Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scared that He'll Be Caught

This ends a tough week for anyone who's ever picked up, owned, or been named for, anyone in Alban Butler' Lives of the Saints. The main event, of course was Thursday, Saint Patrick's Day. I'm not sure everyplace on earth paints the median strips on main street green as part of the parade or adds food coloring to the beer (or gets into fist fights in New York's forgotten borough over matters of ethnicity and sexual preference) but let's face it, Saint Patrick is the 800 pound gorilla in the room for the month of March.

Which is too bad, because today is the Feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary (Mother of God) and (sort of) Jesus' step-dad. I'm envisioning an at-the-dinner-table exchange between the Son of Man (when small) and Joseph that has the latter offer a rejoinder such as "then go right ahead and ask your 'real dad' for a new bike and let's see what happens." And then I imagine The Curia or the Legion of Decency showing up at my house and slapping the cuffs on.

As a grade-school child I missed the subtlety that went into the talk-around as the Sisters of Charity explained 'the Annunciation' and when I got older and it smacked me right between the eyes, I admired even more the cool, collected response Joseph seemed to have had to all of that. Talk about Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. It's a pity we don't roll the Apocrypha into the Bible (sort of a VH-1 Behind the Book) and let Max Von Sydow have another crack at the Greatest Story Ever Told (as soon as legal gets the rights clearances squared away).

Today, the Feast of Saint Joseph, is when the swallows come back to Capistrano. I wonder if the village fathers paint the center stripe on their main street a shade of bird droppings white and grey or if they even have a parade (I think I'd steer clear of the beer, but that's just me). As urbane and world-wise as I like to think of myself, I love the story as much now as a doddering fool as I did hearing it as a child. I find it reassuring and, while my belief in a Divine Being fluctuates wildly (and how screwed am I if Her/His belief in me reflects my faith in Her/Him?), I hope (in a faint-hearted, wimpy sort of way) that Paley is right about the Great Watchmaker.

I say that, mindful (with apologies to Jackson Browne) that 'I don't know what happens when people die.' And in keeping with that point, I have known two very dear people who shared the Feast of Saint Joseph as their birthday. They are both from long ago, at the time when I knew everything (and everything better) when I worked for American Forces (Europe) Network and Bob was my first (and very best) boss in Radio Command Information (together with Sara, Marge and Brian) while Gisela was the record librarian of the most amazing (and amazingly organized) collection of vinyl in the world.

Bob was married to 'local color' as I was to be as well (GI's who married citizens from the country in which they were stationed; usually guys marrying women but NOT always). He and his wife, Erika, had no children but loved as if she were one, a stray dog they took in and kept all its life, Sandy. Erika and Sandy passed away pretty close to one another, leaving a hole in Bob's heart that never healed, filled with a pain of which he never spoke. Bob himself passed a number of years ago and I see him at this very moment in my mind's eye in a beaten beige long coat with a beret he wore in every kind of weather.

Gisela was my translator when the letter of permission from the Standesamt of Offenbach am Main (where Sigrid and I hoped to marry) arrived and I raced frantically from office to office trying to find someone to be my eyes (I was illiterate auf deutsch and vowed to never be that guy again). Gisela put her glasses on near the edge of her nose, and would read a line and then look over the tops to give me the English translation. I still recall the shine in her eyes and her warm smile as she reached the conclusion granting us permission and she clasped both of my shoulders and hugged me in congratulations.

I remember both of them today, maybe more so than Saint Joseph, perhaps because I don't know how many others remember them and I'm sad when I think about what happens to you when the last person on earth to know you dies. So today I tell a little of the story of their lives, as I knew them, to remind me to celebrate their lives and hope the day comes when we can laugh together about all of that and so much more.
Happy Birthday, Bob und Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Gisela.
-bill kenny

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