Columns

Saying Grace

There’s hungry and then there’s waiting-for-your-father-to-say-the-blessing-over-dinner-hungry.

I grew up in a family that said grace before every meal – even breakfast. My father usually led the family prayer and he was from Arkansas. There’s a reason they call it a Southern drawl.

Basically, it means what most of us say in one or two syllables becomes three or four when pronounced by someone from the South. Also, my parents were Pentecostal and supported many missionaries. Support included mentioning them by name in prayer at every opportunity – often before a meal.

While our Cream of Wheat solidified, our PBJ sandwiches calcified and our meatloaf cooled, my father prayed.

Often, we kids were expected to pick up the mantle. My brother Jon famously balked when asked to pray over dinner. At age 3, he crossed his arms over his chest and scowled.

“I payed (prayed) at noon!”

This became an oft-used mantra when my siblings and I were expected to offer the blessing. It rarely held sway.

When Derek and I raised our four sons, we rarely breakfasted or lunched together, but family dinner was sacrosanct and included saying grace.

We held hands and took turns saying the prayer, which almost always ended with “and bless the hands that prepared it.”

Those hands were always mine and whoever prayed that evening often followed their father’s example and lifted my hand to their lips and kissed it. It’s one of the sweetest memories of all my boys at the table.

My sister reminded me that our brothers were less sweet and often got in trouble for amending that phrase to “Bless the hands that repaired it.”

Also, less sweet were the prayers my boys brought home from church camp.

Alex returned after one excursion and prayed, “Thanks for the meat. Now let’s eat!”

I was unimpressed.

His brother Zach upped (or downed?) the ante the following year, by bellowing “Jeeesuus! AMEN!”

I asked Facebook friends to recall blessings they said before meals.

Mary Roy’s family topped my dad’s invocation frequency.

“As a child, we would invite Jesus to our table to begin with prayer, then ended our meals with, ‘Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for he is good and his mercy endureth forever! Amen.’ We were a two-prayer-a-meal family.”

Joe Butler’s family was more concise: “God’s neat, let’s eat.”

When Ellen Peters’ kids were young they said a traditional blessing. “Bless us, O Lord. And these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Gene Brake’s less-reverent blessing didn’t amuse his grandmother: “Good bread, good meat, good gosh, let’s eat!”

Nina Culver said when her family was feeling goofy they’d pray, “Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.”

My sister reminded me our oldest brother David finished that prayer with a rousing, “Yay! God!”

That seems tame compared to Cecile Charles’ dad. He mortified her mom when company came to dinner and he prayed, “Bless the meat, damn the skin, pin back your ears and cram it in!”

Norma Weber’s family prayer focused on counting blessings. “There’s a roof up above me. I’ve a good place to sleep, there’s food on my table and shoes on my feet. You gave me your love, Lord and a fine family. Thank you, Lord, for your blessings on me.”

And when a teenage Miriam Robbins worked summers at the Salvation Army Camp Gifford at Deer Lake, they sang this grace: “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may live to love and serve but thee.”

The simple act of pausing to express thanks before a meal may seem antiquated, but it still has value to me. In a world where many families eat in front of the television or with their eyes glued to their phones, something precious, perhaps sacred is lost.

Recently, Derek, Sam and I enjoyed a lovely dinner on our deck and I was reminded of an older prayer.

“For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

That evening, my eyes filled with tears. However slowly my father prayed, his heart was pointed in the right direction – gratitude. No matter the state of the world, if you have food on your table and people you love to share it with, there is always, always something to be thankful for.

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.

Columns

Gowns for Grace

She should be turning 16 on June 1.

She should be clutching her newly minted driver’s license and deciding if she wants a big Sweet 16 bash, or to just hang out with family.

She should be so many things, but most important, she should be here. But she isn’t.

Grace Susie Bain died May 29, 2003. She was delivered June 1, 2003.

How do you mark this kind of milestone?

Sarah Bain, Grace’s mom, thought long and hard about ways to honor her daughter’s brief passage through this world. Then she got her wedding gown out of her closet and called Peggy Mangiaracina.

Mangiaracina had a long career in health care, from starting as a labor and delivery nurse to retiring 35 years later as executive director of Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and vice president of women’s services.

When she retired, she got out her sewing machine and began making “angel gowns” for babies like Grace, who never come home from the hospital.

The Angel Gown program has chapters and affiliates across the U.S. Volunteer seamstresses take donated wedding dresses and create gowns for stillborn infants or babies who die soon after birth.

“I remember being a labor and delivery nurse and not having anything for these babies,” Mangiaracina said. “Parents would ask me what I wrapped their baby in. They wanted to know.”

Last week, Sarah invited me to be with her when she gave her wedding dress to Mangiaracina.

First, the talented seamstress showed us examples of how she used the donated dresses. From a bin she pulled out gowns fit for a princess’ christening and tiny satin tuxedos with velvet bow ties – each creation, like each child, unique.

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Wedding gown trim like tiny seed pearls, satin-covered buttons and delicate lace make each gown a work of art.

“Oh, I would have loved a gown for Grace,” Sarah said.

In addition to wedding wear, Mangiaracina has used prom gowns, handkerchiefs and high-quality linens. She also uses soft, carefully lined flannel to make little “cocoons” for the tiniest and most fragile babies.

At the hospital, nurses offer grieving parents a small selection of gowns to choose from. Infants can wear them for photos and to the funeral home.

Mangiaracina gives the parents of the baby a memory square with a swatch of fabric from their child’s gown, a silver heart charm and a card that reads, “Babies are innocence on earth, a link between angels and man.”

Each woman who donates a gown also receives a memory square, as well as photographs of the gowns made from their donated dress.

Friends help Mangiaracina with the sewing. A group of ladies in Coeur d’Alene knit tiny hats to go with the gowns. Then they are distributed to nine hospitals across the region.

Now, it was Sarah’s turn. Her beautiful ivory satin gown with puffed sleeves, elaborate beadwork and a scalloped lace train hadn’t been taken from the box since her wedding 24 years ago.

She knew the dress wasn’t to her 18-year-old daughter Sophia Bain’s taste, so she decided to use it to honor Grace.

59708414_2312918792080068_1957199751925465088_n[1]Her eyes filled with tears as we opened the box.

“I wore this before I knew babies died,” she said. “This is like donating an organ, like pieces of my heart are being spread out across the community.”

And she told Mangiaracina her story. About the sorrow and trauma that came with the news that her baby had died while safely snuggled under her heart. About the scant few hours she had to hold her. About how the loss of Grace forever changed her and her family.

She also talked about her wedding day, and how she’d felt like a princess in that gown.

“Every dress has a story,” Mangiaracina said.

The story of Sarah’s wedding dress isn’t over. Sometime in the next year, grieving parents will carefully dress their baby in a bit of ivory satin. Tears will likely dampen delicate beadwork. And the gown that Sarah wore with such joy will bring them a measure of comfort and the sweetest whisper of Grace.