Friday, June 15th, your great grandma Billie would have turned 97. To remember her and celebrate her life, we visited The Grotto in Northeast Portland.
Not because of the religious aspect of The Grotto. Its real name is The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, and it is run by the Catholic Church.
Momma wasn’t Catholic, and she most certainly wasn’t sorrowful. She went to mostly Protestant churches, because that was what she was raised with, but her philosophy always seemed to be more of a Transcendentalist, believing in the Oversoul that created and loves all living beings and expects us to love and care for each other.
But mostly, The Grotto reminds me of Momma because she was a gardener. She loved flowers, trees, and the birds that lived in them. She loved to quote part of the poem “God’s Garden”, by Dorothy Francis Gurney, which went like this:
The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth,
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on Earth.
The Grotto is in two parts. The bottom section, where the parking lot is, has a church, a gift shop, and the grotto for which the place is named, a tall cave in a 110 foot stone cliff. Into this grotto has been placed a copy of the statue called The Pieta. It is a beautiful but very sad statue, and does not make me think of Momma.
But when you pay the ladies in the gift shop seven dollars, you get a token that lets you take an elevator to the top of the cliff. And that is where the magic happens.
At the top, you walk through 62 acres of gardens. There are statues, including one of St. Francis of Assisi, who Momma loved because he cared for animals. There is even a brick Labyrinth to walk on, if you like. There are lawns, ponds and small waterfalls. Banks of laurel bushes and azaleas line the pathways. Maple trees and pines give shade and peace. Roses and rhododendrons give color.
The bird population is extraordinary. Happy robins, proud hawks and cranky crows provide bird drama, while the tiny sparrows busy themselves under the bushes.
Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I went together but split up at the top, so we could wander at our own speeds. There were other folks there in groups, some of whom seemed to be very noisy, but Momma would remind me that everyone enjoys places in their own ways. So when there was noise and I wanted quiet, I walked around again until the noisy folks were gone.
Whenever I take time to think of how Momma was, how she treated the world and the people in it, I feel more at peace with myself. It is worth doing, I think.