I’LL TELL YOU A STORY about one
rosary and let it stand for so very many of these lovely, silent, haunting
companions in our pockets and cars and purses and drawers and under pillows and
wrapped around the hands of the dead.
This rosary was made 80 years ago by a
boy in the woods of Oregon.
He was a timber feller working so deep in the woods there were no roads, and
the men and boys rode into camp on mules. He was 17 years old that summer and
One evening he began to carve rosary beads from cedar splits
otherwise destined for the fire. He tried to carve a bead a night sitting by
the fire. With each bead he would try to remember the story of the bead as his
mother had told him. There were the joyful mysteries of good news and visiting
cousins and new babies and christenings and finding children whom you feared
were lost utterly.
There were the sorrowful mysteries of men weeping in the
dark and men beating men and men jeering and taunting men and men torturing men
and men murdering men under the aegis of the law.
There were the glorious
mysteries of life defeating death and light returning against epic darkness and
epiphanies arriving when no doors or windows seemed open to admit them and love
defeating death and the victory of that we know to be true against all evidence
that it is not.
When he had cut a bead for each of these stories he was
finished, for there were at that time no luminous mysteries on which to ponder
He threaded thin copper wire through each of the beads, setting the
mysteries apart with a larger bead cut from yew, and he carved a cross from the
shinbone of an elk. He thought about trying to carve a Christ also, but the
thought of carving Christ made him uncomfortable. Anyway, he did not think he
had the skill, and he did not want to ask one of the older men, some of whom
were superb carvers, so he left the cross unadorned, as he said, and put the
rosary in his pocket. He carried it with him every day the rest of his life.
rosary went with him through Italy
and North Africa in the war, and into the
wheat fields of Oregon,
and back into the woods where he again cut timber for a while, and then all through
his travels as a journalist on every blessed muddy road from Canada to California,
as he said, and through his brief, but very happy, years in retirement by the
sea, where his rosary acquired a patina of salt from the mother of all oceans,
as he said.
He had the rosary in his pocket the day he was on his knees in his
garden and leaned forward and placed his face upon the earth and died, almost
70 years after he finished carving the rosary in the deep woods as a boy.
wife carried the rosary in her pocket for the next two years until the morning
she died in her bed, smiling at the prospect of seeing her husband by evening,
as she told their son.
The son carried the rosary in his pocket for the next
three days until the moment when he and I were walking out of the church,
laughing at one of his father’s thousand salty stories of life in the woods and
in the war and in the fields and on the road and by the sea, at which point the
son handed it to me and said, “Dad wanted you to have it,” and hustled away to
attend to his wife and children and brothers and nieces and nephews.
Sure, I did. You would weep, too. Sure you would.
I have the rosary in my
pocket now. I hope to carry it every day the rest of my life, and jingle it
absentmindedly, and pray it here and there when I have a moment in the sun, and
place it ever so carefully and gently on a shelf every night before I go to
bed, touching the elk-bone cross with a smile in memory of my friend George,
until the morning of my own death, when I pray for a last few moments of grace
in which to hand it to my son, and then close my eyes and go to see the One for
whom it was made, who made us. Amen.