Monday, April 28, 2008

Here To Stay

I'm out of blogging practice.

We spent the weekend in Quebec, spending time with Dennis' side of the family. The big occasion was little Noemie LeBlanc's baptism Sunday afternoon with a big party afterwards. Noemie is Den's brother's third child, and second daughter. (Their second born, a daughter, Audrey, died a few years ago). It was short and sweet. Beautiful sunny weather. We got back from our long drive home this afternoon.

Every time I go to Canada, especially the French dominant province, it is a tightrope walk of cross cultural interaction for me. I don't learn anything from asking a lot of questions of my husband or his family. They can't explain it any more than they can explain why the sky is blue. The only way I learn is through observation and trial and error. And trusting my husband's instincts about what is appropriate and what isn't. And watching what I say.

I understand conversations in french pretty well. It is participating that is hard. And speaking a language is more than stringing the right words together. When I do speak, it surprises everyone mostly because I sound better than they expect. And because it is so rare. I tried a lot more harder than I usually do on this last trip because I get that it is really important for Dennis' brother's in-laws. They're starting to warm up to me, I think.

After almost nineteen years of marriage, I finally got to cook for Den's brothers and their families. It was a spur of the moment Saturday night thing. Having a new baby is hard work and makes for difficult entertaining for Gordon and Sylvie, Noemie's parents. But we all wanted to get together and were thinking about going out for cheap chicken wings and beers. But bar atmospheres aren't the best places to bring kids along, and we wanted to spend time with family watching the big hockey game. So, I volunteered to make chicken wings at home. I never made chicken wings at home, but I didn't say so. I had a recipe once from Dad but it wasn't with me. I also had to make sure they weren't too hot for Sylvie, Maxime and Danielle. So, I had to figuratively "wing it". But cooking from the hip is something I love to do.

It turned out great. I showed Gordon how to cut up ordinary chicken wings we bought at the store. I bought drumsticks to stretch our grocery budget, since they are way cheaper. Sylvie bought extra mayonnaise to make fancy sandwiches for the baptism party, so I was able use the mayo left over to mix the tabasco sauce for the chicken to marinate in without it getting too spicy. I put a bottle of tabasco sauce on the table for those who wanted more heat. Celery was on sale, so I cut it up into sticks with a ranch dip. And Gordon asked about potato skins, and they had potatoes that needed to be eaten soon, which I roasted with a little olive oil and some dried bay leaves. Dennis' brother David and his wife, Danielle and their daughter Mia came over for dinner and we had fun over the platters of food and afterwards watched the hockey game on tv while the kids played together.

I intended to create a buffet with the extremely casual menu. But Gordon and Sylvie don't do family meals that way. It had to be sit down with napkins and real plates instead of paper ones. Gordon and David ate the finger food like they would have at a bar, but Sylvie and Danielle used fork and knife to separate the chicken meat from the bone. Dennis and I being Americans, really didn't notice until after the meal the two different approaches to the use of utensils (or non-use).

The next day was the baptism. These events surprise Dennis and me with the way the Catholic church has changed its approach. For one, the baptism is not just for one baby at a time in a separate ceremony each, but up to five or six babies are baptised within one ceremony. It's a community event where the priest is milking it for as much as he possibly can as the perfect opportunity to do several question and answer sessions and mini-catechisms. ( I didn't understand a single word, and Dennis had to interpret for me, which he never had to do before. But the vocabulary is different and not usually included in everyday conversations.)

Families are gathered around and the atmosphere is decidedly informal and almost jovial in the back of the vestry as we all get acquainted with the meaning of the sacrament and the seriousness of why we are doing it. Then we all proceed together to the front of the sanctuary where the mood changes slightly to a more reserved and conservative feeling. The priest calls the children forward to read scriptures and then questions the families the meaning of the passages. Again, it was hard to follow, mostly because of the acoustics in the Cathedral and the babies erupting one after another or in unison (Noemie, however, slept through everything--her parents are more experienced and it showed).

The baptism lasted an hour and a half, and there were other small rituals associated with it, including lighting of candles and a special private prayer time just for parents and godparents. And you know what? Not one song was sung. I heard an organ playing in the background, Ave Maria, I think, as the babies were baptized. But that's all. As we walked the two blocks back to Gordon and Sylvie's house, I silently considered on how easy it would have been for the priest to just sprinkle the babies and been done in five minutes. But he spent a chunk of time explaining Matthew 28:19-20 and if I don't say so myself, preaching the Gospel. He was in many ways, confrontive and bold but kept the balance with being gentle and engaging. From the responsiveness among the families in attendence, especially the parents and godparents whose eyes never left him, I gauged that he was an effective communicator and loved what he did as well as the people he served. It was a winsome, good and an attractive way to share the truth of God.

A few of the people in the family haven't been in church for fifteen years and had already told me their anti-religious views, but because they cared for Gordon and Sylvie and their kids, they came. They were kind of quiet, too, as we walked together back to the LeBlanc home, in a good reflective way.

The most imposing and dominant structure in most of Montreal's little neighborhoods is the Catholic church, which is a hub of community activity. The Cathedral's presence gives assurance that even though lot of things have changed through history the Church is here to stay.

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