Monday, 22 December 2008

Other than my Aunt Cheryl (a Lutheran pastor) and my Dad’s folks, mine are not a particularly religious people. We don’t go to church or practice any religion – at least not formally. Yet we say grace at holiday gatherings, mainly Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

It’s as if begging alone will guarantee a good spot in the hereafter.

At Grandpa Armstrong’s it was usually up to either my brother or me to say grace. I was terrible at ad-libbing prayers since we didn’t get much practice at home, so I always stuck with an old, childhood favorite:

God is great, God is good Let us thank Him for this food, Amen.

One time I accidentally – ACCIDENTALLY – flipped the middle line “Let Him thank us for this food” and got away with it, but that was rare. Grandma Armstrong had a great sense of humor except when it came to The Almighty. Prayer was to be taken seriously. You played it straight and didn’t take chances if you knew what was good for you.

At Grandma Bertula’s it was a different matter entirely. Grandma herself was pretty dour, but the rest of us were a fun-loving bunch. Jocularity and good-natured ribbing were de rigeur and pretty much nothing was off limits.

That extended all the way to saying grace; a task normally reserved for “the kids.” My Mother and Brother were spared, which meant it was up to Uncle Ray, Aunt Mary, and me. Ray did the honors when he was in town, and I’d pick up the slack when he wasn’t.

We had two classics, I’m not sure where Ray came up with them, but they were like well-worn friends. The first beautiful in and almost artfully minimalist:

Grace.

That was it. After that he’d dig right in and you’d miss the stuffing if you weren’t paying attention. The other, extravagant by comparison, was probably my favorite:

Rub a dub dub Thanks for the grub Yay God!

Every year Grandma Bertula acted annoyed, but I think it was all an act. Truthfully, I think she secretly enjoyed it. She’d smile, kind of sheepishly, and exclaim “Oh, Ray!”

My Uncle Ray and Aunt Cindy were visiting her family one year, so I was asked to do the honors. I didn’t dare look at Grandma because, she had this face she’d make. The disapproval face. In spite of our family’s long-running, if irreverent, tradition, she expected something more traditional. Somehow I just knew. So I just bowed my head, took a slight pause for dramatic effect, and said:

Clap your hands and stamp your feet Praise the Lord! Good God, let’s eat!

I remember getting a “Michael!” from someone, possibly Mom. I couldn’t tell if Grandma was more shocked or amused, although I did catch her stifling a smile. Either way I just beamed; I hadn’t chickened out and had pulled it off.

After all, if you can’t have fun with your family, you’re taking life far too seriously.