Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. Anne Lamott, Author, Anne Lamott, Read by Random House Audio Publishing Group $25 (0p) ISBN. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. Anne Lamott, Author Pantheon Books $23 (p) ISBN EXCERPT. Traveling Mercies Some Thoughts on Faith. By ANNE LAMOTT Pantheon. My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers.
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Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would travelig, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear. When I look back at some of these early resting places–the boisterous home of the Catholics, the soft armchair of the Christian Science mom, adoption by ardent Jews–I can see how flimsy and indirect a path they made. Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.
The buildings rose up out of the water on the other side of the bay, past Angel Island, past Alcatraz. You could see the Golden Gate Bridge over to the right behind Belvedere, where the richer people lived; the anise was said to have been merxies over at the turn of the century by the Italians who gardened for the people of Belvedere.
Tiburon, where I grew up, used to be a working-class town where the trains still ran. Now mostly wealthy people live here. It means shark in Spanish, and there are small sharks in these parts. My father and shy Japanese fishermen used to catch mercids sharks in the cold green waters of the bay.
There was one palm tree at the western edge of the railroad yard, next to the stucco building of the mrecies tall incongruous palm tree that we kids thought was very glamorous but that the grown-ups trxveling to as “that ridiculous palm tree. It was silent and comical, like Harpo Marx with a crazy hat of fronds. We took our underpants off travelong older boys behind the blackberry bushes.
They’d give us things–baseball cards, Sugar Babies. We chewed the stems off the anise plants and sucked on them, bit the ends off nasturtiums and drank the nectar. When I was five and six, my best friend was a Catholic girl who lived about fifteen minutes away, on foot, from our house–kids walked alone all over town back then. I loved the Catholic family desperately. There were dozens of children in that family, or maybe it just felt that way, babies everywhere, babies crawling out from under sofas like dust bunnies.
We only had three kids in our family; my brother John, who is two years older than me and didn’t like me very much back then, and my brother Stevo, who is five years younger than me, whom I always adored, and who always loved me. My mother nursed him discreetly, while the Catholic mother wore each new baby on her breasts like a brooch. The Catholic mama was tall and gorgeous and wore heels to church and lots of makeup, like Sophia Loren, and she had big bosoms that she showed off in stylish V-necked dresses from the Sears catalog.
My mother was not much of a dresser. Also, she was short, and did not believe in God. She was very political, though; both she and Dad were active early on in the civil rights movement.
Metcies parents and all their friends were yellow-dog Democrats, which is to say that they would have voted for an old yellow dog before they would have voted for a Republican. I was raised by my parents to believe that you had a moral obligation to try to save the world. You sent money to the Red Cross, you registered people to vote, you marched in rallies, stood in vigils, picked up litter.
My mother used to take the Greyhound out to Marin City, which was a terrible ghetto then, and volunteer in an after-school program for boys and girls from impoverished families. She tutored kids in reading while other grown-ups worked with them in sports. My mother ttaveling in the classics laomtt college.
She always brought along little paper candy cups filled with the fanciest candies from Blum’s or the City of Paris to give to the children after their lessons. It used to make my father mad that she’d buy such expensive candies, but this didn’t stop her. My Catholic friend and I used to spend hours sitting on the couch ann the latest Sears catalog spread across our knees, pretending that we got whatever was on our side of the page.
I played this game with anxiety and grief, always thinking that the better dresses and shoes were on my friend’s pages and that I would have been OK if they had just been on mine– and if I’d had her tall stylish mother, with the wonderful cleavage showing like the bottom of a baby in her low necklines. I knew I was not pretty because people were always making jokes about my looks.
Once, at a pizza joint, a stranger had included me in a collective reference to the Catholic children, and you would have thought from the parents’ outrage that he had included a chimpanzee. And I knew I was not OK because I got teased a lot by strangers or by big boys for having hair that was fuzzy and white. Also, I got migraines.
I got my first one midway through kindergarten and had to lie down with my face on the cool linoleum in the back of the room until my father could come get me. My friend and I gathered blackberries from the bushes in the train yard, and her mother made pies. She made apple pies too.
Mfrcies peeled each apple with precision, aiming for one long green spiral of peel, and my first memory of watching someone be beaten was on a night after we’d prepared apples for pie. My Catholic friend and I had been left with a baby-sitter and all those babies, and after we had sliced up and spiced the apples, we’d gone to bed without throwing out all those green snakes of peel, and I awoke with a start in the middle of the night because my friend’s father was smacking her on the face and shoulders, fuming alcohol breath on the two of us in our one twin bed, raging that we were slobs, and I don’t know how he knew to beat her instead of me because I don’t remember there being any light on.
We both cried in the dark, but then somehow we slept and in the morning when we woke the mother was frying up bacon, a baby slung over her shoulder, and the dad was happy and buoyant, thunderous in his praise of the pie now in the oven.
It was Sunday morning and I got to go to church with them. All the children got dressed up.
The parents looked like movie stars, so handsome and young, carrying babies, shepherding the bigger kids, smooching in the car. I loved every second of Catholic church. I loved the sickly sweet rotting-pomegranate smells of the incense.
I loved the overwrought altar, the birdbath of holy water, the votive candles; I loved that there was a poor box, and the stations of the cross rendered in stained glass on the windows. I loved the curlicue angels in gold paint on the ceiling; I loved the woman selling holy cards. I loved the slutty older Catholic girls with their mean names, the ones with white lipstick and ratted hair that reeked of Aqua Net.
I loved the drone of the priest intoning Latin. All that life surrounding you on all four sides plus the ceiling–it was like a religious bus station. They had all that stuff holding them together, and they got to be so conceited because they were Catholics. Looking back on the God my friend believed in, he seems a little erratic, not entirely unlike her father–God as borderline personality.
It was like believing in the guy who ran the dime store, someone with a kind face but who was always running behind and had already heard every one of your lame excuses a dozen times before–why you didn’t have a receipt, why you hadn’t noticed the product’s flaw before you bought it. This God could be loving and reassuring one minute, sure that you had potential, and then fiercely disappointed the next, noticing every little mistake and just in general what a fraud you really were.
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott | : Books
He was a God rtaveling his children could talk to, confide in, and trust, unless his mood shifted suddenly and he decided instead to blow up Sodom and Gomorrah. My father’s folks had been Presbyterian missionaries who raised their kids in Tokyo, and my father despised Christianity.
He called Presbyterians “God’s frozen people. I went to church with my grandparents sometimes and I loved it. It slaked my thirst. But I pretended to think it was foolish, because that pleased my father. I lived for him. He was my first god. My mother and her twin lamottt had come over from Liverpool with their mother after their father died, when they were twelve. My mother had a lifelong compassion for immigrants; she used to find people waiting for boats to their homeland travellng waiting for money to be wired from the East so that they could catch a bus home, and she’d bring them to stay with us until everything was straightened out.
She and my aunt Pat had mefcies confirmed as Episcopalians in England–I have their confirmation picture on my mantel, two dark-haired beauties of twelve or so in long white baptismal-style dresses. But that was the last of their religious affiliation.
My aunt Pat married a Jew, with a large Jewish family in tow, but they were not really into Moses Jews; they were bagelly Jews. My closest cousin was bar mitzvahed, but other than accusing you of anti-Semitism if you refused second helpings of my uncle Millard’s food, they might as well teaveling been Canadians.
None of the adults in our circle believed.
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
Believing meant that you were stupid. Ignorant people believed, uncouth people believed, and we were heavily couth. My dad metcies a writer, and my parents were intellectuals who went to the Newport Jazz festival every year for their vacation and listened to Monk and Mozart and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Everyone read all the time. Tamalpais loomed above us, and we hiked her windy trails many weekends, my dad with binoculars hanging around his neck because he was a serious bird-watcher.
We were raised to believe in books and music and nature. My mother played the piano most weekend nights, and all of us kids knew the words to almost every song in the Fireside Book of Folk Songs. When my parents’ friends came over on the weekends and everyone had a lot to drink, my mother played piano and everyone sang: King and nature, smoked, drank a lot, liked jazz and gourmet food. They were fifties Cheever people, with their cocktails and affairs.
They thought practicing Catholics insane, ridiculous in their beliefs, and morally wrong to have so many children; also, the non-Italian Catholics were terrible cooks. My mother made curries surrounded by ten kinds of condiments, including chutney she and her friends made every year in our kitchen. I bowed my head in bed and prayed, because I believed–not in Jesus–but in someone listening, someone who heard. I do not understand how that came to be; I just know I always believed and that I did not tell a soul.
I did not tell a soul that strange boys rode by on bikes shouting racist insults about my kinky hair, or that we showed our naked bodies to the big boys in exchange for baseball cards, or that the Catholic dad had beat his daughter, because I wanted to be loved, and so I stood around silently, bursting with hope and secrets and fear, all skin and bone and eyes, with a crazy hair crown like that one ridiculous palm. My best friend from second grade on was named Shelly. She was blonde, pretty, and had a sister one year younger, whose best friend was a girl named Pammy who rtaveling at the other end of the lagoon.
Shelly’s mother was a Christian Scientist. My father thought the Christian Scientists were so crazy that they actually made the Catholics look good.
I was no longer close to the Catholics, as we had moved by this time into an old stone castle on Raccoon Straits on the north shore of San Francisco Bay.
The castle had been built a hundred years before by a German man who wanted to make his new bride feel at home in California. It had trapdoors, a dungeon, and two caves lamot the back. My parents had bought it for twenty thousand anen the year John Kennedy became president.
My parents campaigned for him, my hraveling looked like him, my mother quivered for him. She was like the preacher in Cold Comfort Farm whenever she talked about either of the Kennedys, trembling with indignant passion–“I’m quivering for you, Jack”–as if the rest of us didn’t also love him. We lived in this marvelous castle, but things were not going well inside its stone walls.