By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published October 6, 2016
My husband had a way with children. He could sit down on the floor and instantly morph into whatever imaginary beast might intrigue them.
He could play with children as young as two or as grown-up as 12—and the fun often involved drawing. He met one fellow, Stephen, at church when the boy was only 2, and it was instant rapport.
The little boy would carry toys in his backpack to Mass, and after liturgy he would happily share them with Uncle Jef.
On some Sundays, the twosome would rush outside into the courtyard to hunt interesting bugs—while the rest of us had coffee and doughnuts—and then come back inside to draw.
The child had not yet mastered the art of speaking, but it didn’t matter—he understood the important things. And when he could wield a pencil, he and his uncle started drawing in a notebook together, sometimes waging ferocious battles with pencils.
Uncle Jef would draw a threatening monster, and Stephen would then sketch an enclosure around the marauding beast—which inspired his uncle to fashion a blasting device that knocked the walls down.
When I read Jesus’ words, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God,” I realized my husband had somehow discovered the key to this secret and wondrous realm.
As for me, I was hesitant about playing with children, maybe because it requires surrendering serious, adult sensibilities to enter their world. Of course, I enjoyed watching Jef entertaining them, but usually stayed on the sidelines.
After all, who else but my husband could fashion wooden swords in his workshop and then lead the neighborhood kids down to the park and engage in elaborate battles with them—and have as much fun as they did?
Who else could teach boys to draw dragons? And fill his artwork with hobbits, elves, talking trees and wizards?
When he died, that wonder in my life went away—or so I thought. But then, on the first Christmas without him, the little cousins thoroughly surprised me when they invited me to play.
They knew their beloved Uncle Jef had died, and they missed him. They also intuited, in their own innocent way, how sad their aunt was without him.
And so, before I knew it, I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by a circle of crayon-holding children, clamoring for my attention.
On my first summer beach trip without Jef, I went to my aunt’s condo for a family reunion—and the children all were gathered there again.
This time, the girls wanted to create an imaginary restaurant and entreated me to join them—and before long, we were developing menus, drawing French fries and sandwiches, and taking orders.
One of the girls—my cousin’s granddaughter, Alexis, 7—has become my penpal, so every few months, I get a note in the mail from her.
The last one said, “Dear Aunt Lorraine, You are special because I love you because we are pen pals because we live far away because you play with me. P.S. I’m about to lose a tooth.”
Somehow, although I’ve lost my husband, some of his amazing energy, his imagination and his love for children lives on in me.
He has helped me tiptoe, ever so gently, into a joyful and magical kingdom—and for this I am so grateful.
Artwork (“Treebeard,” oil on canvas) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is email@example.com.