>Catch and Release and "Watching" continued…

> We’d been on the White River in Arkansas since about 10 a.m. on Saturday and still no fish. The boat we rented at Jack’s Fish Resort seemed to have all the right stuff. And my friend’s 13-year-old son, Will, brought his tackle box and gear. We even asked the guys in the bait shop at the marina what to use. But at 3:30 p.m. we still hadn’t caught the first fish. We did have some excitement, though… when we hit a rock or something and the cover flew off the motor and we had to circle around and scoop it up with a net. Ian (that’s him, at right – he’s 9) helped save the day.

I thought I wouldn’t care whether or not I caught anything. After all, I’m not a fisherman. I think the last time I caught a fish was in about 1959… on a pond at my Aunt Lorena’s in Prospect, Mississippi, just outside Meridian. I was really just along for the ride. Enjoying my friend and her four kids (at right, on the road to the house we rented for the weekend) and the beauty of the river and the Ozarks.

But then we asked some successful folks what they were using for bait. A white fluorscent grub with one Power Bait red salmon egg on a golden hook on a spinner. My friend, Sue, a seasoned fisherman, wanted proof that I baited my own hook and everything, so here’sthe pix, Sue!

We headed back up river. The current was fast because they were lowering the river about two feet at the dam, or something. (I obviously don’t understand these things. I leave them to the experts and busy myself with less important matters… )
So we kept casting and floating until we began to get it right. Will caught two in a row. I had gotten a nibble or two, which were exciting enough to leave me longing for more. We were supposed to return the boat to the marina at 5. Daphne gave us a five minute warning. And then it happened.

I cast upstream… this time actually getting the line more than 10 feet out from the boat. I felt a tug. Suddenly my pole arched and I cried out, “I’ve got one!” Daphne grabbed the camera. Will grabbed the net. Simon urged me on, “Reel him in, Aunt Susan!”

It was an exciting few seconds. And there he was. A rainbow trout. All of about 14 inches long. Sure helps to have the right stuff. I’m hooked now. It’s a thrill, feeling the line tighten and the pole tug in your hands. Will added him to his catch of two, and we headed back in. Near the marina we saw this sign, “Catch and Release Area.” Fortunately ours were caught away from this area, where it’s “legal.”

I added my lure to the Evil Eye ornament on my hat. The one Daphne bought at the Greek Festival in Little Rock. It helps fight against jealousy. Must be working, because the people who pulled into the boat slip next to us had a basket full. They must have figured out what worked earlier in the day. I didn’t care. I had a beautiful day on the White River. Even saw cows in the water, a blue heron on a tree, and an otter sneaking between the rocks on the shore. All of which goes to show that you can take the girl out of the city.

Later that night we ventured into Mountain View for live music on the square. Various groups of bluegrass musicians were gathered under gazebos and at the courthouse. Not my favorite music, but a nice taste of local culture in a quaint little town.

I’m too tired for a smooth transition to the next installment about my friend, Urania. So I’m just going to cut to the chase. “Watching” continues here. If you missed the earlier installments, read my post of October 4.

“Watching” continued…

Friday

At 5 pm I’m driving from Memphis to Mountain View, Arkansas. I stop in Locust Grove and call Father John Troy on my cell, thinking I might lose the signal as I ascend down to Mountain View. The sun is bright, just before it slips behind the foothills. The clouds are dark and threatening. The contrast is vivid. Autumn is late this year… everything is still green with a few tinges of brown and orange.

“Did you see Urania today?” I ask, as my phone cackles with a bit of static. I’m at the edge of the Ozark National Forest.

“Yes. I spent about three hours with her today.”

A pang of envy strikes my heart. “How was she?”

“She’s sleeping a lot. But I read the Canon with her, and cried. Then the Hospice nurse gave her some Morphine, and I helped turn her and make her more comfortable once or twice. Mainly I sat with her.”

I weep as I picture my priest’s tears of love and sadness mingling with his prayers for this woman who has been so important to him… to all of us at St. John.

A half hour later I’m driving into Mountain View. The first thing I see is a cemetery. I cross myself. Just down the road I stop at the main intersection. If you turn right, you end up at Wal Mart. But that’s true at most intersections in Arkansas, isn’t it? No matter… there’s a man sitting in the back of a pickup truck in front of me. He has a ponytail with streaks of grey and a striking profile―a chiseled Roman nose, high cheek bones, and a sunken amber jaw. The sign behind him says, “Live music on the square tonight.” Sounds inviting.

Turning off Highway 5 at 5:45 pm into Jack’s Fish Resort, I hurry to check in and get to the deck behind Jo Jo’s Catfish Wharf for sunset on the White River. It’s pretty, but it can’t compete with the view from Urania’s balcony earlier in the week. So I soothe myself with the best hushpuppies in the world, mediocre catfish, and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cream pie.

Daphne and her kids arrive at 8:30 and we settle into our rental house for the night. It backs up to the river. The plan is to rise early to go fishing. I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.

Saturday

Father John Troy calls at 6:30 am. I know why he’s calling.

“She died at 5:30 this morning. George [her son] was with her… and Mary [his wife].”

“Today is my husband’s birthday.” My first words in response have nothing to do with Urania’s death, but are a way of marking the day… a double significance. I’ll call him later at his hotel in Chicago, where’s he’s at a medical meeting. But now I open again the red Prayer Book, this time to page 24: “A Prayer For the Dead”:

Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend the soul of Thy servant, Urania… grant her rest, where all thy blessed saints repose, and where the light of they countenance shineth forth….

At 7:30 am I’m lured to the kitchen by the enticing aroma of bacon frying. Daphne sees the news on my face and I cry into her arms. We tell her four children about my friend , Urania. They know about loss… they just lost their aunt Debbie four weeks ago. Daphne’s sister was only fifty one. Her family’s grief mingles with mine today, tempering our activities with a gentle overlay of somberness. The joy I share with her and her children as we spend the day fishing on the White River and later experiencing a bit of the local music scene on the square in downtown Mountain View is full of reminders of Urania’s love of life. Well, except that this is Arkansas, after all.

Sunday

I drive home from Mountain View and go straight to St. John and upstairs to the nave, where Urania’s body was brought on Saturday. My friends Deb and Laura are there, arranging flowers. The casket is on the solea, in front of the icon of Christ. Her presence in the church brings on another round of weeping, first in Deb’s arms, and later on my knees. And yes, I’m happy that she didn’t suffer greatly and that she’s with her beloved Andy and with Jesus in Heaven. But the hole she leaves in my heart, in our church, our community, our city, is significant.

I find each of her children before the service, during visitation, and we share updates, stories, and hugs. But when I find Julia, her daughter who moved her membership to St. John in Memphis when her parish in New York City, St. Nicholas, was demolished by the collapse of the World Trade Centers in 2001, I fall completely apart in her arms. How many times will my grief leak out so physically? I’m still in her arms, shaking and crying noisily when a hush falls over the nave. It’s time for Trisagion Prayers for the Dead. So I leave Julia to sit on the front pew with her family, and I find my way to the back, and to my friends. We comfort each other as we join in the prayers and hymns.

Again I’m overcome with tears, especially as we sing, “Memory Eternal,” and when Father John Troy gives a brief talk about Urania. And then the vigil begins. I join one of my Goddaughters, Sarah, at the reader’s stand and we begin reading the Psalms, interspersed with a Prayer for the Departed. People sign up for one-hour “slots” to read during the evening and the next day… up until the funeral, which will begin at 2 p.m. tomorrow. It’s an Orthodox tradition not to leave the departed one’s body alone. We do what we can to honor this tradition, and the person’s body, made sacred by the Incarnation.

After the interment at the cemetery, a “mercy meal” will be served back at the church. Long before her death, Urania made the arrangements… for Greek-style fish and vegetables to be catered. The “church ladies” will bring desserts.

Hugs are as plenteous as tears tonight, and my dear friend Nancy says to me, “What will we do without her?” She’s referring, I’m sure, not only to her love and inspiration, but her matriarchal place amongst us… teaching us how to live.

“I guess we’ll have to grow up now.” The words are out before I can stop them… but there it is. The truth about losing mothers. It’s our turn now. But these are big shoes to fill. By God’s grace, we will grow into them. Or not. But we are all changed forever by knowing her. May her memory be eternal.

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