word comes to me over and over again to describe events in my life.
Grace. Pure grace. Disposed as I am to want to look beyond church talk — journalistic habits die hard — I went to my dictionary to see what it offers besides a theological definition of grace: “The unmerited love and favor of God toward mankind.”
There’s a lot, beginning with “beauty or charm of form or expression; an attractive quality...,” through “a sense of what is right and proper; decency; thoughtfulness; goodwill, favor....”
Even the verb form fits: “to decorate, adorn; to bring honor to, to dignify....”
Let me tell you about grace.
Grace is friendship that goes light-years beyond what you hope for when you ask a favor. Grace takes the ordinary and makes it magical. Grace makes sure you do things right, makes you feel less a country bumpkin and more a responsible member of society.
Don the wings of imagination and come back with me when our youngest suddenly announced her engagement to a man she had met only days before, and set a January wedding date in a distant state. (That’s me down there, the one spinning in circles, clueless about what to do next.)
And that’s Viki grabbing me by the shoulders and telling me in no uncertain terms, that — despite our informal lifestyle and the startling genesis of this marriage — society requires that we mark such an event and invite upon it the blessing of the tribe, as it were. Rites of passage and all that.
But the mere thought of planning a shower or a reception makes my stomach hurt, I whimper. Besides, I’m not sure I approve.
You don’t have to approve, she’s saying firmly. Pull yourself together and act like a mother.
Grace is sometimes stern.
So, as though to demonstrate, she and Caroline and Julie pull off the coup of the season by inviting about 30 of my friends — an eclectic mix, representing neighborhoods we’ve lived in, churches and organizations I’ve belonged to — to a Mother of the bride/ Mother in law to be/ Grandma to be shower.
Grace is a living room filled with laughter and cries of “Surprise!” and the crunch of gift-wrap. Grace is a stack of manuals on grandparenting; baskets of games, pencils, sponges, and bubble-bath, provisions for grandchildren’s visits; picture frames and albums for the inevitable bragging.
Grace is a dining room glittering with silver and candlelight, a table laden with Caroline’s baking, daylilies from Julie’s legendary garden, coffee from Viki’s elegant silver service.
Most of the women in that room are committed to jobs or families all week, and no doubt cherish their Sunday afternoons to be with their own grandchildren, or to garden or wallpaper or even just to read and indulge themselves after a busy week.
Instead, they gave those precious hours to me.
And so they instructed me, these graceful women, guiding me through my own passage from self-indulgent semi-retired housewife and writer to matriarch of a new family. You will introduce Jean’s husband and family to the community, they declared, and pledged comfort and support.
“A sense of what is right and proper....” They were as good as their word.
Grace at work:
• Donna and Marquita transforming a barn-like church hall into a garden for a reception, with wisteria, ferns and bridal-wreath erupting like a fountain. Small trees, dragged in clay pots from their own quiet patios and gardens, looked surprised to find themselves indoors, until they became a bower of greenery to soften the walls.
• Husbands conscripted for muscle-power, grumbling predictably. When Julie, who had already contributed bagsful of greenery and flowers, called to say she wouldn’t be able to come — the EMTs were on their way because her husband had fallen from a ladder and broken his shoulder — one of the hapless husbands wrestling with heavy tables remarked, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”
• Bonnie appearing with a CD player and music, Sonya helping push and shove whatever needed pushing and shoving, Caroline pouring punch, Viki presiding over her coffee service.
• Marquita arranging family pictures of the bride and groom growing up, and declaring it “fun.” Left to me, the photos would never have made it out of the desk drawer.
• A caterer named Missy who went beyond what she was paid to do by offering encouragement and calm when I panicked over numbers: How many meringue puffs will 80 people eat?
Grace is a cadre of people whose lives are already impossibly busy, sacrificing most of a precious Saturday to friendship. They brought honor and dignity; they saw to it that tribal rites were carried out.
The operational definition still borders on the theological: unmerited, unearned love and favor. My heart overflows.
I looked up “gratitude.” Comes from the same Latin root, gratis, pleasing. Then it says, “See grace.”
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician.
She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]