At our weekly Miraculous Medal Novena, the loudest and most impressive singer of the Novena song was Mamie Ounan. I used to hold on to my kindergarten beanie for fear Mamie’s contralto would blow it off! I wrote a little reflection about her a few years ago and thought you might enjoy it today.
“Pride of Place”. That’s what my Dad called it. I asked him one Sunday when I was about six years old, “How come Mamie Ounan always sits all alone up in that front pew?” Mamie was an elegant old woman, a little like Madame Belvedere in the old movie, “Mrs. Miniver”. Each Sunday, Mamie Ounan processed up the aisle to commandeer the entire front pew in our parish church.
““Pride of Place””, Dad said. When I looked up at him clueless, he explained. “Mamie’s been sitting there every Sunday for forty years. She sat there the Sunday after her husband died in a shop accident. She sat there every Sunday through the Depression when she struggled to keep her corner grocery open. She sat there the day her son was killed at Pearl Harbor. All the while, no homeless person ever went away hungry from Mamie’s back steps. She earned that pew and the rest of us are proud for her to have it.”
““Pride of Place”” isn’t always something physical like a pew in church. More often it’s a moral or spiritual position that’s granted to us by others after we pay certain dues. These dues include trustworthiness, sacrifice, contribution and wisdom.
All of us experience at least some ““Pride of Place”” passages in our lives. Remember when you moved up from the kids’ table at Thanksgiving dinner? Remember being a sophomore on freshman day? Throughout our lives, we advance through grade levels, job levels, armed services levels, even golf and bridge levels.
But earning real ““Pride of Place”” is very different from making it to the top of the heap. We receive the first from others who recognize and respect us. We take the second from others who may begrudge it to us. Mamie was given “Pride of Place”. She didn’t take it. Otherwise, someone else would have beaten her to that pew each Sunday.
“Pride of Place” doesn’t come automatically with power or position. Not every parent, boss, teacher, pastor, elder or champion deserves it. It has to be earned and kept as a trust. Even in hard times, its owner has to honor it and use it for others. Jimmy Carter has “Pride of Place”. Richard Nixon never did. I have my own feelings about Mr. Trump. I’m sure you do too!
We all have the potential for “Pride of Place” in our lives. We can discover that potential by looking at the things we have responsibility for. We have kids, elders, employees, co-workers, customers and friends. We have homes, neighborhoods and futures. We can impact all these things for better or worse.
Do we dispense those responsibilities with love, courage and honesty? Do we use the power we have for others, not over or against them? Mamie Ounan, that little old lady in a tiny city neighborhood, had tremendous power. She gave people hope and example by the way she endured, by the way she cared and by the way she lived.
If we haven’t begun to exercise that kind of responsible adult power in our lives, maybe it’s time to stand up from the kids’ table and walk toward our own “Pride of Place”.