Penny, Clare, grand daughters June Elizabeth and Christa Marie, and I went to Louisville this past weekend for a family gathering, our first in two years.
The occasion was my mother's 90th birthday. The whole family, together with many friends gathered around tables in my sister Antoinette's lovely home on the outskirts of Cherokee Park. We enjoyed food and drink and told stories.
We looked at pictures, including ancient ones of my grandfather Michael Bodner's garage in South Louisville. Over the weekend, Mother talked about how strong her mother, Katie, was--how she managed a business and reared six children and took care of her husband following his stroke when he was still a relatively young man.
Being away from Louisville now for 25 years, I miss hearing the stories and that sense of family togetherness. I know many families are more distant, and not just geographically, than they are close and know that some families are more for feuding than deep fellowship.
But not ours. Even when my brother Ed and I are arguing politics--we called a cease-fire for this event--we still know we're bound by blood and shared history. He knows I spent a year praying for him to survive his tour of duty as a combat infantryman in Vietnam, where he was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
I'm proud of my brother's service. And I'm glad Air Force ROTC at the University of Louisville protected me from the draft and from Vietnam until the risk of draft passed over me like that angel of death who passed over the Israelites in Egypt. I'm content to let Ed be our only war hero. And thankful he's a living one.
Happily, my mother is in great health for a woman of her many years. She still drives and does some occasional work for my sister, who owns a women's clothing business in Louisville. She still attends Mass--if not daily, then at least on Sundays. I'm a person of faith because of my mother's holy example.
How has my mother lived so long? Her faith is the first and immediate answer that comes to my mind.
Her hearty, indomitable Germanic temperament is another. Mother is a hard worker. I used to joke that cleaning was her hobby. As a boy, I hated Saturdays, which were spent cleaning the house and yard. During the fall, Mother ordered me to keep the leaves raked up. I used to think she expected me to stand beneath the maples and oaks and catch the leaves as they fell. Our yard was always perfect. Just as our house was. Her house is immaculate today.
A woman of an indomitable and positive spirit, Mother's a survivor--of two marriages to alcoholic husbands and two divorces, which put her on the outs with the Roman Church for a time. When it was uncommon, she managed being a single mother with sole responsibility for providing for her children. She got work where she could and sacrificed to make sure we had what we needed. We children never had a lot, but always had what we needed. I still remember how food was rationed; I craved more than one slice of brisket at supper.
And she made sure that my siblings and I attended Roman Catholic schools for our religious and intellectual formation. The church was important to her. And still is. It's her foundation, as it was for her Austrian and Swiss forebears. I used to lament my time at the all-boys St. Francis of DeSales High School--I longed for the freedom (and girls) of public schools--but now I'm glad for the education and the self-discipline that those Carmelites imparted to me.
I'm the person I am largely because of my mother. I'm glad she's still with me. I hope that she'll be with me for years to come and that her great grand daughters, June and Christa, will come to know and love her as much as I do.
Happy birthday, Mother.