Aunt Florence was 87 years old when illness forced her to sell her family home where she had lived for 60-some years and moved into an assisted living facility. Time and time again I walked through each room while she patiently examined the few remaining contents and decided how to part with them. Although most of the contents had been given away to her grandchildren, there still remained the remnants of a long and busy life for herself and her two sons, Jim and Don. Don had died a few years earlier while trying to shovel his car out of the driveway after a snowstorm. Her remaining son, Jim, had been settled by his children into a nursing home where he could receive the care he needed for his bi-polar illness which was compounded by diabetes and congestive heart failure.
As we entered Jim’s old room, his mother noticed a statue of the Blessed Mother, which had been left behind in the rush to remove all signs of life from this household.
“Look at this statue,” she said.
“This has always been on Jim’s bureau for as long as I can remember.”
“It’s pretty beat-up. What do you think I should do with it? You can’t throw a holy statue in the trash, what should I do with it?”
Thinking that I could relieve some of her stress at this most difficult time, I told her I would take it home and bury it in Mary’s Garden at the corner of our yard. That way, when the marigolds bloom in the summer, they will still be honoring the Blessed Mother. Aunt Florence liked that idea and let me take the beloved statue home.
Because the ground was frozen and I would be unable to dig in the garden for some time, I put the statue on the kitchen counter and went about the business of cooking dinner. As I was peeling potatoes for supper my eye caught sight of that poor old statue and I couldn’t help but notice how badly damaged it really was. After supper I decided to clean it up a little bit and while doing so I noticed that the Mary’s head was loose, so I asked my husband to use his magic fingers and a little bit of Elmer’s Glue to fix it as best he could.
When he returned the statue to me I noticed that Mary’s head was tilted at a strange angle which made our Blessed Mother look as if she couldn’t quite understand something. Maybe she is wondering where she is, I thought. After all, this statue had spent many years on a bureau miles from here.
I found myself musing about all this and decided right there and then that I couldn’t part with this icon. It had a strange quality about it, so different than all the other images of Mary that I had seen. This one had character and reminded me of what Our Lady’s life on earth must have been.
It was a hard life as was the life of all the people of that time. Mary was a real person, a woman who changed diapers and cooked for her baby and her husband. She swept and cleaned and had to walk to the well for water for bathing and cooking. In the evening when she was finished with the chores of that day she would have been tired and welcomed a good night’s rest. She had woman friends whom she visited and shared her stories of raising a small boy. It is said that Jesus first learned compassion from his mother as she visited with the sick in her small village.
The Blessed Mother was real. That’s why this statue is so important to me, because it shows Mary as I believe she really was, in all her glory, a beautiful woman who spent her days completely absorbed in the life of her little family. Because she was human, there must have been days when she wondered about the strange circumstances of Jesus’ birth. What would happen to him when he grew up? I know this because I am a mother of a son and I think about these things a great deal. When Jesus was sick, and surely some time in his young life he must have been ill, Mary worried. I know she did. That’s what mothers do, they worry about their children all the time.
And so, the beat-up old statue remains on my kitchen counter. I have not tried to hide the chipped paint or her broken fingers. I will not repaint her blue mantel or her dress. No, there will be no touch-ups for Our Lady of the Kitchen Counter. She will remain there, keeping me company as I stand at the sink, washing dishes or cleaning vegetables. Each time I pass her I smile, because she brings me such joy. Surely there are many beautiful statues of Our Blessed Mother, no doubt far more perfect than this one, but this statue speaks to my heart.
Patricia McHugh is a member of St. Peter Parish, Merchantville.