My grandmother’s rosary was of amethyst-colored beads and a small silver crucifix, gray-black with tarnish. She kept it on the bureau in her bedroom near a holy card of St. Jude and a talcum powder box made of imitation satin. She’d put it in a special pouch—an old change purse, actually—when she was heading out for Mass or had a reasonably long bus ride ahead of her. When she would visit us out in the suburbs—she still lived fairly deep in the city, not all the way downtown but close enough that you could smell the breweries—she’d say her rosary in the living room, in an easy chair by the picture window, looking out at the lawn.
We kids knew we weren’t supposed to disturb her when she was praying, but I would watch her from the dining room, her lips moving softly with the rhythm of the prayer, her eyes remote yet focused, looking at the lawn, lifting to an occasional passing car, looking and not really looking at all, there and not there. And I would get a little scared watching her, a little off-kilter. Because in the depth of prayer, at the heart of it, Grandma wasn’t just beyond herself, she was beyond everything: beyond the rosary, beyond lawns, beyond families, grandchildren. When Grandma was in prayer, I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore, who anyone was.
My mother also prayed the rosary daily, kneeling by the bed, her arms resting on the white chenille spread, the beads moving softly, steadily between her fingers as she stared out the window or occasionally lowered her head. She’d slip off to the bedroom right after the lunch dishes, and when she came back into the kitchen a while later, as she was putting on her apron you’d see the little inverted bumps on her forearms from the chenille. She also still bore the impression of whatever mysteries she’d been praying that day and would resume the housework with an aspect more joyous, sorrowful or glorious. At least for a while.
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