November 7th, 2017

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Dad. A Family Memory

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Prenote: My Dad died 20 years ago today. I had been planning to write a little piece about him for some weeks, and in fact had been at the place where he died, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, on October 22-23.

I digress for a moment: We were tiny town folks, and church was central to our lives, so my thoughts are occupied now with the folks of Sutherland Springs TX, where 26 people were killed inside the community church at Sunday service. Who will stop this insanity?

I think back to that chapel at Our Lady of the Snows, where I attended Mass Oct 23, as Dad would have. To my family: “I went to 7:30 Mass on Monday morning. There were about 30 of us.” There have been lots of wake up calls to deal with the crisis of guns in America. Sutherland Springs should be at the very top of our list: it can happen anywhere, to anyone….

(click to enlarge photos)

Chapel at Our Lady of the Snows Oct 23, 2017

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Dad

My Dad was like most of us. He had a good run, of almost 90 years. He contributed more than he took. He earned compliments and (I’m sure) criticism. Those who knew Dad can fill in their own blanks.

He lived ten years at Our Lady of the Snows, on the bluff just east of St. Louis in Belleville IL, from age 79 till his death. To prepare for his upcoming 80th birthday (Dec 22, 1987), he walked 80 consecutive daily 15 minute miles. My sister, Flo, and I were there for the “birthday walk”. It took him 13 minutes…

Henry Bernard about to begin his 80th 15 minute mile December 22, 1987

Nine days after he died I was in Chicago at a conference at O’Hare, and in the Sunday Chicago Tribune I found this column, by Mary Schmich: Schmich My father died001. To this day, whenever I hear that the father of someone I know dies, I send this column on.

It spoke to me.

His kids left a permanent marker in memory of Dad at Our Lady of the Snows Apartment Community on Memorial Day, 1998. Here’s the marker for the flagpole, photo from Oct 23, 2017. (Neither Mom nor Dad have gravestones. They both donated their bodies to schools of medicine for medical research.)

Marker at the flagpole at Our Lady of the Snows Apartment Community, Belleville IL Oct 22, 2017

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There are lots of things to remember about my Dad.

Today is election day in many places, including our town. Most certainly, Dad would vote. If he had a partisan preference, he never said it to me. He was interested in political topics. I recall a long term project of his was to read the biographies of all the Presidents of the U.S. I graduated from high school in the 6th year of Dwight Eisehower’s time, so Harry Truman would have been the most recent biography. In 1983 he and I visited the Eisenhower Library in Abilene KS, and on the same trip Lyndon Johnsons Johnson City TX.

His livelihood and job as a school teacher and small town school superintendent depended on “taxpayers”. He would muse about “NRFA” (pronounced nerfa, No Reelection For Anyone), but I highly doubt he ever practiced that philosophy – it was just his expression of disgust at politicians at all levels whose primary interest was to get reelected.

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In 1981, his wife, my Mom, died too soon, at 72. He was 73. They lived year round in San Benito TX, 245 miles south of Sutherland Springs. I think he went through a personal crisis in this time…how to go on. A life-saver for him was to go back to teaching, volunteering to teach English as a Second Language across the street at the Berta Cabaza Junior High School.

I recall that when he traveled he often would send postcards to his students back home, reasoning that this may be the only mail they ever received.

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He was born in 1907, as modern life was just beginning to bud. A couple of months ago I participated in a program in which I attempted to condense his first 18 years into seven minutes from his writings. Here is what I came up with: DAD STORIES told early 1980s– 2. My spoken rendition of these memories can be viewed here, beginning at about 8 minutes.

About 1920, Grafton ND. Henry Bernard is tall kid in white shirt. Other family members are his parents, Henry and Josephine, and siblings Frank and Josie, and two families visiting from Winnipeg Manitoba. The 1901 Oldsmobile still exists in an auto museum in Pennsylvania.

Those who know me, know I like to write. It seems to have followed some genetic trait inherited by my Dad from someone long ago.

After Mom, his wife Esther, died in 1981, Henry embarked on what became a regular routine.

He developed a two week cycle for letters to we kids. Monday was to his oldest (me); Tuesday for the second child, Mary Ann; Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for Florence, Frank and John. The other days he wrote to other family or friends, here there and everywhere. He was constantly intellectually active.

His tiny apartment (96A, which is now used for storage), was set up for his daily activities. Here’s his desk on Dec. 22, 1987.

Henry’s “home office”, 1987

For whatever reason I kept my set of letters and a few years ago donated them as part of the family archive to the University of North Dakota Chester Fritz library (his haunt in years of living in Grand Forks.)

I had, frankly, forgot about the donation of the letters till a surprise e-mail came on July 26, 2017: “Dick: Greetings. I wanted to let you know that the family history materials you donated in 2009 and 2010 have been processed. The materials are now formally part of the Initiatives in French Midwest Heritage Collection. Your materials are Series 29 and the finding aid for the collection can be viewed here:

I want to let you know that I very much enjoyed processing this material. Your father seemed like a really great guy and I am honored to help document not only his history, but that of your entire family. Please look at the finding aid and let me know if you have any corrections. Thank you.”

The writer was Curt Hanson, Head for Special Collections at the University of North Dakota. Dad was an interesting guy. Here’s a column about him in the Grand Forks (ND) Herald May 31, 1987: Henry Bernard by C Haga001

There ensued further conversation ‘back and forth’, including a later comment from Curt: “A funny story regarding the processing of your Dad’s papers. I have, truly, never come across someone as Catholic as your father. The fact that I am Lutheran may account for this! Your father would frequently date his letters by noting something similar to “17th day of Lent 1987.” This caused me to have to look up and determine when the 17th day of Lent was in 1987. I had to do this frequently!

While I was processing your father’s material, I had to spread out on a table here in Special Collections. One day last month, the Department was visited by an Orthodox Jew who was researching the history of the synagogue in town. He was dressed all in black, with both a payot and a yarmulke. He sat at the table right next to where I was processing. I found it ironic that an incredibly Jewish man was working next to the papers of a very Catholic man. Maybe it is just me, but I found that to be interesting.”

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The last family reunion, including many of us, September, 1996, at Our Lady of the Snows.

I close with a few more photos, mostly from Dec. 22, 1987. Happy Birthday to my daughter, Heather, who is 42 today; and an early b-day to Henry’s daughter Mary Ann, whose birthday is Nov. 10, and his son Frank on Nov. 17.

Perhaps you can take some time for remembering your own Dad (or Mom, or whomever) stories….

Henry, Dec. 22, 1987

Henry at 80. He was a ceaseless walker, until almost the end of his life.

St. Louis from Our Lady of the Snows, Dec. 1987. Now the trees have grown and the skyline is visible only in the fall after the leaves have shed.

St. Louis, Oct 23, 2017, from Cahokia Mound IL, a few miles northwest of Our Lady of the Snows.