June 12, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Epitaph for someone who was always faithful to family and friends

Cynthia DewesIt seems that as we grow older our social life shrinks down to doctor visits and attending funerals. Either may be happy or sad, but they’re both inevitable.

Funerals of older folks are sometimes sad because there are few mourners. Many of their peers have preceded them on the journey home. So the church holds only their children if they have any, and a few kindly parishioners.

Then, there are those who seem to attract more attention. Our friend Bob was such a man, and not because he was a warm and fuzzy person. He was more like a force of nature which might inspire you, or overwhelm you, depending upon how you reacted.

Although he was a medium-sized man, he had a loud, resounding voice and a commanding presence. For years, he was choirmaster at our parish and his wife was the organist, and every Christmas Eve they sang “Jesu Bambino” beautifully together at Midnight Mass.

Bob was president of the parish council among many other things, and had a finger in every parish pie. He had good ideas and was well organized, the kind of person parishioners like because he did so much that he relieved them of having to volunteer. He loved to argue, especially with our pastor at one time, Father Al Ajamie, with whom he had a love-hate relationship. I’ll bet the two of them are up in heaven right now arguing about lay involvement or liturgical emphasis or finances or whatever.

Some people took offense at Bob’s aggressive manner, and decided he was insensitive or plain ornery. He may have been ornery now and then, but he wasn’t insensitive. He heard criticism and really tried to accommodate it in his way. Some of us knew this because we knew how he treated his family and friends.

Bob obviously loved his wife of 71 years, calling her by pet names and doing whatever he could to help her in raising their six kids. He served throughout World War II in the Marine Corps, and enjoyed a long career as a master sheet metal worker. He was one of those people who can build or fix anything. He even built the house his family lived in mainly by hand, and helped maintain his children’s and in-laws’ houses as well.

He helped his widowed mother-in-law over many years, and when his spinster sister-in-law developed dementia he was kind and patient with her, allowing her to live in her home long after it was convenient. Bob’s wife Joanne would roll her eyes at her sister in final exasperation, but Bob would take more time to soothe her anxiety.

Bob’s funeral was a real celebration of life, attended by his wife, his six children and their spouses, all 18 of his grandchildren and many “greats” and friends. Not bad for a 93-year-old, I’d say. Previous and current pastors from the parish he served so long and well concelebrated the Mass and contributed generous remarks. The grandchildren processed to the altar carrying favorite items from Bob’s long life: his beloved little statue of St. Francis, an ice cream scoop from his nightly treat, a bottle of Scotch to which he attributed his healthy life, and so on.

St. Monica Parish is the large and vibrant parish it is now partly because of the tireless early contributions made by founding parishioners Bob and Joanne and others like them. Bob was faithful to his family and friends, his Church and his country. Semper Fi, Bob. Semper Fi.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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