Today was a red-letter day — you know, the kind filled with significance. It was a good day. It was a memorable day.
Today is my father’s birthday. If you check my sister’s, my brother’s, my nephews’ and my profile pictures on Facebook, you will see that Dad is our profile picture today. Dad died when he was 64. He would have turned 88 today. It’s hard for me to think about my Dad as an elderly man. He seemed so young and full of life when he died suddenly all those years ago. If he were alive today, he would beam with pride to see his grown-up grandchildren and meet their wonderful spouses. He would be a grandpa’s grandpa to his great-grandchildren and would find a way to spend as much time with them as he possibly could. He was a great man. The best. His name was Joe. He was a “good Joe.” Everyone who knew him, whether they knew him as Joe, Uncle Joe, Mr. DeSantis or Joey would tell you he was the best. I love you Dad and I miss you. You are always in my heart.
Today is also Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of forty days of giving up and giving back and preparing for Christ’s resurrection. My sister and I planned to take my aunt to mass at her church after work. It turns out she didn’t want to go out in the bad weather. It’s been tough on her health the last few years. So, Donna and I went to her church for 6 p.m. mass anyway. We were blessed with ashes applied to our foreheads, the reminder that we are from dust and will return to dust.
It was a good mass. It was totally different from the masses I usually attend. That’s because the entire mass was spoken in Vietnamese. My aunt’s church is the only Catholic church in the Diocese of Rochester that has an English and Vietnamese-speaking congregation. The parish alternates mass times for English and Vietnamese. It was an enlightening experience to worship with another culture and witness their practices. Thankfully, the homily was given in English. Father talked about the importance of rituals and specifically, the rituals associated with Lent. He told us people tend to give up worldly things, like cookies, cake or candy for Lent. He suggested we consider giving up things like being angry, being hurtful or being critical. He told us Lent was a time to give back things like kindness, patience and love. I’ve attended mass several times at this church, and I truly enjoy the feeling of the faith community. I always feel welcomed when I attend, the people are friendly. The liturgical music is beautiful. The celebrants are kind and engaging. Everyone seems to know everyone else.
After mass we went to have supper with my aunt, my father’s youngest sister. She is the sole survivor of her family of 5 siblings. This year she will turn 84. Her physical health has failed over the last few years but mentally she is sharp as a tack. Spending time with Aunt Mattie is always special. Tonight she had prepared a light supper of egg salad (made the Italian way), cauliflower salad, potato balls and a fresh garden salad. A loaf of fresh St. Joseph’s bread completed the fare. Anything my aunt makes, she typically makes true Italian style — no recipe, just knowing which foods and spices go together. Good Italian cooks can make tasty dishes using almost any ingredients and no recipe. Aunt Mattie is one of those special people. The three of us enjoyed our supper. After dinner, we talked and reminisced as we always do. We even called my brother in Chicago and spent a while on the phone catching up.
Her only child, my cousin, came along later in life. That meant she was the aunt all of us cousins got to spend special time sleeping at her and my uncle’s house. We all lived in the city. Aunt Mattie and Uncle Frank lived in the “country,” (actually it was the Brighton/Penfield area but it seemed like the country to us). We used to fight about who would get to go over to their house.
Aunt Mattie is also the great-aunt who has knit afghans for every great-niece and nephew in her life. Counting her side (my extended family) and my uncle’s side, we’re talking something like 50 or 60 afghans. Right now she is finishing up another four for the babies on the way. Keep in mind this is a woman who is totally blind in one eye and has a severely limited range of motion with both arms due to her severe arthritis. Her fingers are gnarled from the ravages of the disease. I don’t know how she continues to create these beautiful blankets given her condition. I’m certain she will keep making these beautiful blankets until she takes her last breath. All eight of my grandchildren use their Aunt Mattie blankets in their cribs. My littlest ones use them as their special blanket.
I don’t visit my aunt as much as I could. I get busy with work or my family or any number of other things. I know she gets lonely. I know how important it is to spend time visiting. When I have a great visit like tonight (she even made a cake for us for Dad’s birthday), I realize the clock is ticking. I can’t take her time here on earth for granted.
So, I started this Ash Wednesday with a 7:30 a.m. meeting, I had a productive workday, I thought about Dad on his special day, I experienced another culture, I participated in rituals that are an important part of my life and I had a wonderful visit with my sister and my special aunt. It was a good day and a good way to begin the special season of Lent.