Running Wild in the Pews

September 20th, 2022

As usual, Karin and I took our little grandson, Asher, to Mass with us on Sunday morning. Asher is not quite two-years-old, and he is generally a happy boy (note: his name means “happy” in Hebrew, so it fits him well). He was frisky on Sunday, and he wanted to go places. He was in no mood to sit quietly in the pew. We used various means of gentle persuasion to get Asher to settle down, but he was having none of it. Eventually, we grew weary of the battle.

We let Asher run amok. He dashed from the platform where the altar stands down the aisle to the wall with the stain glass windows. Then he ran full bore back up the aisle to the steps leading to the altar. He grinned, turned on his heels, and roared down the aisle again between the pews. He did this over and over and over again. At first, Karin and I tried to follow him. However, Asher has unlimited energy, and we don’t. We both sat back into the pew and watched our little guy careen through the church. No one seemed to mind. In fact, most people smiled at Asher as he raced past them.

It made me think of what it was like for me in church decades ago. Those were different days. As my father often said, “Children are meant to be seen and not heard!” That was the prevailing attitude back then. Kids were supposed to shut up and sit still. The apparent reverence of the children during the liturgy was considered to be a direct reflection of adult parenting skills. Woe to child whose parents got a dirty look from some old woman trying to pray her rosary without distraction! Hell had no fury like my dad if he thought I had embarrassed him at church. I am surprised that I am still a Catholic.

I wasn’t much better with our kids in church. The fact is that, for many years in many congregations, children have not been welcome. I don’t think it’s always been a religious thing. I think that it’s mostly cultural. Karin and I have often been to Catholic liturgies in Latino churches. During those services, people are relaxed, and the kids wander free. It is the same at The Congregation of the Great Spirit, a Native American Catholic parish in Milwaukee. The indigenous children there are active and often participating. I had the impression that the kids wanted to be there. Our kids really didn’t want to be at Mass, and none of them attend church as adults.

I think that, back in the day, when there were large Catholic families (I had six younger brothers), kids were considered to be a nuisance by their many of elders. The old folks never considered that fifty years later there might not be any children at Mass. Our parish took a survey of the congregation and determined (surprise!) that most people at the church are over sixty. Now the kids are sorely missed, and it might be too late.

Our parish is planning to evangelize young families with children to get them back into the Church. I am tempted to say, “Good luck with that.”

Where will the parish find these young families? How will the parents be convinced to participate in a church that told them that they were superfluous when they were little? Our children’s generation is lost to the Catholic Church, or to any other church for that matter. They are the “nones”, and it will be hard to get them to return.

At the end of Mass on Sunday, when Asher was finally running out of steam, Father Michael came to our pew and sat down next to where Asher was standing. Father Michael looked intently at Asher and Asher looked back at him.

Father Michael smiled and said, “Asher, I like you. You know why? You make me laugh.”

Asher grinned at the priest.

Father Michael asked Asher, “Do you want to come up to the altar with me and help dismiss everybody?”

Asher took Father’s hand and walked with him up to the altar.

Father Michael held Asher in his arms and together they gave the final blessing.

I think Asher might come to Mass again.

More Guns

September 20th, 2022

My son, Hans, lives in Bryan, Texas. Bryan is the sister city of College Station, the home of Texas A&M. The Bryan/College Station area is building up rapidly, but it is still semi-rural. The local economy is almost totally based on the university. Everything in BCS revolves around the Aggies.

Many college towns tend to be progressive communities. I know that the city of Madison, here in Wisconsin, is very liberal. Austin, Texas, is also a leftwing outpost. College Station is an exception to the rule. BCS is a deeply conservative town. A person might see a rare political sign for Beto O’Rourke, but generally this small urban area is solidly Republican. Often campaign signs in and around Bryan/College Station make a point of saying that the candidate for office is not only a Republican, but a conservative Republican.

Anyway, a couple days ago, Hans called me. He does that on a regular basis. He started off by saying,

“Hey, I don’t know if I told you this already, but I nearly got truck-jacked three weeks ago.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, I used my fob to unlock my pickup from inside the house, and these two SUVs pulled up. They blocked the entrance to my driveway. I ran out of the house as fast as I could, and I got my .357 Magnum out of the truck’s glove compartment.”

Hans paused and said, “The guys from the SUVs looked at me, and my gun. One of them said, ‘F— this, he’s got a gun’, and they drove off. They all had their faces covered. I didn’t have enough rounds to shoot all of them, but they didn’t know that.”

Hans went on, “I need to get me a gun for concealed carry. All my guns are too big. I could carry a pistol on my hip, but if you aren’t paying attention, it’s really easy for somebody to grab it from you. I’m thinking of getting a small 9mm. You know, something I can strap on whenever I leave the house.”

I should have been shocked by our conversation, but I wasn’t. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised at all.

Hans is a combat vet. He fought in Iraq. Hans has a lot of guns (that’s standard for a Texas resident). He has a weapon in nearly every room of his apartment. Now, some guys wanted to carjack him in front of his home. He sees that the answer to this problem is to buy yet another gun. Maybe that is the answer from him, but it is a little too Wild West for my tastes.

Hans complained that crime was increasing in Bryan. Hans lives in a working-class neighborhood where most everyone lives in a duplex. It’s not a bad place to live, and the area is very close to a gated community with high end homes. Hans attributes the rise in crime to the people coming into the region from the big cities. He lamented, “We’re becoming Houston.”

Years ago, Hans used to live in the country. He shared an old farmhouse with an elderly man near the small town of Calvert, Texas. They had issues with crime there too. So, it’s not just an urban problem. I wrote about an incident Hans had with a rural thief on my blog (“The Crackhead and the Lawnmower”, June 30th, 2017).

I live in the Milwaukee metro region, and violent crime here has been increasing. Lots of shootings, many of them in parts of town that never before had any killings. I don’t understand why this is happening. I don’t plan on getting a gun. I don’t see that making me and my family any safer.

I have often read articles by conservative writers accusing liberal mayors of being responsible for rising crime rates in urban areas. That may be true to a certain extent. However, it doesn’t explain why somebody is willing steal my son’s pickup from him in Bryan. Bryan doesn’t have any liberal politicians that I am aware of. There must be other factors involved.

I just don’t know what they are.

A Commitment

September 14th, 2022

It rained hard on Sunday. We got over seven inches in twenty-four hours. It was already pouring out when we drove to the church in the morning. When we got there, I pulled up in front of the entrance to help Karin get Asher out of his booster seat. We rushed to get the little boy into the narthex. Then I parked the RAV in the lot and got soaked as I walked back to the church.

Karin and I were at the church early. We had a meeting with a lady from the parish who wanted to talk about the Milwaukee Archdiocese’s new capital campaign. This campaign is apparently a big deal. The title for this massive fundraiser is “Love One Another”. That phrase is scriptural. It is from the Gospel of John. Somehow, this command from Jesus is being translated by the archdiocese to mean “give money to the Church”. I find that irritating.

Actually, there is a lot about this capital campaign that I find irritating. By sheer coincidence, the archdiocese is cranking up this campaign just after the funeral of the former archbishop, Rembert Weakland. Archbishop Weakland admitted in 2008 that he had shredded copies of sex abuse documents and moved sexually abusive priests from church to church without warning the members of those communities. Following his coverup of the diocese’s sex abuse scandal, the Milwaukee Archdiocese was inundated with lawsuits and eventually had to file for bankruptcy. The archdiocese has spent the last decade desperately trying keep what it could of its money and property. Now, the current archbishop wants to invest in the future, and put the past behind us.

Yeah, maybe. We have short memories, but not that short.

My wife and I contribute money to archdiocese every year. We give as much as we can. We also give money to our parish church and to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. We give to the Catholic Workers. We give to these organizations because we trust the people involved with them. We know that our donations will be used properly. Especially with St. Vincent de Paul and the Catholic Workers, we know that the money will go to the poor, to those who suffer and struggle.

Do I trust the people at the archdiocese? Kinda. I suspect that most of the money from this campaign will go to worthy causes, however the archdiocese’s financial track record is spotty. I prefer to spend my money with people I know.

A couple weeks ago, during Mass, our priest showed a video from the archbishop to kick off the capital campaign. The video was slick and professional. That alone turned me off. The sales pitch was smooth and subtle. It reminded me of when I was shopping for a used car. The Church needs money to survive. I get that. Does it really need to function like a corporation? Does Christianity have to be a business?

The woman at our parish is a good person, active in the parish and strong in her faith. She was talking to us because she really wants to do what’s best for the Church and the greater community. She had a folder for us that was packed with brochures and papers that explained how the campaign worked. The archdiocese’s plans were long on generalities and short on specifics. There were a lot of buzzwords in the presentation, like “stewardship” and “time, talent, and treasure”. The lady emphasized that 60% of the funds raised would come back to our parish, St Rita’s Church. That was apparently a selling point.

I thought to myself, “I could write a check to St. Rita’s and the parish would get 100% of the money.”

Oh well, whatever.

I reluctantly listened to the entire spiel. The woman wrapped up by asking us to make a pledge to be paid over a five-year period. That was the deal breaker.

When she was done, I asked her, “What do you actually know about us?”

I sat back, holding Asher in my arms, and waited for her response. There was an awkward silence. I could hear the raindrops beating on the window.

She said that she knew we were a very family-oriented couple. She didn’t have much to say after that. The fact was that she did not know us well. Why should she? She only saw us occasionally at Mass, and we had seldom spoken. We didn’t know much about her either.

While holding Asher, I explained to her that, as of June 8th of this year, Karin and I became Asher’s legal guardians. The court made us solely responsible for his health and wellbeing. The State of Wisconsin was giving us a small stipend to help raise the lad, but that did not even come close to covering our expenses. The fact was that we already tapping into our 401K to take care of Asher. We had already made a pledge. We had committed to caring for our grandson for the next sixteen years. I made it clear that almost all of our time, talent, and treasure were being used to raise this little boy. Our spendable income was already being spent.

The lady looked shocked.

I apologized to her for being rude.

She replied, “Oh no! You weren’t rude at all! I just didn’t know any of this!”

She wanted to know if we wanted to complete a portion of the form indicating that we could not contribute at this time.

I shook my head. I said, “No, I am not filling out that form. I have no idea what we will be able to do tomorrow, much less during the next five years.”

She asked, “Do you want to take the folder and read about the campaign?”

I shook my head again. “That will change nothing.”

“Well, could you at least take a copy of the prayer for the campaign and pray it each day?”

Karin and I nodded.

We got up to leave. Mass was going to begin soon.

She smiled and asked us sweetly, “How about hugs?”

We all hugged.

She looked at me and said, “You know, when you read from the Scriptures during the service, it is very inspirational. I love to hear you speak.”

I just looked back at her and said, “Thank you.”

I understand that we need to love each other. We all play a role on building the City of God. Karin and I are doing what we can by loving one little boy. That’s the best we can do. That is our commitment.

Blood on the Carpet

September 9th, 2022

I got up at 3:00 AM. I couldn’t sleep. I got up and went to the kitchen to make a warm bottle of oat milk for our little grandson, Asher, in case he woke up hungry. I turned on a light and I saw one of our dogs lying on the living room carpet. Sara stirred, and then she staggered around the room in confusion. She looked rough, and she moved haltingly.

Sara is eighteen years old. She is a terrier/dachshund mix. We got her at the Humane Society ages ago. Our daughter, Hannah, picked her out. While we were getting the paperwork completed to adopt Sara, Hannah stood in front of her cage to keep other visitors from looking at the dog. Hannah took care of Sara, well, most of the time. Sara was wound tight when she was young. She had that little dog edginess. She was a beautiful animal, jet black in color.

When Sara got up from the floor this morning, I noticed dark markings on the carpet. I looked closer. They were blood stains. I thought to myself,

“Now, what the fuck?”

Sara had been having some difficulties recently. The years were taking their toll. A couple days ago, my wife noted that Sara’s doggy bed stank. It did. Karin bought a new bed for Sara, and I threw away the old one. When I picked it up off the floor, I found that it was soaked with urine (as was the carpet). Sara hadn’t been getting up to pee. She wasn’t hardly eating anything either. Sara was struggling to move around, and she was obviously blind. I don’t think she could hear very well anymore either. Her black fur had changed color over time. Sara’s face was almost completely white.

Sara irritated me at times. Because of her disabilities, she was often underfoot. More than once, she almost tripped me. I remember losing my temper, and yelling,

“Goddamn stupid fucking dog!”, as I shoved her out of the way. I felt bad as soon as I said that, but the damage was done. She was scared of me.

It took me a while, but I finally noticed that Sara had blood on her face just below her right eye. The wound was oozing slightly, and Sara was occasionally rubbing her muzzle on the floor to wipe off the blood. I kept an eye on her, and I waited until Karin and Asher woke up before I attempted to take Sara to the vet.

I tried to go to our regular veterinarian, but I was told to call the ER at a local animal hospital. I did, and the lady at the ER told me to bring Sara to them. Karin planned on going to spend time with her knitting group, so I took Asher along with Sara and me to the hospital. I figured that Asher could look at the other pets while Sara was examined.

It was the usual kind of ER visit. Fill out forms and wait, and wait, and wait.

Eventually, Asher and I were taken into a small room to consult with the vet. The veterinarian was a sturdy-looking woman with a soft voice and a no-nonsense manner. She explained to me that Sara, probably due to her blindness, had bumped into something and cut her lower eyelid, making her right eye bloody. The vet mentioned that Sara had a full cataract on that eye. Then she asked me,

“Did you notice the blood inside of her left eye?”

“No.”

She went on, “Sara has blood inside of that eye. That could be from high blood pressure or cancer. The left eye also protrudes somewhat, and that could indicate a mass behind the eye that is pushing it forward.”

We talked about Sara’s current struggles to do much of anything on her own. The doctor asked me,

“Are you primarily concerned about her quality of life?”

I did not answer that directly. I told the doctor that Sara was old, very old.

She asked me the question again, and I babbled a bit more.

The doctor asked me a third time, “Are you concerned about Sara’s quality of life?”

“Yes.”

She talked about euthanasia without ever once using the word. She finally told me,

“We could do her a kindness by ending her suffering. This is something I can do for my patients that regular doctors cannot do for theirs.”

I asked her, “And how do we go about providing this kindness?’

The vet described the procedure. It was really quite simple. I guess killing can be that way. She emphasized that the death would be quick and painless.

I told her that I had to call my wife first. She told me to take my time.

I called Karin. She concurred with the decision to put Sara down. I told the vet.

Asher and I sat in a little room especially designed for euthanasia. Asher, being a toddler, wanted to look at everything. A lady came in to take care of the billing. She also wanted to know if I wanted to take home the remains. I told her “No”. As Asher and I waited, I quietly cried.

Eventually, the vet came in with Sara. She asked me,

“Have ever witnessed a euthanasia before?”

“No, but there is first time for everything.”

“Would like some more time with Sara?”

“No, do it.”

I remembered another dog we had years ago. He was part beagle. He was named Francis. Francis was a strong dog, but dumb as a bag of hammers. He ran into the street one day and got hit by a truck. I watched the light go out of his eyes as he died.

Sara was on a gurney. She was calm. I had Asher pet Sara. Then I placed my hand on Sara’s neck and silently asked her to forgive me. The doctor gave Sara and intravenous sedative. Sara visibly relaxed. Then the vet injected her with the poison. I noticed no difference with Sara. The doctor checked the dog for a heartbeat. Then she nodded and quietly said,

“She’s gone.”

“Okay.”

How quickly a soul departs.

The vet asked again, “Do want more time with her?”

“No, I need to take this little boy back home.”

“Please drive safely.”

“I will.”

I thanked the doctor for doing good work.

Asher and I are home again.

There are still traces of blood on the carpet.

Autumn

September 8th, 2022

The sun is just coming up. It’s cool outside. It will get hot as the morning progresses, but right now it’s sweatshirt weather. Maybe I shouldn’t use the term “hot”. It’s “hot” in Texas and California. Here it will be more like “unseasonably warm”. People will be wearing t-shirts and shorts by noon. Some of them will probably still be wearing those come November. Residents of Wisconsin are not easily affected by the cold.

Because it is warm now does not mean that we will have a mild winter. Climate change pushes conditions to extremes. In a few months the jet stream will dip south, and a polar vortex will land on our part of the country. Climate change equals hot summers and bitterly cold winters. The brief period of fall weather we experience will probably announce another taste of the Ice Age around here.

Despite the warm temperatures, I can discern the warning signs of autumn. There is a silver maple down the street that already has flashes of red in its leaves. The locust that towers over everything in our backyard has some yellow leaves. The linden has shed many of its leaves, and they litter the ground beneath it. It has been dry, and the trees are stressed from lack of water. They will all be changing color soon.

The golden rod is in full bloom, covered with tiny yellow blossoms. Golden rod is the last hurrah for flowers here. The branches of the apple tree bend almost to ground burdened with their fruit. The bees are busy flitting from one plant to the next, seeking blossoms while there are some to be had. Karin’s hummingbird feeder is desolate. The little birds have all left. Dragonflies zoom through the air like tiny jet fighters. They are in a hurry to do something, what I don’t know.

The sun rises later and sets earlier. The darkness is slowly gathering. It creeps up on me. A few weeks ago, I would get up at 5:00 to prepare breakfast for our little grandson, Asher. I could do it without turning on any lights. No more. The stars are out now when I drag myself out of bed, and that depresses me.

There is a sense of fatigue in the world around me. It is melancholy in a way. Nature is in a frenzy to prepare for the coming cold, and it will end the season exhausted.

I feel tired too.

You Pay for It Somehow

August 31st, 2022

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” -Milton Friedman

Several years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my oldest son, Hans. He was having a lively conversation about college tuition with a man from Austin, Texas. The man was adamant that the government should pay for students to attend universities and other schools. Hans looked at the guy, and said,

“You know, there already is a government program to pay for a young person’s college tuition.”

The man asked Hans, “Really, what is it?”

Hans smiled and replied, “It’s called: ‘Join the Army’. “

Hans is a combat vet. He was deployed to Iraq in 2011. Hans earned government-funded education benefits. So far, he has not used those benefits, but he could go to a tech school or a college and have the feds pay for it. One of the reasons that he joined the military back in 2009 was to have the opportunity to get a higher education. That was part of the deal.

If Hans ever does go to school again, he will have no debt.

I went to West Point. I graduated in 1980. To go there, I sold my soul to the Army for five years. Actually, I rented my soul to the military, but you know what I mean. When I was a cadet, we used to joke that we were getting a $100,000 education shoved up our ass a nickel at a time. I look at it this way: going to USMA was like attending an Ivy League college and doing time simultaneously. It was not an entirely pleasant experience, but I got my degree.

I had no college debt.

There are all sorts of conflicting opinions now about President Biden forgiving student loan debt to millions of people at the cost of probably half a trillion dollars. Is it a smart idea to cut these people a break? Is it fair to the folks who did not go to college? Is it good for the economy to have so many graduates start their adult lives deep in debt?

I don’t have answers to those questions. All I know is that there are people who found other ways to become educated, and gainfully employed.

Our youngest son, Stefan, went to a tech school to study welding. He got a certification and was accepted as an apprentice in the Ironworkers Union. After five years of doing grunt work and getting trained on the job, he became a journeyman in the union, and he got a bachelor’s degree out of the bargain. Stefan has excellent benefits. He makes more than $40 an hour straight time. He bitches about his work (it’s very physically demanding), but he would never do anything else. Stefan figures that he can retire comfortably by the time he is in his fifties. He is set.

Stefan has no college debt. None. Zero.

The trades are starving for young people. This country desperately needs ironworkers, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. These are highly skilled jobs. However, we keep telling young people to go to college, take out loans, and rack up debt.

Why?

My wife grew up in Germany. The Germans pay for students to go to college. At least they did that when my wife was young. Karin was trained as a teacher. The German government paid for her education. The catch was that the German government selected who went to a university. The government determined early on which students had the aptitude for a higher education. Only young people with high grades went on to be teachers, lawyers, and other professionals. Some of the students with lower grades wound up in the trades, and some went to work in factories.

If the government, any government, pays for something, they will decide who gets the benefit. We could have the U.S. government pay for all higher education, but then the government would control all of it.

You pay for it, one way or another.

Scars and Tattoos

August 28th, 2022

Our son, Stefan, is getting another tattoo today. I don’t why. I don’t really understand his interest in tattoos. Perhaps it is a generational thing. My wife and I don’t have any tattoos, but all of our kids do.

I suppose it a means of self-expression, of a rather permanent sort. A person with a tattoo shows the outer world part of their inner world. Stefan likes tattoos of animals. Once again, I’m not sure why. There is something inside of him that finds an outlet with a tattoo. It may be something that he can’t even explain in words. Somehow the tattoos tell a story.

Is a tattoo necessary for a person to be recognized as a unique individual? Can others tell who we are without a picture or without words?

I have a friend who is a photographer. She does excellent work, but she is still trying to perfect her skills. She explained to me that she would be soon enrolling in a class on portrait photography, and that she wanted to take a picture of me for her portfolio. I immediately asked her,

“Why?”

She replied, “You have an interesting story, and your face tells that story.”

Can a face tell a story?

The mathematician, Jacob Bronowski, discussed how humans perceive reality in his PBS series, “The Ascent of Man”. In one episode, he said this:

“I am listening to a blind woman as she runs her fingertips over the face of a man she senses for the first time, thinking aloud. ‘I would say that he is elderly. I think, obviously, that he is not English. He has a rounder face than most English people. And I should say that he is probably Continental, if not Eastern-Continental. The lines in his face would be lines of possible agony. I thought at first, they were scars. It is not a happy face.’ “

The old man described by the woman was named Stephan Borgrajewicz. He was born in Poland, like Bronowski was. The man had been a prisoner in a concentration camp during WWII. The blind woman perceived him more clearly and in greater detail than most seeing persons could.

Bronowski’s comments also made me think about scars. Thirteen years ago, my right leg was crushed by a forklift at work. All the bones in my foot and ankle were shattered. The surgeon took two and a half hours to put the jigsaw puzzle back together. I have numerous scars on my leg. They are a constant reminder of that accident, and they also remind me of how lucky I am to be walking again. The scars tell a story.

Several years ago, I went to sweat lodge in Montana with a group of Native Americans. One of them, Chief Kindness, like me, was from Wisconsin. He took off his shirt and I could the rough, ragged scars on his back and chest. They were from his participation in the sun dance. It made me wince to even look at his scars. However, they told me something about the man. They told me that he had courage, fortitude, and a deep spirituality. They told a story.

My wife and I care for our grandson, Asher. Asher’s name means “Happy” in Hebrew. After Asher’s birth, his mother wanted to get a tattoo of his name on her arm. I asked my rabbi about it. He told me about the exact spelling in Hebrew, and the young woman got the tattoo. The people I know at the synagogue had conflicting feelings about the tattoo. On one hand, they thought it was a sign of the mother’s love for her child. On the other hand, it was a reminder to some of them of the Holocaust and how Jews were forcibly tattooed in the camps.

The tattoo tells a story, maybe more than one.

Asher…

Up and Down and Up and Down

August 22nd, 2022

Karin was sick yesterday. She isn’t sick often, but when she is, it means that I need to take care of our grandson, Asher, until she is well again. Asher is a wonderful little boy, but he’s a toddler and a toddler requires constant supervision. Karin and I are Asher’s legal guardians, so we have him 24/7. Usually, Karin and I split up the time needed to watch over the boy. However, when one of us is ailing, then the other has to take up the slack. That’s what I did for most of the weekend.

Karin had hoped to be well enough yesterday to go to church with me. That didn’t happen. She asked me if I could take Asher with me when I went to Mass, so she could rest. I told her that I would care for him.

Yesterday was my turn to serve as lector at the Mass. For those who don’t know, a lector is a person who proclaims the Scripture readings to the congregation during a Catholic service. The lector stands at the ambo near the altar and reads the Scripture passages out loud. The ambo is a Catholic name for a podium. Generally, when I serve as lector, Karin is at Mass with me, and she can handle Asher while I do my job. Yesterday I needed to both read the Scriptures and keep an eye on the lad.

I have been in this situation before. Several months ago, Karin was not with me, and I had to simultaneously watch Asher and perform my religious duties. I took Asher with me up to the ambo and proclaimed the readings to the assembly. It worked out pretty well. I think that people paid more attention when I had the boy in my arms.

When I took Asher to church, I also took along his diaper bag. The term “diaper bag” is a bit of a misnomer. There is a lot more than just diapers in the bag. I had it packed full of diapers, baby wipes, ointment, toys, food, and an extra set of clothes. If you have ever raised children, you understand what I mean. If you have not dealt with the needs of little kids, then be aware that, when a child goes some place, the adult caregiver has to bring along everything that little person might possibly need. Be ready for anything.

When we got to the church, Asher and I scoped out the lectionary on the podium to make sure I had the pages turned to the correct readings. The ambo and the altar are set on a raised platform. A person needs to walk up two steps to get to the top of the platform. Asher loves to walk up and down steps. That is currently his passion. Asher demanded that I help him to navigate the stairs. He went up and down and up and down and up and down. Jessica, the choir director chatted with me while Asher did his aerobics. Jessica loves Asher. She is always so pleased when we bring him to church.

Mass started with a procession from the back of the church up to the altar. The two young altar servers led the way as they carried lit candles. Then the lector, me, walked behind them holding up the Book of the Gospels. Bringing up the rear was the priest, Father Michael. My task was complicated by the fact that, besides carrying the Gospels, I had to carry Asher. I had Asher in my right arm and the book in my left. Asher was significantly bigger and heavier since the last time I had to do this. We managed to make it up to the altar, and back to our pew, but I was tired when we got there.

The first reading was from the Prophet Isaiah. I carried Asher with me to the ambo. He gazed out at the crowd. They were happy to see him up there. The population attending Mass was old. At least half of the folks in church were over sixty. That’s pretty standard. They were thrilled to see a child at the liturgy. It gave them hope that the Church won’t die along with them.

Asher and I took a break after I read from Isaiah. Jessica and the choir chanted the psalms. Asher snacked on some blueberries and Cheerios. He likes to eat in church. Actually, he likes to eat anywhere, but somehow, he always gets hungry when we are at Mass. We try to be ready for that.

A baptism also took place during the Mass. That is a relatively rare event. There are more funerals than baptisms these days. Asher is not baptized, not yet anyway. Karin and I would be within our rights to have the boy christened, but we want his mom to be on board with the idea. Some people look at a christening as festive family tradition. It can be that. We see it in a more serious sense. If a boy or girl is to be baptized, then somebody needs to nurture the spiritual development of the child. Somebody needs to commit to raising the child in the faith. It’s hard to find people willing to take on that responsibility.

Asher and I returned to the ambo for the second reading. It was a short passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. Asher got squirrelly as I read to the congregation. He became very interested in the lectionary. I had to read from the book while keeping Asher at bay.

I read, “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord…”

At the same time in a whisper, “Asher, don’t turn the page.”

Then, more loudly, “For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?”

With urgency, “Asher, leave the book alone!”

We got through it. I finished reading before Asher grabbed at the mike.

The priest read the Gospel passage, and then gave his homily (sermon). Asher and I rested in the pew. Once Father Michael completed the baptismal rite, then we would have to go back up to the ambo to read the Prayers of the Faithful, the petitions of the entire community. Asher was restless in my arms.

I picked up the boy and we once again took our place in front of the congregation. I started reading,

“Let us pray for the Church, that it may…”

Asher started squirming in my right arm. He wanted to get down and he was relentless.

I can’t focus on two things at once. Perhaps other people can. I had to put Asher down to concentrate on the saying the prayers. Asher decided that it was the proper time to go up and down the steps. Go for it.

Jessica got up from her seat at the piano and went to Asher as I spoke to the assembly. She gently helped Asher go up and down and up and down. I finished the petitions and turned toward Father Michael. He was red in the face and laughing. I was okay with that.

Asher and I returned to our pew. I sighed. Then I smelled something foul. I checked the back of Asher’s diaper. Yep, he was packing a load in there.

They were getting ready to pray the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy). I grabbed the diaper bag and the boy. We went to the restroom. I laid him down. Asher was not loving it. He was a bit of a mess. As I cleaned him up, an usher came to take a piss. He looked and said,

“I see you got your hands full.”

“Uh, yeah”, I replied without looking up from my work.

“Are you training him to be a future lector?”

“That’s not my choice. At least, he’s in church.”

“Amen to that.”

Asher and I got back to the sanctuary in time to line up for communion. I had a pyx with me to bring back the Eucharist for Karin. The minister gave me the host, and she blessed Asher.

After Mass, we packed up. Asher and I were both tired. He slept in the car on the way home. I waited until we arrived.

Taking Another’s Place

August 17th, 2022

I’ve been thinking about my paternal grandfather. I am trying to remember what he was like. He died in October of 1971 at the age of sixty-seven. I was thirteen when he passed away. After all these years, it is nearly impossible to recall events from our time together. Maybe those specific moments aren’t so important. Maybe the overall impressions are what matter.

What I mostly remember is a collage of images and feelings. These memories are disjointed and seemingly random. They flash into my mind and then they disappear again. I don’t even try to make sense of them. They just are.

My grandparents lived within walking distance of our house. We would visit with them at least once a week. My dad’s folks lived in a small bungalow, a house they had bult back in 1928. They had no garage, mostly because my grandpa never owned a car. He either took the bus or walked everywhere he went.

I remember, when we would visit my grandpa in the evening, that he would often be sitting in his armchair, wearing a sleeveless t-shirt (the old “wife-beater” style). He almost always had an open beer and a lit cigar next to him. The beer came in a brown bottle that was part of case he had bought. Back in those days, all beer bottles were returnable. When a person purchased a case of beer, they just swapped out the twenty-four empty bottles for full ones. He smoked in the house. In those days everyone did that. There was kind of a bluish fog around him. I still remember the scent of the cigar smoke and the smell of the beer. He had an ashtray on a stand, and that is where the smoldering cigar rested when he wasn’t puffing on it. He usually only smoked one while we were there. He made them last.

My grandfather was an immigrant and the child of immigrants. He was born in Slovenia (then part of Austria-Hungary). He had only a minimal amount of formal education. His parents were poor, and he spent his whole life as part of the working class. He raised his own family during the Great Depression, and he was usually either laid off or on strike. He struggled. They all struggled.

My grandfather worked in a foundry. His work was physically demanding, and he was exhausted after his shift. I’ve been in foundries. They are without exception hot, dirty, and dangerous. Foundries were and are places that devour the lives of men. Those who work there, if they survive, leave battered and broken. That’s how my grandfather left when he retired. He only lived for two years after he stopped working.

My grandpa liked to joke. He played with me and my younger brothers when he wasn’t too tired. He liked to watch boxing on his black and white TV. He would get excited during the matches. We would get excited with him.

I remember one occasion. When I was a small boy, my parents took us tobogganing on a bitterly cold night. Afterward, we visited my grandparents. I was half-frozen. I was shivering and I couldn’t feel my toes. My grandpa put me next to the hear duct and took off my boots and socks. He held me in his arms and rubbed my feet to get the circulation back. His hands were rough, but warm. He was gentle with me. He held me close. I felt safe with him, and I was sleepy. I felt like I could have stayed with him all night, but we went home after that.

Grandpa’s gone, and now I take his place in the scheme of things. My wife and I are raising our little grandson, Asher. He is with us all the time. I am the boy’s grandpa, and I am also his surrogate father. I fill a role that my grandfather never needed to play. I don’t mind doing it. I just wonder what Asher will remember years from now. I wonder what impact I am making on his life.

We have other little grandchildren, Weston and Maddy. They live far away from us, down in Texas. I see them rarely, maybe once or twice a year. I am a stranger to them, and they to me. I wish that I could be a bigger part of their lives, but I don’t know how to do that. It grieves me.

Thirty-eight Years

August 16th, 2022

Last Thursday was our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. Karin and I didn’t do anything very exciting. We went out for lunch (with Asher). Asher, our toddler grandson, devoured a pile of fries drowning in ketchup. He seemed happy. Karin and I both had beers with our meals. I had a Belgian ale and Karin had a pilsner. We toasted each other’s health. Asher raised in sippy cup in solidarity.

Thirty-eight years feels like a long time. That’s because it is a long time. It raises the question of how Karin and I got this far. The honest answer to that is:

“I don’t know.”

I don’t believe that there is magical way to keep a marriage together. Everybody has a theory about how to do it. Many devout Christians advise couples to pray together, read the Bible together, attend church services together. The idea is that if the two people keep Jesus in their marriage, it will all work out fine. Karin and I participated in a Bible study group for almost a decade. Most everyone in the group was a hardcore Evangelical who held fast to Scripture-based family values. Damn near all of them were divorced. Go figure.

I think one reason that marriages fail is that the parties involved never expect things to get rough. Karin and I had no illusions about that. In fact, at our wedding in her home village of Edelfingen, the old German priest spent his entire sermon talking about the trials and tribulations we would face. He was right.

We have had rough patches. They were mostly my fault. A while ago, Karin casually mentioned that, during one ugly period in our marriage, she seriously considered beating me to death with a frying pan. That doesn’t surprise me.

We had a good friend, Joe, who grew up in a traditional Sicilian family. After his father passed away, Joe’s mother told him,

“I never once considered divorcing your father! Divorce, never! Murder, yes! At least once a week!”

Who say that romance is dead?

Joe also told us a story about his dad. Joe’s parents had a huge celebration for their fortieth wedding anniversary. during the party, Joe’s father raised his glass and proposed a toast. He said,

“I want to thank my darling wife for the best twenty-seven years of my life.”

She caught on.

A couple can work through the hard times. The point is that the two people have to actually do the work. That requires self-sacrifice. That requires loving and forgiving the other person each and every day. It’s difficult.

People change. I suspect that some folks fall in love with a person, and they somehow expect the person to remain the same. Nothing remains the same. Staying in love with a partner is like shooting at a moving target. The two people grow together, or they grow apart. That’s just how it works.

I asked Karin once why she married me. She replied,

“I fell in love with your soul. Your body wasn’t bad either. “

Karin is not the same woman as she was back in 1984. I’m not the same man. Perhaps, we are in a continuous process of becoming who we are meant to be. It helps me to see that growth in Karin. It helps me if I can see her the way that God sees her. Sometimes I can do that.

I hope that she can see it in me too.