My poor Mom. She’s tired. Really tired. A lot. She doesn’t complain, but you can see it in little things. Like when she falls asleep saying the rosary. With a cup of coffee in her lap.
I understand, though. She has a busy schedule. Just as a small glimpse into her hectic life, she has eight kids and we call so often (most of us daily) that we have assigned telephone time slots. No joke.
It’s a schedule carefully worked out to juggle time zones across the continent (and beyond) and the availability of kids in widely divergent careers. My time is 8:10 AM, when I’m walking home after dropping the older kids off at school. And I have to be punctual with my call and keep it snappy because my sister Agnes’ time starts at 8:30, when she’s commuting to work. And we all know the rule about encroaching on the propriety telephone turf of another: when the rightful owner of that slice of the day calls in, you get bumped.
Mom has literally said to me: “That’s Agnes and it’s her time now so I’ll have to let you go.”
Being a Mom is a tough business. Sometimes you just gotta lay down the law.
Unless, that is, you happen to be “at the top of the list.” Mom also has a busy prayer schedule, starting with a 5 AM rosary upon first rising, and another rosary with Dad before he leaves for work at 7:15 AM. She’s in the Prayer Army: she does more praying before 9 AM than most people do all day. (I know that joke dates me, it’s what my Dad calls a “class reunion reference,” which you can’t understand if you weren’t of a certain age when that particular piece of popular culture was in play; so for those of you younger than me: the US Army used to have a recruiting campaign with the tag line: “We do more before 9 AM than most people do all day.”)
Anyway, there is a leader board of prayer recipients: a running assessment of who in the family needs prayers the most at any given moment. Those most in need of prayers are at the top, those with less pressing prayer needs drift to the bottom. If you’re at the top of the list, you can get squatting privileges in someone else’s time slot. So when I’m talking to Mom during “borrowed time” and she doesn’t kick me off the line to take an incoming call I know it can only mean one thing: I’m hovering near the top of the list.
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Periodically my sister Agnes just asks Mom point-blank: “Where am I on the list?” And Mom will tell her straight: “You’re at the top” or “You’re number 7”—which is way down toward the bottom. Agnes will respond with a “Yes!” and celebratory fist pump if she’s down in the low end because she knows she must be doing all right, or an “Oh, man!” if she’s at the top of the list—or sometimes just a “thank you.”
I told Mom once: “I can’t wait until I don’t even make the list.” To which Mom replied, “You’re never off the list entirely, I pray for all of you every day.”
Which brings us to her rosaries. Mom also makes rosaries, and a lot of them. I think it’s probably a necessity brought on by the wear she puts on her beads. I like to watch her when she’s really in the zone with the beads flying through her fingers. “Beads of Fire” I call it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them catch fire someday, ignited by the heat of friction from constantly coursing with such rapidity through her bead-calloused hands. But even if they don’t actually combust they’re already burning with the fire of prayer kindled by the Holy Spirit.
Aside from her own voracious rosary usage, though, she also gives her handmade rosaries as gifts. And with 20-some grandkids, there are a lot of First Communions, baptisms, and other rosary-gifting opportunities. And sometimes she gives them even when there’s no particular occasion—just because.
Which leads us finally to the singularly unique rosary Mom made for my sister Rachel. Rachel was coming home to visit at Mom and Dad’s house for a few days and the first night she was there, after she’d put her kids to bed and went to lay down herself, she found a surprise on her pillow: a brand-new rosary handmade by Mom.
But it was a rosary with a mystery: one extra bead.
Rachel didn’t realize it at first, but when she found it, she put it right to work (she wasn’t raised in the house of the Beads of Fire for nothing). And then she got to the end of the rosary, and all the prayers were said, but there was till one more bead.
She tiptoed downstairs and found Mom still awake, saying yet another rosary while once again trying not to nod off and spill her coffee.
“Thanks for the rosary, Mom,” Rachel said.
“You’re welcome, Honey,” Mom answered.
“I don’t understand, though, what is the extra bead for?” Rachel asked.
Mom took the rosary in her hands, examined it through her bifocals, and answered: “Oh Honey, that one’s for me.”
She handed the rosary back to Rachel and leaned forward, telling her in a conspiratorial whisper: “Whenever you finish a rosary, use that last one to say an extra prayer for me.”
So there you have it. Your rosary goes to ten, but my Momma’s rosary goes to eleven.
Like I said: Prayer Warrior.
Actually, Mom had been staying up late to make the rosary for Rachel, trying to get it done and working when she was tired, and she just accidentally added one extra bead without realizing it.
The next day she fixed it. I told her I thought she ought to keep the extra bead, but Mom said: “It was Our Lady who gave us the rosary so I don’t suppose it can be improved upon.”
Maybe not, but now I always think of the extra bead when I finish praying the rosary Mom made for me. And even though my Momma-made rosary came from the factory fully conforming to standard regulation specs, I like to remember that extra bead and offer up one more prayer (usually with a smile and chuckle) for my Beads of Fire Momma.
If you’ve got any Prayer Warriors in your life, you can do the same. They’re usually always giving and never getting, so a few extras can go a long way.
Copyright 2017 Jake Frost
About the Author
Jake Frost is an attorney, husband, and father of four grade-school aged kids. He’s the author of five books: Catholic Dad: (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood; Catholic Dad 2: More (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family, and Fatherhood; From Dust to Stars: Poems by Jake Frost; Victory! Poems by Jake Frost; and a children’s book he also illustrated called The Happy Jar.