Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Babci and the drummer boy

Before the holidays, I wrote about the meaning of the song Little Drummer Boy. In summary, I am always inspired by this boy who feels he has nothing to offer except for pounding out a rhythm on his drum, so he cheerfully does this for the baby Jesus, who in turns smiles back at him. (Click here to read that post.)

After writing that post, I had some time to think through some of the stories my aunt told me about Babci, and I realised that she was always to me the perfect example of a real-life drummer boy. She was a master of just doing what she could, or would, do anyway, but doing it well and for God. Her goal was to do a task, whatever the task was. Each thing she did, no matter how little it was, was her calling.

When Babci arrived in America, she soon realised that she would not be going back to Europe. So she established a life of living in New York. She had extended relatives nearby, and was surrounded by a host of other immigrant communities, so she may not have felt as displaced as she might have had she gone elsewhere. But living in such a community also meant that she had little trouble finding people with needs whom she could help.

My aunt described her as a master of time management. She never said no and in fact she found plethora things to do on her own, simply because she felt they were the right thing to do. How she managed to do it all was impressive to my aunt as she was growing up. But she did. And she did it all with joy and boundless energy.

I believe she did it all because she mastered the secret of the drummer boy. Each little thing was done out a heart overflowing with a desire to give something to the Lord, and such wisdom that told her that God enjoyed her gifts of the little things. She could just never get enough of that playful exchange, so she refused to stop!

My aunt began to list some of the things she did out of her heart overflowing with a desire to give to man and to God. To start with, she had a full-time job as a seamstress and she had two daughters. Besides sewing for work, she made my aunt's and my mother's clothes for them throughout their childhoods. She also did hemming and tailoring for the women's auxiliary, a church group, on a regular basis. She sewed costumes for parades. One woman recently wrote my aunt and told a story of how my Babci made her communion dress for her. The list of her sewing productivity goes on and on.

But Babci found plenty of time to do more than sew. She believed that washing machines were wasteful, and her house had a septic tank that easily flooded, so she either handwashed her family's clothes or took them to the laundromat. She never learned to drive, so she'd load up a shopping cart and trek off to the laundromat. My Dzia-Dzia, who did drive, was often a willing accomplice. He'd take her on errands, or else she'd send him to pick things up or lists of things to buy. There was lots of food shopping to be done, because she frequently cooked for large groups, throwing dinner parties for people from the church or extended family members.

Then there was her work with kids. For as long as I know, she took full responsibility for the nursery at church. During summers when my mum and aunt were children, she'd take her daughters to Vacation Bible School at church. But she also wanted to make sure that all the children in the neighbourhood were able to go if they so desired. So she had a little red wagon that my mom and aunt could ride in as she toted them off to church, about a fifteen minute walk. As they passed the neighbourhood children, she'd invite them to come along. When they got to the big busy street, she'd cross with her two daughters, and perhaps another neighbourhood child or two, sitting in the wagon. Then she'd tell them to get out and wait for her while she crossed the highway again and loaded the wagon up again with another batch of kids. I love the mental image of a five foot tall woman traipsing back and forth across the six-lane highway toting a red wagon loaded up with kids when southbound and empty when northbound, waiting patiently for the light to change while she carefully and quietly instructs the children to "wait here, shatzees."

Babci also had a way of collecting used clothing that people she knew were giving away, then giving those clothes to people in need. She also always had an ear perked for people in the community with other needs. When a family needed a babysitter, she was at the ready. If Dzia-Dzia couldn't deliver something for her, she'd call around the church and find someone to take it. Or she'd walk. She would walk miles to take care of her chores if need be.

My aunt explained that Babci had a gift of being an achiever. And she had a strong will. She never made to-do lists and she didn't put up post-its or other reminders for herself. She just somehow always had the time to do what needed to be done. And if she didn't have time, she made time. That's where the strong will came in. But she wouldn't have done half of what she did without faith, for my aunt told me that she would always be praying, asking God for help to do what she needed to do. She would even pray, "Dear Lord Jesus, make the day go longer."

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