Mother to Mother

Having sent five sons to war, God opened the window to heaven for this mother.

“Honor your Father and Mother that your days will be long upon the earth.” It’s the seventh commandment, and the only one with a promise. It came to mind as I thought about my Siti, the Arabic word for grandmother. My Lebanese Siti, Anna Simon Cantees, had eight children, six sons and two daughters. The only time I remember seeing her without an apron on was when she was in church.

Mostly, she was in the kitchen, stirring, stuffing, sautéing. Always serving, always making sure linens and shirts were clean. No easy task, with three children still living at home and fifteen grandchildren running in and out of the house.

My grandfather, Jido, George Cantees, immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, most likely for opportunity and religious freedom, from what was then Syria, and is Lebanon today. He soon sent for Siti, his wife, and their firstborn son, Sam. In the old country, they were Christians in a Muslim land, well-to-do and esteemed, but leaving meant they would leave all but their faith behind.

In America their family grew, from one son born in Lebanon, to five more sons and two daughters born in Williamson, West Virginia, where they eventually settled. Respect for parents was instilled in the Cantees clan from an early age. When Siti, or especially Jido, spoke, their children minded. Another thing my grandparents instilled was love for America. They relished the peace and freedom of their new country and of the promises it held.

However, as the years passed, September, 1939, was upon them. Newspaper headlines echoed chaos in Germany and other European countries. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, five of their six sons enlisted and served overseas during World War II—Sam, Harry, Kamal, Johnny, and the youngest, Cullen, my father, only seventeen years old. He is shown with Siti and Jido above.

Siti was distraught, more than half her children opposed an enemy fortified to fight the world. Slight of stature with waist-length hair styled in a bun, she seemed less matriarch and more mother, cooking grand Lebanese meals and keeping the remaining family intact.

She prayed daily for her sons.  One snowy afternoon, meditating on her porch, a glorious apparition appeared.  As the story was told, Siti kneeled and bowed her head, humbling herself, ignoring the cold, in anticipation of the answer she had prayed for. The holy mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, was her caller. “Don’t be afraid,” Mary had said, “All your sons will survive the war.” The prophecy was truth.  In what was surely a miracle, all five sons survived without a serious injury.

It was a story I heard often growing up. Thinking of it today, I wonder how Siti must have felt with five sons at war. She was proud of them, of course. They had volunteered because of the love she and Jido nurtured–love of family and country. But now that love could easily turn to heartbreak.

I think of another mother’s love, the Virgin Mary. Her son, Jesus, was obedient, not only to His heavenly Father, but to His earthly mother. When Mary instructed Him to turn water into wine at a banquet, before He felt His time had come, He respectfully obeyed, honoring the seventh commandment and his mother.

Jesus Christ was a rabbi, a nurturer, a healer, and a heavenly king. and remarkably, in His human incarnation, our Creator began his ministry on a prompt from his mother, the Virgin Mary.

Mary certainly understood a mother’s heartbreak. Three years after that first miracle, Jesus’ death looked like history’s darkest moment as she sobbed at the foot of the cross. And, so, who better for a merciful God to send to make Siti this coveted promise?

Today, more sightings have been made of the Virgin Mary than any other heavenly being. Why? Perhaps because our heavenly Father knows who needs to see the vision of a mother.

Siti was one of the blessed who saw her. One mother comforting another.

 

40 thoughts on Mother to Mother

  1. While reading your story I thought of my grandmother and grandfather…you know I felt like your story could have been any of us with large families… we didn’t loss anyone in the War either but my Dad came home with TB…I would love to go back to 5th avenue and everything be just like it was…such a wonderful childhood and great friends…loved your story so much…I would like to read your book…well said…

  2. Karyn…. So touching and so real…very proud of you dear friend. God has blessed you with a beautiful gift.
    I remember going with you to stay with Siti one evening! She was quietly watching all of us interacting with such a tender smile and then she got this mischievous look on her face.She put one of her hair pins through her pierced ear ! I think we were talking about getting our ears pierced! We all were so impressed ! (Some of the other cousins were there as well, but I don’t remember who. Do you recall this? I just remember the love, warmth and laughter of your precious Siti that evening!

  3. I, too, love your story. Our hometown was certainly blessed by the Cantees families. Your Siti must have been a very special, very blessed lady.

  4. I love this story. It brings back so many memories of my visits to Siti’s home. They always treated me so nicely. I loved the Cantees. As I love you. Keep up the good work with your gift of story telling. I’m very proud of you and happy to have you in my life.

  5. Karyn just read the story and so touched…..Knew your good looking Daddy……in this family…..Keep up your
    writing…you have been blessed dear one.

  6. Beautiful story of Siti! Love the Cantees families, Karyn. Can’t wIt to read more!

  7. Karyn, I just read your story about Siti and can’t wait to share it with Mother. You have a gift for writing and I look forward to reading more.

  8. Well done, Karyn. I never knew my Lebanese grandparents but Dad and all his brothers served as well. Your story reminds me of growing up in a small town and all the good times.

  9. Karen I don’t know which story I like the best. I love them all.I do remember Siti especially sitting on the front porch on 5th Ave. I was raised on the corner of 6th and Harvey. Keep up the beautiful writings.

  10. I love this story and the picture of the three of them. I’m touched Karyn.
    Very good job.

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