What’s the best gift your mom gave you? That’s the question behind my new series of guest posts. Today I’m thrilled to share a reflection from Michael Leach! Mike is publisher emeritus and editor-at-large of Orbis Books. His own recent [and absolutely wonderful] book is Why Stay Catholic: Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question (see whystaycatholic.com). He and Vickie are the proud new grandparents of twins Mae Victoria and Jackson John Leach. Thanks, Mike, for sharing this special memory of your grandmother … and have fun with those new grandkids!
I was eight years old and lying next to Gramma Lou on her beat-up blue sofa that smelled like my Dad. My parents were divorced and Gramma Lou was the harbor I could always go to, to know that I was safe. Every weekday when I got off for lunch at St. Andrew’s school I’d walk through the playground to her house where she’d make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cold glass of Bosco chocolate milk. After lunch we’d lie next to each other on the sofa and Gramma would read me a comic book. Her favorite and mine was Blackhawk. Blackhawk was an ace fighter pilot from World War II who gathered a motley crew around him to fight injustice. Did I tell you that my Dad was a WWII pilot with more missions than Catch 22’s Yosarian? That he earned two purple hearts and gave them to me along with his leather fly jacket that had 32 little bombs painted in white on the front? He also killed Hitler with a pen-knife but we won’t go there because nobody believed me then and you may not believe me now, but believe me, it’s true. He told me.
One day lying next to Gramma Lou, I pushed the comic book down with a finger and said, “Mamma Lou, I don’t want to go back to school. I want to stay with you.”
“We’ll see,” she said. “Oh, look, Chop Chop’s coming through the window!”
Chop Chop was Blackhawk’s sidekick. He used to be a cook and carried a butcher’s cleaver. I pushed the comic down, turned on my side and looked at Gramma Lou. “Momma Lou,” I said, “you love me, don’t you?” It was more a statement than a question.
She looked at me with her sweet brown eyes the color of Cracker Jacks. “Of course I love you.”
“Even when I’m bad, right?”
“Yes,” she smiled.
“You’ll always love me, won’t you, Mamma Lou?”
She took me in her arms and said, “Michael… you could take Chop’s Chop’s hatchet and chop off my arms and chop off my legs and chop off my head and throw them all in a garbage can and my head would still look at you and tell you again, “I love you!”
That was the day I knew everything I need to know about God.