Sunday, October 17, 2010

Prayer: Grandma Shorr

Old Woman in Prayer, Nicolaes Maes, c. 1656

I was doing some reading up on prayer in my handy Judaism book, and I've already learned some fascinating facts from our beloved author Mr. David. S. Ariel. For example, David tells me that there is a word in the Jewish faith-tefillah-which refers to the "spontaneous outpouring of the human heart." If there's anyone who enjoys some spontaneous heart-pouring, it's me. I love this idea that our heart is full of liquid desire, hope, yearning, seeking, and when it is full to the brim, our faithful yearning waterfalls into prayer.

David also taught me that there are three main types of prayers in Jewish culture: hodayah (thanksgiving), tehillah (praise) and bakashah (request). Grandma Shorr took her family to her mother and father's house every Friday evening for the Sabbath meal. The oldest male child was responsible for saying the hodayah prayer over the sabbath meal, which incidentally was my step-dad Jack. Jack went to Hebrew school where he memorized the standard prayers that he then repeated for the Sabbath meals and his Bar Mitzvah among other places. He recalled to me a piece of the Friday evening prayer, "We thank Adonai (God) who brings bread from the earth and wine from the vine...". I love the simplicity of this repetition and the intention. To be grateful for the earth, the bread, and the wine is to be in tune with the very fundamentals of living, I think.

Next Sunday: Prayer with Grandma Hastings

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Shannon McCarthy, Prayer, 2007

I'm sorry I'm late! I've been in Utah this week romancing various job opportunities. (And as anyone knows, that kind of courtship takes significant time and energy). So without further ado, I'll introduce the theme this month: Prayer.

Prayer presents herself in countless forms. She is head bowed and knees bent. Breath in and breath out. She is two happy arms swimming through the air and grasping at the trees. She is a call out to the universe and a whisper into the heart. Prayer is the foundational element of our spiritual lives no matter where we fall on the religious spectrum, and she is certainly no respecter of persons.

I dress up in many of prayer's forms. I press my hands and face to the ground and imagine that my supplications reverberate through each layer of earth--crust, mantle, core--to reach the fiery center of God. As I wait with hands and face to the ground, God speaks from that smoldering, spherical heart. The message travels back up through crust, mantle, core, and into skin, muscle, and bone to reach the fiery center of me. This is the journey of my revelation.

If you have thoughts on prayer, please share! For the remaining Sundays this month I will be exploring prayer in the contexts of Judaism, Catholicism, and Mormonism.

Next Sunday: Prayer with Grandma Shorr

Monday, September 27, 2010

Foundations: Caroline Dockstader Koford

Grandma during her Senior year of high school

Name: Caroline Dockstader Koford

Spouse: Jarvis Ben Koford

Birth/Death: 1933-

Birthplace: Rupert, Idaho

Religion: Mormon

Occupation: Educator

My maternal grandma was born in the sleepy town of Rupert, Idaho. Rupert is a city so unassuming you'll miss it if you blink. Yet, it seems every Mormon I know has family in Rupert. My grandma's father was the only Mormon in their family and not particularly active in his Mormonism. Subsequently, my grandma wasn't raised Latter Day Saint by her father but was immersed in the Mormonism of her community just as well. One Sunday when my grandma was 8 years old, she went to church with her girlfriends; it just so happened that that was the Sunday of the annual baptism. In 1930s Rupert, the church folk would round up all of the 8 year olds once a year and dunk them in the waters of baptism. It was one great big baptismal party (unlike today where every child gets their own, personalized baptismal party). Before she could say "amen", my grandma was a Mormon. least 50% Mormon as she was never officially confirmed. Grandma never told anyone she was baptized and continued on with life as normal. It wasn't until she was a 22 year old wife and mother that she and my *grandpa began attending the Mormon church with any consistency and she was finally confirmed 100% Mormon!

I have a very close relationship with my Grandma Koford. When I was a little girl she would play Old Maid and Go Fish with me and took it all in stride when I cheated, lost and then pouted for the rest of the afternoon. She made instant Quaker oatmeal with a little bit of brown sugar mixed in while I watched Fraggle Rock. In the afternoons we would go to the library or the book mobile and come home with stacks of musty books with velvety, wrinkled pages. And on very special occasions we would watch Fairy Tale Theater--25 years later, I still miss Shelley Duvall and those relentlessly corny fairytale remakes. I count my memories with Grandma Koford as some of my most valuable, most comforting, and most enduring.

*An unrelated side story: My grandma was working as a waitress in a small diner in Brigham City, Utah when she met my grandpa. He had just returned from the Navy and would stop in to see her. I never knew that both my paternal and maternal grandmas met their spouses in the diners where they worked as waitresses. What a gem! My favorite part of the story is that everyone there used to call my grandma 'Candy' and that makes me think of the 1940s and red lipstick and war bonds.

Next Sunday: Prayer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Foundations: Florence Tatone Hastings

Grandma and Grandpa Hastings on their wedding day in 1949

Sorry, I'm a day late! It took longer than I thought to do my genealogical reconnaissance.

Name: Florence Tatone Hastings

Spouse: Edward Hastings

Birth/Death: 1923-1993

Birthplace: Arlington, Oregon

Religion: Catholic

Occupation: Elementary School Secretary

My grandma Hastings came from a big Italian Catholic family. Her parents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's and raised their 9 children in America. My grandma followed suit and raised 8 boys in the Catholic faith (with my grandpa's help, of course). After talking with my dad and grandpa tonight, I learned that not only did they go to Catholic mass every Sunday, but they went to mass every day--that is much amassing for Catholic mass. I also learned that my grandpa met my grandma in a restaurant in Arlington, Oregon when she was a waitress there, and he was a police officer going in for coffee and donuts no doubt.

I think my grandma must have been quite strict in her attempts to wrangle 8 boys, but my memories of her are very soft. She cradled me against her belly and fed me pancakes and spaghetti. On Saturdays she took me to the drug store and let me choose a Barbie coloring book or one of those magic marker books that had secret pictures to decode once you ran the marker tip over the page (do you remember those?). She died when I was 14 years old, but I've had several dreams about her since. I get the feeling that she's chosen to spend some of her post-earth time watching over me--such a diminutive woman with enough spiritual energy to reverberate through the atmosphere, down to me.

Next Sunday: Foundations with Grandma Koford (the warm and kissable Mormon pioneer grandma)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Foundations: Blanca Tune Shorr

Blanca and Ben in the early years

Name: Blanca Tune Shorr

Spouse: Benjamin Shorr

Birth/Death: 1920-2007

Birthplace: Vienna, Austria

Religion: Jewish

Occupation: Physical Education Teacher and Language Teacher (Blanca spoke German, French, English, some Spanish, and Yiddish)

When Blanca was a young woman, she and her family fled Austria to escape Nazi persecution. They arrived in New York City in 1938 and eventually settled in Los Angeles. The full story of their forced immigration from Austria to America merits its own blog post (which I will happily accommodate in the near future). Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, Blanca met her husband-to-be Benjamin Shorr who was, like Blanca, a Jewish immigrant. Ben was from Russia and had been living in Los Angeles with his family for several years before he met Blanca. Ben and Blanca had two children, one of which was my step-dad, Jack.

Blanca was strong, opinionated, athletic, and strict. She had high expectations for herself and for her family. Most poignantly, I think, is Blanca's identity as a survivor and pioneer. She was a woman who left her life in Austria, amidst the growing cancer of antisemitism, to start anew in an alien country and culture. It was a remarkably difficult request life made of her and she handled it with a grace that infused her every cell and movement.

Next Sunday: Foundations with Grandma Hastings (the Italian gypsy grandma)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Writing Our Stories

Welcome to The Alderwood Triptych! A few weeks ago I was listening to an interview with historian Claudia L. Bushman. For most of the interview she discussed the history of women in the LDS church and read some very cool excerpts from journals kept by the early Mormon pioneers. At the end of the conversation, the interviewer asked Claudia what women in the LDS church could do to better integrate women's voices into the larger church narrative. She said without a breath of hesitation, "Write! Write the stories of your grandmother, your mother and yourself. Write it down!" I was completely inspired by her response and not a little drunk on the entire interview and decided to create The Alderwood Triptych. This project is part genealogical record, part social history, and part journal. I want this to be a place where I can develop and give honor to my grandmothers' stories and the spiritual traditions with which they identified. Each month will begin with a religious/spiritual theme. The first Sunday of the month I will write my feelings and experiences about the theme and the subsequent Sundays will be used to explore that theme in relation to each of my grandmothers. September's theme is Foundations. I'll introduce each grandmother and offer some background on their cultural and religious identities. I'll begin with me:

I am a triptych. My left panel reveals the ancestral ties and vigorous traditions of my Jewish grandmother. My right panel reveals the fierce devotionals and saintly passions of my Catholic grandmother. My core panel reveals the soft assurances and rigid ethics of my Mormon grandmother. Jewish. Catholic. Mormon. This is my holy trinity.

Next Sunday: Foundations with Grandma Blanca (the feisty, Jewish grandma)