When I was six years old, I loved to visit my grandmother's apartment. She lived on the ninth floor of a local senior's building, and from her balcony we could see the "skyscrapers" of the big city reaching for the clouds. My brother and I ran to the window when we got there, signing the 60's hit "Downtown."
After a chorus or two of "downtown, dadadadadadaaaa..." my next stop was my grandma's nightstand drawer. That's where she kept the most beautiful thing my young brown eyes had ever seen -- a set of rosary beads crafted from white plastic. Each bead was fashioned into a rosebud, and they were linked together by a silver chain. I felt like a princess when I put these around my neck and pranced around the apartment. Grandma let me wear them until it was time to go, when I reluctantly placed them back in her room. I couldn't wait to visit again, when I could gather up this precious "necklace" that made me feel pretty and special.
I know that rosaries are not jewelry, but that childhood experience gave me a love for Mama's Beads. I had the good fortune of belonging to a parish at which the rosary was prayed before each and every mass, and every Sunday, at my father's insistence, we arrived early enough to join in. Like most children, I was bored sometimes as I knelt there watching the beads slip through my fingers. But the habit was developed, and the comforting repetition of the familiar prayers soothed me and brought me focus and calm.
I don't remember praying the rosary much during my teen years, but I do have one vivid memory of Mr. Ted, a fiesty, outspoken lover of our Lady who taught catechism (as we called it then) to us after school. My brother and I arrived with our family at Sunday mass, and we were sitting in the car preparing to go in. Mr. Ted banged on the car window, frantically waving his beads. "Don't forget your rosaries!" he admonished my brother and me. We were mortified, embarrassed at his ridiculous behavior, so we went into church, laughing at his crazy zeal -- rosaries in hand, of course.
I can clearly recall the day I returned to the rosary as a young mother. Rachel, my firstborn, was napping, and I decided to pray the rosary. I couldn't remember the mysteries, so I got out the huge family bible my parents had given us as a wedding gift. I opened it to the pages that featured the mysteries, highlighted with large color pictures, and placed it in the baby's playpen. Then I knelt there with my beads and the sun lit up my tiny apartment. It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful and I felt, for the first time in years, like I was home.
The rosary became my companion then. I must have prayed it a thousand times during those early years of my marriage, particularly when my girls attended a school some miles away. Getting in the car meant praying the rosary. I often think that those many rosaries I prayed during those years protected and prepared us for the many challenges we would face in years to come.
We prayed the family rosary, too, alternately nudging the children to either stop pestering one another or stay awake. We discovered the rosary was the very best way to calm ourselves (even the experts acknowledged that praying and meditating this way lowered blood pressure!) Sometimes the kids balked, but we did it anyway. They, too, began to develop the habit that I know will bring them peace throughout their lives.
In difficult times I have wished I could return to Grandma's apartment and dance around like a princess without a care. Instead I turn to the beads that I learned to love there. When my baby Celeste was living and dying in the hospital, Aaron and I prayed the rosary on each drive there and back. It was all we could do. It was everything we could do. I was sometimes numb as the cool beads slipped through my fingers, tears streaming down my cheeks. But I could see Jesus and Mary clearly in my mind as I tried to focus on their lives, their sufferings and joys, instead of my own anguish. I could not find adequate words with which to pray. I didn't need to search for them. I could pray the sweet, familiar prayers of the rosary, and I would be comforted, healed and protected.
Today I most often pray the rosary at Adoration, where I sit with my elderly father as well-worn black beads slip through his fingers. I have many rosaries (of course I do! Such pretty princess beads!) but my current favorite is the set that my husband bought me soon after Celeste's death. These beads are little pink hearts, and they speak of my little girl. They make me feel like a little girl, as well, and I realize that's just what I am when I pray -- Mama's little girl.
The rosary makes me feel like a child, safe in my mother's arms. Maybe it's my early experience with my grandmother's rosary that makes me feel like a little girl every time I pray the rosary. Or maybe it's just that that's truly what I become when I pray this way.
Perhaps someday a little girl will go to her grandmother's nightstand and gather up a rosary strung with tender pink hearts. Maybe she'll dance around, wearing it like a necklace, feeling like a princess. I hope so.
I still have the white plastic roses. I received them when my grandma died, when I was only seven. They are the only remembrance I was given. They are enough.