Mammy had an autographed photo of Billy Sunday’s wife.
She kept it in her Bible.
According to Wikipedia, William Ashley Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American Christian evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century. Helen Amelia Thompson Sunday was his wife, an indefatigable organizer of his huge evangelistic campaigns during the first decades of the twentieth century, and eventually, an evangelistic speaker in her own right.
Mammy was my grandmother. Born in 1890, she and Pappy moved to Erie from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Pappy was hired by BuCyrus-Erie to build cranes.
She used to tell me of the tent meetings down state which she had attended, where she met Pappy. These were huge gatherings of people, who came together from all points rural to hear the Gospel preached by Billy Sunday. I believe Mammy recounted that she was led to the Lord by Helen Sunday, after one of these meetings. I also remember that, while she used to enjoy playing Solitaire alone in her bedroom, Mammy gave up the deck of cards once she got saved. I often wonder if thereafter she stopped playing the Key Game, which celebrated psychic skill and at which she excelled, as well.
Mammy’s name was Mae Elisabeth Learn. She’d been second maid to a wealthy, Jewish brewer in the Poconos before meeting Henry. He courted her, to and from Sunday’s tent meetings, until the day he declared: “ You Mae Learn to be Sweet.”
Pappy’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet, and his parents had hailed from Cornwall, England. When he and Mammy married and traveled to Erie, Pappy carried on Billy Sunday’s evangelism by preaching on the street corners. His was a hellfire and brimstone, Bible brandishing English orator’s style; with his booming, a-tonal baritone, he’d hand down God’s order to the vagrants: get up from the gutter! repent! and, get a job.
When I look at images of Billy Sunday, I can’t help but note how much he resembled my grandfather. They shared cut features and a strong jaw and the same, resolute expression. Mammy did not resemble Helen Sunday; she had a softer countenance, and always bore a sweet smile.
But, together, they had both responded to the call of evangelism proposed by Billy and Helen Sunday. They’d pulled up stakes and moved all the way across the Commonwealth to carry it forward. And, Mammy, who spent the rest of her days raising their four daughters, tending two flower and vegetable gardens and, together with Pappy baking hundreds of loaves of bread and both hooking and braiding rugs, sat in her rocking chair when day was done, Bible in hand, praying for everyone who came to mind, with Helen Sunday’s photograph just inside the cover of her Bible.
I remember the year I met my husband. We’d been introduced through a mutual friend, whom we both respected greatly. Our friend, and his private teacher, was the principal oboeist of the Erie Philharmonic during the years when Maestro Eiji Oue held the baton.
I had developed a deep respect for our maestro, which bordered on fixation. He had aroused every passion within me, from artistic to sensual to spiritual. He, however, had a strong preference for his principal oboeist, whose petite stature and feisty nature matched his own.
My husband to be was enamored of her, as well; but, she was soundly married to the love of her own life, consumed by their mutual performing careers and and the raising of their four children.
And so, each of us foundlings was brought together by stronger forces, upon the common ground of emotional commitment to another – he, to our mutual friend, and I to my Maestro. When my husband proposed marriage to me, the act was spurred by her very challenge; when I accepted, my anticipations extended to include the potential for an expanding realm of human connection which a bond with him would create. I would marry up, into a world which could include, by scant degrees, the object of my passions.
Maestro Oue did not attend our wedding, though I believe we sent him an invitation, and both of us were sure to include our beloved oboeist in the musical ceremony. Our marriage lasted just over two and a half years (not counting the year of courtship), the second of which my husband spent living and working in Indiana, and it ended seven months after my mother’s death.
I have two, framed companion photos of myself with our maestro. And, there is a Wheaties cereal box which features his image, nestled on the top shelf of my entertainment center in the music room of my home where I have practiced, rehearsed, and provided private lessons for 30 years.
At the top of the box, just above the logo, in Japanese:
Between Roger Stone and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the eyes tell the story.
The first time I ever saw a fluke, my then husband and I were fishing off Mystic Point.
According to AnimalSake, the fluke is a member of the flatfishes. As these types lie low on their side at the bottom of the oceans, they express a freakish feature: both of their eyes appear on the left sides of their heads!
Such an eye position serves them critically. Found in the Atlantic, low on its undersurface, they blend with their environment where a mottled camouflage helps them to take their prey by surprise and hunt it down.
Fluke fish (photo credit: AnimalSake)
Never having so much as held a fishing pole, I took to this new pastime with gusto at my tender age of 34, finding the whole enterprise juvenating and the light, flaking meat delightfully mild.
But, though decades have passed since both my last fishing expedition and the marriage which began and ended it, the eyes of the fluke are these to which I now return.
It would seem that all life forms at any proximity to the grande unraveling in Washington, D.C. would do well to have eyes in the backs of their heads. No one has a clue what the leader of the free world will say or do next, only that all within range will be both duly shocked and awed by his baffling incongruity with law, order and any form of conventional governance.
Speaking of incongruity, take Press Secretary Sanders. I watch her keenly, every time she appears at podium to face the queries. Facial asymmetries notwithstanding, there is something about her eyes which sends me back to Mystic Point.
I’m in the boat, dropped anchor. Water laps quietly, on all sides. The tug on the line is almost imperceptible and, with a silent woosh, up comes the catch, flapping its tailfin with every muscle on a smooth, flat back. And, staring up at me, from some other dimensional realm, are its two, side eyes.
Why do Sanders’ eyes seem to fight for their presence on her face? The forehead muscles alternately pull her left orb upward, momentarily boggling and bulging it while the right eye, intent on maintaining some form of stasis, cannot control an involuntary reaction to the left. And so, they both lurch and roll in their sockets, like a couple mismatched lychee nuts. What does this tell us about the war going on between her brain hemispheres, for God’s sake? Can anybody say “cognitive dissonance”?
As for Roger Stone, I am inclined to think that he keeps his Cliff Notes under his eyelids; can the man verbalize a thought without closing and holding both, completely? Watch him too intently, with your own hopefully healthy set, and your chest might notice a faint atrial flutter. Never have I witnessed such anti-rhythm since Glen Close in “Fatal Attraction” sat, catatonic, unblinking, flicking the lamp switch on and off with the erratic tempo of her own madness.
It’s winter, in the Great Lakes. Ice fishing is less common on Lake Erie and there are no fluke to be found in these parts, even in summer. Still, I’d love a fresh one, fried or steamed, to warm the cockles of my troubled heart this day. Tomorrow will come, soon enough. Best to be grateful for whatever clear vision it may bring. The eyes of the Lord are upon only the righteous; one wonders how many times, in recent days, God Almighty has had to turn in divine disgust, and look away.