Weekends seem rather suitably designed for rest from work, for family fun and activity, and for rekindling the love between father and child or husband and wife. A nice break from schedule and routine and the stresses of a father's work is always a welcome friend. But once in a while, the time for leisure can be much more than a needed reprieve.
I spent this past weekend visiting one of the most admirable couples I have ever known. Edward, a venerable ninety-year old World War II veteran, renowned architect and inventor, exemplifies the characteristics of virtue, reverence, nobility and chivalry, and he is a gentleman in every sense of the word. A wine connoisseur, an historian, a lover of education, an appreciator of art, nature and beauty, his stories told from ninety years of living capture the abundant gifts and blessings of this life. At one point he could have related those stories in many languages, and his memory today is still sharp enough to speak a bit of French, Italian and Spanish, just for fun. His company can sit for hours listening to him recount war stories, successes and failures as an architect, years of hardship and proud family moments.
Edward married the love of his life, Pauline, on a ten day break from military service. Nine months later in the midst of the war he received a letter announcing the birth of his first son. He did not meet Edward Junior until he was two years old, and he speaks well of the struggles of catching up for lost time as a father. But God saw to it that Edward would gain all the experience he needed in fathering four more children who would benefit from the blessings of his marriage to Pauline. Their five children would grow to become a businessman, a naval commander, a nurse, a priest and an artist, and the Catholic faith instilled in them by their parents fortifies each of them today.
Pauline's beauty and grace simply cannot be described in words. As Edward is a paragon of the gentlemanly, so is Pauline a model of the loveliness of womanhood. She captures the beauty of elegance, stateliness and femininity combined with reverence, humility and piety in one person. A personification of truth, goodness and beauty, she is one of God's fairest lilies plucked from His heavenly field.
Pauline grew up in a devout family, and her upbringing has carried her through sixty-five years as a wife and mother like a faithful dove, keeping her always at the Father's side. She is now eighty-seven years in age, and her memory, affected by Alzheimer's disease, is not what it once was. But she still personifies every bit of grace and loveliness as in her youth. She may walk slower, speak slower, and she may not maintain her former status as a bridge tournament champion, a gourmet French cook, an impeccable seamstress or needlepointer. She may not remember the faces of hundreds of friends she once loved, the proud moments of her motherhood and marriage, or particulars from the honorable stories Edward still narrates about her life. But she remembers the love of God, reverence for Our Lady, good-will for others, and she remembers how to pray.
As I sat in the living room so familiar to me from my childhood, where the furniture, artwork and photographs have remained unchanged, praying the Joyful Mysteries with my grandparents, I could hardly conceal the love and admiration I've known since my earliest years of life. These two beautiful souls with white hair, aged skin, canes and walkers, repeating "Hail Mary, full of grace...." so perfectly and with such youthful clarity ~ while I could barely utter a word out of my choked-up vocal chords, sounding like I was the elderly person in the room.
The privilege of taking my grandparents to Mass on Sunday morning was no small blessing. We arrived about a minute late, as it takes Grandma a bit longer than in the past to get out the door. The church was filled, hundreds of parishioners already in their pews, voices resounding like trumpets from the choir loft all the way to the sanctuary. At first it appeared to us there was not a place to sit. Then our usher, a bearded man resembling a guardian angel (to me, anyway), pointed out an empty space in the front pew. As I escorted my grandmother up the long aisle towards the altar, people turned their heads, their admiration for Grandma clearly revealed on their faces and in their gestures. Smiling through tears myself, I felt a granddaughter's pride attending her grandmother to the altar of Christ, mindful of both her spiritual joy in being present at Holy Mass along with the physical pain and difficulty of each step she took.
My grandparents, having known each other seventy-nine years, still love each other as faithfully and with as much reverence as in their youth. During the short time I spent with them it seemed every hour my grandfather would compliment his bride: "Polly was the most beautiful gal in all of Nanticoke, and she's still the prettiest girl I've ever seen." Or, "I love her even more today than the day I married her." And, "She may not have the sharpest memory, but she's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
My grandparents still pray the rosary after dinner each evening and kiss each other before going to bed at night. They consider their greatest accomplishment having raised faithful, loving children who would pass that faith on to their grandchildren, and I must agree. One might think their wedding feast occurred sixty-five years ago, but I tasted their wine this past weekend, and benefit from its sweetness every day. It is indeed a rare and exceptional vintage.