‘God bless you. Good night.’
As a child, my bedtime ritual — after brushing my teeth in the only bathroom our family of 11 had — started by dipping the fingers of my right hand into the holy water font that hung on the wall near the stairs that led to the bedroom I shared with three of my sisters. Then I would “carry” that water to my mother, whether she was canning tomato juice in the kitchen or quilting in the living room. She would swipe her fingers across mine to get some of the holy water and then use her wet thumb to make the sign of the cross on my forehead.
“God bless you. Good night,” she said.
We were not an openly affectionate family, so those words were the last I would hear from her until the following morning, and the light tracing of the cross might have been the only time she touched me all day.
These days my 95-year-old mother is in a nursing home, and I visit with her several evenings a week. I arrive around suppertime and leave after she gets in bed for the night. Before I leave, we exchange a hug or clasp each other’s hands and say “I love you” to each other. Mom usually adds something like “Have a good night and a good tomorrow.”
One night last week, though, she said, “God bless you. Good night.” The words and her inflection brought that long-ago bedtime routine, which I hadn’t thought about in probably 40 years, rushing back to me. I pointed it out to Mom, and she then remembered it too. We decided that my dad also gave me the nighttime blessing when he was around, but I don’t remember it because three seasons out of four my farmer-father was likely to still be in the fields or tending animals when I went to bed.
I walked to the bottle of holy water Mom keeps in her room and poured a bit onto my fingers. As I did so long ago, I carried it to her — and asked her to use it to sign the cross on my forehead.
An old tradition — Mom did the same with her parents when she was a girl — is new again.