Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Kinder, Gentler Bedtime Prayer

I'm reading a book written about 95 years ago - Michael O'Halloran by Gene Stratten-Porter. I first heard of Mrs Porter about 52 years ago. During the summers I was 16,17, and 18, and after school and on Saturdays of the school-years between them, I worked in a private home. The household comprised Patti, who was 1 1/2 when I started, her parents and her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother had a stroke many years before, and spent her days in an upholstered rocking chair. While Patti napped, I would read aloud to Mrs Rollins. I read two of Mrs Porter's books to her. On those warm summer days (this was in the late 50's, before air conditioning was common) I would be reading along and then I'd hear Mrs Rollins calling my name - I had fallen asleep reading. Fortunately, Mrs Rollins was good-natured about it.

But I digress - back to the prayer.

Following his ears, Mickey finds a small girl wrapped in rags, lying on a heap of other rags. Her parents are dead, or at least gone, and she has just watched her grandmother, who cared for but abused her, die. She was small for her age, and could not walk because of a bad back. 'They' had taken her grandmother's body away and said they'd be back to get her. Mickey knew that meant take her to an orphans' home. At first he tried to tell her that the orphans' homes were nice places; he'd seen some of them from the outside. But he also knew that such homes were something his mother had NOT wanted him to go to. That is why she had very carefully taught him what he needed to know to fend for himself after she died. He had been doing just that for the two years since she died, although I think he's not more than eleven. He sold newspapers and sometimes did deliveries, and continued to live in the third-floor rooms he had shared with his mother. He got someone to help him move Peaches to his place, cleaned her up, fed her, and started teaching her to read as his mother had taught him. After a few days, he decided she needed to say her paryers at bedtime. He started to teach her the prayer so many of us learned as kids:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I shoud die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

She repeated the first two lines after him, but balked at the third one. Mickey came up with a couple of alternatives, but they really expressed the same sentiment in different words, and she wouldn't say them either. Finally he thought of this:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
Guard me through the starry night,
Wake me safe with sunshine bright!

I like it!

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