Paul Moore: A box of books, and unspoken messages between the lines
In My Father’s House / Paul Thomas Moore
Some readers may know that before we moved down here to Illinois, my Peoria-born wife Mary Louise and I lived in my Canadian hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, for 17 years. When she first arrived there in April of 2000, things were a little rough. She was away from home, and my bachelor apartment was small, with lovely hardwood floors that carried an equally lovely echo of the heavy-footed gentleman upstairs, whom sound-sensitive Mary nicknamed, “The Stomper.”
As well, she found the Canadian East Coast in early spring bleak and colorless, didn’t have a work permit for the first little while, and to top it all off, she broke her ankle stepping off a curb. Shortly after that, a delivery arrived in the mail for her from my mother. It was a box of gently used books, an unspoken gesture of welcome. Mary Louise still feels that greeting every time she opens a cover for the first time. Books are about words, but this message was between the lines.
Recently, I was reflecting on the curious juxtaposition of books and wordless messages as I was listening to a podcast from Canada while mowing the lawn. It was a show about books on the CBC radio network (Canada’s NPR). My Mom loved listening to the CBC: the calm, mellifluous voices talking about interesting things. Now, with the mower’s muffle, I could only hear the occasional word. No matter. As with Mom’s box of books, I heard the tones of home.
My memories of the comfort carried by voices with sometimes indistinct words goes back a long way.
THEIR TONES SPOKE VOLUMES
When I was 7 or 8, we lived in a small bungalow. Dad often worked late, and after he arrived home, he and Mom would have a drink together before a late supper. As I was starting to agree with sleep, I’d hear their voices trail out of the living room, come down the hall, and slither sideways through the cracked opening in my brother’s and my bedroom door. The door was open “just a sliver,” as Mom would say, because we . . . OK, probably more me . . . were afraid of the dark.
My parents’ murmurings were a combination of his measured tenor baritone, and her lilting drawl, itself a mixture of her immigrant parents’ Irish country girl brogue, and London greengrocer Cockney.
By the time the voices made their way into my pillow-plopped ears, few words were decipherable, other than the occasional “Dear” from him, or “Tommy” from her.
That was fine with me. I didn’t need to know exactly what they were saying; I just needed to know that they were there, that they loved one another, and by extension us kids (having said that, my ears might prick up a bit if they detected any discussion of Christmas or birthday presents).
As well, though their words were indistinct, their tones spoke volumes. Dad was a lot less formal and more vulnerable with just him and Mom, and she laughed a lot by any measure, but when they were talking amongst themselves, her laughter took on an extra texture of twinkle that was for him alone.
She and Dad had their sorrows then and later, but her laughter reminds me of a few lines from the biblical Poem on the Woman of Worth: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs without fear of the future.” (Proverbs 31:25)\
HEARD IN OUR HEARTS
That’s the kind of fearlessness we can always find in the Bible. In the Bible, of course, the word is essential. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Still, God’s love is often experienced in a wordless message of peace. The saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary,” is popularly attributed to St. Francis. Scholars today, however, aren’t sure Francis said those words as much as lived them. Similarly, we can drift off to sleep each night with a child’s confidence that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s love is the unspoken voice we “hear” in our hearts.
Paul Thomas Moore is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.