I always had the best times with my Italian Nonna. When I spent the weekend with her, or visited during the summer, I loved accompanying her on her daily shopping rounds. It was a beautiful experience shopping in small stores with owners who knew my Nonna by name and who were delighted that her little nipote americana could speak Italian. Often I was given little gifts: a chunk of cheese, a small roll, a piece of candy.
At some point during our walk from store to store, we always stopped in the church to light a candle. Speaking softly Nonna would give me cento lire to drop into the money box, and then she let me select a candle and light it. Together we knelt, and while I couldn't hear what she was actually saying, I could hear her whispering as she prayed.
It's a memory that surrounds me like a warm, comforting blanket.
Memories of those special times came back to me the other night as we were preparing to recite the rosary together as a family. Before prayers we have one particular candle that we always light. It is made of rusty iron in the shape of a cross, with a small niche for a votive candle.
That night, as I pulled out a box of matches, my middle son's eyes lit up. He wanted to try and light the candle. On his first attempt, the matchstick snapped in half. On the second attempt there was a spark, but it startled him and he dropped everything. Finally, finally the match came to life, but he was holding it wrong and the flames singed his knuckles.
Then my oldest son stepped forward to show him how it was done. HE knew how to do it because HE'S an altar server and can light candles like a pro. He rolled up his sleeves, and with a dramatic flair produced a flame. Unfortunately, he was gripping the match too close to the end, and was forced to toss the flame into the sink before it burned his fingers.
As I watched my sons fumble with lighting the candle, I realized that on some subconscious level I was trying to re-create for my sons the feeling I had as a little girl.
There is beauty in the solemnity of lighting a candle, and despite their goofiness that particular evening, I do think they get it. When we gather for prayer, someone (without being told) gets the candle and sets it in the middle of the kitchen table. Only then are we ready.
Who knew that a tender childhood tradition with my Nonna would one day become part of our family's ritual of beginning prayer time with a candle.
Now, whether or not we actually succeed in lighting it is an entirely different matter.