Saturday, December 16, 2017

Novena for Christ-Mass: Prelude

In a nation where eighty percent of the population is Catholic, Christmas starts early. It has to. After all, you cannot have a feast like Christmas without it being preceded by a novena. That's when you get up to attend Mass just before dawn for nine days before the big day. In the Philippines, it is known as “Simbang Gabi” which is Tagalog for “evening Mass.” It is also known as “Misa de Gallo” which is Spanish for “Rooster’s Mass.”

So why is this series of Masses held in the morning and not the evening, as is customary with Masses for a Christmas novena? The answer can be traced to the early colonial days, when the people would be exhausted from working in the fields all day for their Spanish overlords. The priests and friars who tended to their spiritual needs availed themselves of the people's desire to start the day early, ahead of the tropical heat, and moved the customary Mass and devotion to the early morning, before dawn. It must be with a sense of irony that the Archdiocese of Manila saw fit in recent years, to introduce liturgical norms for the novena, in the form of celebrating Simbang Gabi in the evenings. At first this was due to the limitations imposed by curfews during the years of martial law under President Marcos. More recently, it has accommodated office professionals who can more easily attend after work than before.

The popular decoration for Christmas in the Philippines is the “parol” (pronounced “pah-ROLL” with a rolling "r", from the Spanish word for lantern, "farol"), which is as common there as the Christmas tree is here in the States. This star-shaped motif is a cross between a Chinese lantern and the Mexican piñata. It is lit from within; traditionally with candlelights mounted inside, but in the last century with electric lights. They are typically two to three feet wide, but if you go to such renowned events as the Fiesta in San Fernando, Pampanga (north of Metro Manila), there is a huge parade to celebrate the beginning -- no, not of Christmas, but of the novena!

Traditional parols are made with bamboo sticks and rice paper. If you go to the site known as “MyParol.com” you can learn to make one, or even order a kit. Better yet, if you can't wait for delivery, simply read the instructions and find what you need at an arts and crafts store. You could have it done next weekend.

Closer to home, at Chez Alexandre, we have a very colorful parol gracing the front door, one that Sal brought back from the Philippines. It is of the modern variety, made with wire and a type of seashell known as capiz, and illuminated with elaborate flashing lights. The rest of the decorations will follow, but we had to start out on the right foot -- or, should we say, in the right light?

Now, back to that novena thing.

We here at man with black hat have an annual tradition of honoring the “O Antiphons” the seven chants which introduce the Vesperal Canticle (the “Magnificat”) in the Divine Office. Most people hear paraphrases of them in the hymn "O Come O Come Emmanuel," but they were originally chanted one verse a day, ending with the day before the Vigil. Over time, our annual feature has evolved into its present form, as a comprehensive aid to daily devotion. For just five minutes of viewing during a quiet time in the day, one may contemplate the coming of the God-made-man. The video clips for this unique series are provided by the YouTube channel of francisxcc entitled “The Splendor of Truth.”



As an added bonus, we will provide links for each Antiphon to Father John Zuhlsdorf's famous commentaries on the same, the link for which will be indicated by the letter “Z” at the bottom of each entry.

They will publish at six in the morning, eastern USA time, beginning tomorrow. Stay tuned ...

[NOTA BENE: Regarding a reference in the first video, a "barangay" is a Tagalog word for "village" -- in modern usage, a municipality within a city; roughly corresponding to "barrio" in Spanish, "berg" in German" or "borough" in English. The closest equivalent we have in the United States is that of New York City, which is divided into five boroughs -- Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island..]
 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Keeping the “Ch” in “Chanukkah” 2017

Yesterday at sundown marked the beginning of the Jewish Festival of Lights, known as Chanukkah (also rendered as Hanukkah, and as חנוכה), which commemorates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, following the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BC. It is observed for eight nights, as a reminder of the miracle of one night's supply of oil for the lamps lasting for eight, until a fresh supply could be obtained.

Around the turn of this century, the director of communications at my agency was a devout Jewish woman, who invited all the staff to her house in the country for a holiday celebration. A highlight of the affair was her presentation with her grandchildren, as she told them of the story of Chanukkah. As the rest of us Gentiles watched, she would lead the children in the Hebrew chant for the occasion: “Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who sanctified us by His commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukkah ...” While others stood around watching in varying degrees of perplexity, I found myself singing with the children ... well, maybe sort of following along.

I turned to my son: "Does this sound familiar, like what you hear in the Divine Liturgy?" He nodded, as I continued. "This is where we get the Byzantine chant, and the Gregorian chant. It came to us from the Jews." His eyes lit up, as he said "Ahhhh ..." as if to indicate how he totally got it.

A comedian named Adam Sandler first introduced this holiday classic on NBC's Saturday Night Live. The song gives a list of famous celebrities from various walks of life who are Jewish: “Put on your yarmulke, here comes Hanukkah / It's so much funukkah, to celebrate Hanukkah / Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights / Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!”

There's more where that came from.

This is an original work by Matisyahu. “Miracle” is produced by Dr Luke protégé Kool Kojak (Flo Rida, Katy Perry, Ke$ha), and is drenched in a joyful spirit, with chiming synths, bouncing beats, and an irresistible chorus. And ice skating. (A totally awesome a cappella rendition can be found here.)

There are so many Christmas songs out there. I wanted to give the Jewish kids something to be proud of. We've got Adam Sandler's song, which is hilarious, but I wanted to try to get across some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a fun, celebratory song. My boy Kojak was in town so at the last minute we went into the studio in the spirit of miracles and underdogs and this is what we came up with. Happy Hannukah!

Matisyahu can be found on Facebook, and followed on Twitter.

On a more serious note, Charlie Harare explains the origins of Chanukkah, and its meaning in daily life from a Jewish point of view, which is only reasonable as this is a Jewish holiday. This begs the question ...

What is there for a Catholic in this message, and why does yours truly share it every year at this time?

As a Catholic, one believes that while the Jewish people were chosen by God under the Old Covenant, that from among their number would come as the Messiah, “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” (John 1:11) From this, a subset of traditionalist Catholics claim that Judaism is a "false religion." They will cite the distinction between the Hebraic Judaism of the Old Testament, and the Talmudic Judaism introduced after the destruction of the Temple, accompanied by the loss of their priesthood and the practice of offering sacrifice. Some will even maintain that those who claim to be Jewish are not descendants of the original Jews up to the time of Christ.

If that were not enough, one such individual claims that Chanukkah is a hoax, a fabricated story, when in fact the account of the Maccabean Revolt is found in the First and Second Books of Maccabees. The Jews do not include these books in the Tanakh, or Jewish bible, nor are they found among the books of the Protestant Old Testament, but they are considered to be of divine inspiration by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians. One might even say, by extension, that it was the Catholic Church that saved Chanukkah for the Jews.

In fact, someone actually did.

Jews know the fuller history of the holiday because Christians preserved the books that the Jews themselves lost. In a further twist, Jews in the Middle Ages encountered the story of the martyred mother and her seven sons anew in Christian literature and once again placed it in the time of the Maccabees.

It gets better.

As John tells us (John 10:22-23), “It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” As we’ve seen, before Hanukkah became known as the Festival of Lights, it was known as the Feast of Dedication (1 Macc. 4:59). So there would be no question that this is the holiday being celebrated, even if John hadn’t added the clue that it was winter. And indeed, the NIV and other Protestant Bible translations acknowledge as much.

So not only is there is a case for the authenticity of the story, but more important, for the manner in which it is commemorated.

As Judaism is a sign of the Old Covenant, and Christ brought it to fulfillment in the New Covenant, to be a Catholic is to be, in effect, a fulfilled Jew. We therefore cannot rule out the possibility of something to be learned here. Judaism is not a false religion; it is an unfulfilled religion. It was -- indeed, it IS -- fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. As for the distinction between Hebraic and Talmudic Judaism, this only reinforces that point, as by rejecting the True Messiah, the proverbial vacuum that nature would abhor was filled by something else.

If you as a Catholic don't get that after watching this video, I can't explain it to you.
 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lussinatt: The Vigil of Saint Lucy

There are a number of saints who are commemorated in December (other than Saint Nicholas). Whether by the accident of tradition, or by design, some of them have been awarded with a connection to the Christmastide celebration -- keeping in mind that this happens during the allegedly sackcloth-and-ashes season known as Advent.

Saint Lucy (283–304) received the crown of martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution. She is one of seven women aside from the Virgin Mary who appears in the Roman Canon. Her name is from the Latin word for "light," and she is remembered on the 13th day of December, the night before which was the longest of the year in the unreformed Julian calendar. As a result, various Germanic pagan feasts associated with the passing of darkness into light were appropriated by Christendom, and sanctified by this commemoration.

Natten går tunga fjät
    Night walks with a heavy step
rund gård och stuva;
    Round yard and hearth,
kring jord, som sol förlät,
    As the sun departs from earth,
skuggorna ruva.
    Shadows are brooding.
Då i vårt mörka hus,
    There in our dark house,
stiger med tända ljus,
    Walking with lit candles,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
    Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!
Då i vårt mörka hus,
    There in our dark house,
stiger med tända ljus,
    Walking with lit candles,
Sankta Lucia, Sankta Lucia!
    Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!


Saint Lucy is one of the few saints honored in the Lutheran tradition, and the eve of her feast is celebrated throughout Scandanavia, with a procession of young maids bearing candles, led by a chosen one with a lighted wreath on her head (as shown in the first video, a celebration in Mora, Sweden, in 2007). The carol Santa Lucia, sung by the girls in procession, was an old Neapolitan melody of the same name. The lyrics in Italian are the song of the boatmen of the waterfront district in Naples. The various Nordic languages (Swedish is featured here) sing of the light that overcomes the darkness.

The second video elaborates.

FOOTNOTE: By week's end, we begin the prayers and songs and stories of the Novena for the Christ-Mass, and continue after the solemnity with the commemoration of the Twelve Days, culminating in the Visit of the Three Kings, and the blessing of the doors to your homes. Please join us as we remember the fast, and celebrate the feast, for GOD IS WITH US, EMMANUEL!
 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent II: Peace

Reading
(Romans 15:4)


Brethren: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. R. Thanks be to God.

Oration

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way of Thine only-begotten Son: that through His coming we mat attain to serve Thee with purified minds. Who liveth and reigneth, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.
 

Friday, December 08, 2017

A “Hail Mary Pass” for Advent

By now, your pastor has already taken all of you to task for being too celebratory during the Advent season, and not delaying your "holiday parties" until right after Christmas, when everybody is the hell out of town. It's time to set him straight, and I'm (the arrogant son of a b**** who is) just right for the job.

It is possible for Christmas carols, not only to be appropriate for the penitential season of Advent, but to never mention Christmas itself. And no, that does not include "Jingle Bells."

With the Incarnation, we begin the focal point of salvation history, its end being the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and His ascension into Glory. And while the whole of Christendom follows, what precedes that story is what helps us to prepare.

Angelus ad Virginem

… is a 13th century carol of unknown attribution, which tells of the angel appearing to the young virgin Mary. Christians in the West remember the eighth of December as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (known in the East as "The Conception of Saint Anne").

It is easy to forget that, while the Gospel accounts tell of the annunciation, the feast itself honors her conception without the stain of sin, rendering her a worthy vessel, if a human one, for the God made man. There is no confusion here, but indeed, a clarification. It is not only the means to the end, but the end itself, by which we celebrate this feast.

1. Angelus ad virginem
    Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinum
    Demulcens inquit "Ave."
Ave regina virginum,
Coeliteraeque dominum
    Concipies
    Et paries
    Intacta,
    Salutem hominum.
    Tu porta coeli facta
    Medella criminum.

2. Quomodo conciperem,
    quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
    quae firma mente vovi?
"Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
    Ne timaes,
    sed gaudeas,
    secura,
    quod castimonia
    Manebit in te pura
    Dei potentia.'

3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
    Respondens inquit ei;
Ancilla sum humilis
    Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio,
    Consentiens
    Et cupiens
    Videre
    factum quod audio,
    Parata sum parere
    Dei consilio.

4. Angelus disparuit
    Etstatim puellaris
Uterus intumuit
    Vi partus salutaris.
Qui, circumdatus utero
Novem mensium numero,
    Hinc Exiit
    Et iniit
    Conflictum,
    Affigens humero
    Crucem, qua dedit ictum
    Hosti mortifero.

5. Eia Mater Domini,
    Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
    Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuem exora filium
Ut se nobis propitium
    Exhibeat,
    Et deleat
    Peccata;
    Praestans auxilium
    Vita frui beta
    Post hoc exsilium.



A translation is available for your convenience, although you may get the idea. But in case you don't, a Middle English version became popular by the 14th century. (The lyrics shown here are of one such version, while the video from the King's College Choir in Cambridge sings yet another. Such is the nature of the evolution of folk songs.)

Gabriel fram Heven-King
    Sent to the Maide sweete,
Broute hir blisful tiding
    And fair he gan hir greete:
"Heil be thu, ful of grace aright!
    For Godes Son, this Heven Light,
For mannes love
    Will man bicome
    And take
    Fles of thee,
    Maide bright,
Manken free for to make
    Of sen and devles might."


Now, didn't that help?

Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!

By the 14th century, a livelier tune arose in the British Isles, known as "Nova! Nova! Ave Fit Ex Eva!" This was not a Latin hymn, but was popularly sung in Middle English, with its dance-like melody giving way to playing of tambourines. Video recordings of the original melody are not easy to find, in favor of more contemporary arrangements. Thankfully, the Lumina Vocal Ensemble managed a live performance in 2011.

Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Nova, nova. Nova, nova, Ave fit ex Eva.

Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from Trinity,
To Nazareth in Galilee.

Nova, nova …

I met a maiden in a place,
I kneeled down afore her face
And said, "Hail Mary, full of grace!"

Nova, nova …

When the maiden heard tell of this
She was full sore abashed y-wis
And weened that she had done amiss.

Nova, nova …

Then said the Angel, "Dread not thou,
For ye be conceived with great virtue,
Whose name shall be called Jesu".

Nova, nova …

"It is not yet six weeks agone
Since Elizabeth conceived John
As it was prophesied beforn."

Nova, nova …

Then said the maiden, "Verily,
I am your servant right truly,
Ecce, ancilla Domini!"

Nova, nova …


Its theology is explained thus:

the Virgin Mary is sometimes called the "new Eve". "Eve" in Latin is "Eva". The first word that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary at the Annunciation was "Ave", which is Eve backwards. This is just a coincidence of course, but many Medieval songs used this to illustrate how Mary "undid" what Eve had done. One song has this refrain:

Nova! Nova! Ave fit ex Eva! (News! News! “Ave” has been made from “Eve”!).

Thus, the obedience of Mary cured the disobedience of Eve.

And so, without any premature remembrance of the coming of the Savior, and albeit a time of penitence, our celebration of expectation continues.
 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Father Nicholas: The REAL Santa Claus

When I was very young, some of my classmates would leave their shoes outside the bedroom door on the night of the fifth of December, so that Saint Nicholas would leave them treats.

We never did that at our house, but I did ask Mom how it was that Saint Nicholas got to be called Santa Claus. By this time I had already determined a connection between the two. But while my mother was salutatorian of her high school class -- there were about fifteen students at most, but hey, that's not the point -- she was not one to wear her erudition on her sleeve. So, rather than go into an entymological treatise on the subject, she simply told me: “Say ‘Santa Claus’ three times real fast.” That carried me over for at least a few years.

No good Catholic home is without an answer to the question of whether there is such a thing as Santa Claus. There is, but we are accustomed to the corruption of his real name, one that developed over the centuries. By the time devotion to Saint Nicholas reached Europe, he was known by different names. In the British Isles, he was known as "Father Christmas." In the Netherlands, he was known as "Sinterklaas." By the 19th century, periodicals such as Harper's Bazaar and promoters of a fountain beverage known as Coca-Cola had not only transformed the name, but the bright red costume with the white-fur trim, both of which we know today.

Whatever people call him, or however they depict him, the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century is a real person, and he presently dwells in Heaven with the Communion of Saints. Our Mother the Church celebrates his feast on the sixth of December, in both the East and the West.


VIDEO: A variation on a theme.

Nicholas was no lightweight. He was in attendance at the Council of Nicaea when the Arian heresy was being debated. At one point, he became so enraged with the Bishop Arius (whose errors were supported by the majority of bishops up to that time, remember), that he supposedly punched Arius in the nose.

That's right, kids, Jolly Olde Saint Nick cold-cocked a heretic! (Some accounts say that he merely slapped him, but that's so pansy, who'd believe it?)

Anyway, many of the bishops there, including the Emperor Constantine, were scandalized by the assault, and given their sympathies, had Nicholas thrown in the dungeon. That night, the Emperor had a dream where Nicholas appeared to him, adorned in his finest liturgical vesture, and holding the Book of the Gospels. Awakened with a fright, the Emperor summoned his guards, who joined him as he raced to the dungeon, to find Nicholas unchained, with ... you guessed it.

The story varies in certain details. Some accounts tell of Our Lord and Our Lady appearing to Nicholas in the dungeon. I heard the above account from an "Old Calendar" Russian Orthodox priest. It is also said that Nicholas, now restored to his rightful place in the council, slept through the rest of the proceedings.

I can't say I blame him.

At the little Byzantine Rite parish where my son learned the Faith, as it had been taught to his mother, the Feast of Saint Nicholas is a particular cause for celebration. He is the patron of Byzantine Catholics, and his image graces the iconostasis on the far left side as viewed from the assembly. There is a special hymn dedicated to him ...

O kto kto, Nikolaja l'ubit,
O kto kto, Nikolaju sluzit.
    Tomu svjatyj Nikolaj,
    Na vsjakij cas pomahaj.
    Nikolaj, Nikolaj!

O who loves Nicholas the Saintly,
O who loves Nicholas the Saintly.
    Him will Nicholas receive,
    and give help in time of need.
    Nicholas, Nicholas!

... and the children in the School of Religion program do a pageant in his honor every Sunday closest to the sixth of December. It culminates in the arrival of an elderly man with a long white beard, dressed in the robes of an Eastern bishop, with whom the children meet in much the same manner as they would his commercialized (and most inauthentic) counterpart.

Paul used to get special icon cookies to take home, much like the ones that appear in the photos, emblazoned with the words "O Holy Nicholas" in Slavonic. These unique gingerbread cookies are from a recipe which appears at the stnicholascenter.org website.

I dearly miss that little parish. It has changed over more than three decades. Several years ago, they completed a new and larger place of worship next to the original, one that emulates the style common to Eastern Europe. But with every successful building project they have -- the parish hall, the rectory -- the place seems a little less homey, a little larger than life. Still, the spirit of Saint Nicholas reminds them every year, of the things that are passed on, and that remain the same.

Now, enough of this self-indulgent soul-searching. Let's go bake some cookies already!
 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Advent I: Hope

Reading
(Romans 13:11)


Brethren: you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. R. Thanks be to God.

Oration

V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto Thee.
V. Let us pray ...

Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.

R. Amen.
 

Monday, November 06, 2017

Mother: An Encomium

One year ago today, my dear mother, the former Dorothy Ann Rosselot, entered into eternity. She was 84 years of age.

+    +    +

Illustration from the story The Coming to Saint Martin, authored by Sister Monica, OSU, from "A Book of Fortitude" of the Faith and Freedom Series, Catholic University of America Press, Washington DC, 1947.

By the 1840s, soon after the Shawnees left for other pastures, the rolling hills and dales of the Ohio Valley were a settling ground, first for Irish Catholics, followed by their French and German neighbors. In 1845, a pair of Ursuline Sisters came by wagon from the motherhouse in Cincinnati, and settled at a junction soon known as "Saint Martin." They taught the faith to the children of those who farmed the land, and ran the shops in corner junctions and little hamlets, dotting the roads leading to and from "the big city."

Walter Rosselot was an enterprising young farmer with acreage in Brown County, a few miles south of a "wide spot in the road" known as Fayetteville. His wife, the former Gertrude Evans, gave birth to a baby girl in April of 1932, and who was christened Dorothy Ann.

The family of Walter and Gertrude (Evans) Rosselot, at the farmhouse south of Fayetteville, Brown County, Ohio, 1943. My mother, Dorothy Ann, is in the front row on the right, opposite her parents.

“Dottie” was one of eleven brothers and sisters, and in the 1930s and 1940s, everyone in the house carried their share of the load. The girls would do chores around the house, and when the boys were old enough (and they didn't wait long), they were out in the fields. For a time, most of the boys either weren't old enough, or were already married with farms and families of their own. This left Dorothy to help with "the man's work" -- presetting the controls on the harvester (the task of the "engineer"), driving the tractor, pitching hay, all before she was twelve.

The Rosselots were not poor. There was a roof over their heads, food on the table, and their father had good credit at the bank, enough to be equipped with combining and harvesting machinery, and offering his services to neighboring farms that didn't have such equipment of their own. But it didn't follow that there was much in the way of disposable income. Her sisters would all say the same thing in the wake of her passing: "She sewed a lot." Indeed. Except for dungarees worn in the field, Dorothy made many of her own clothes. Later in life, she made most of the dresses for my sisters, and the bridal dress for one of them.

Dorothy also made "knotted quilts" from little squares of leftover fabric, plain colors alternating with patterned. Each square were tied in the middle with a piece of yarn, to hold it to the inner layer (hence the term "knotted"). Unlike fancy patterned quilts that are today the stuff of boutiques, these were the more common variety on the farm and the prairie, where leftovers of anything would be put to use.

She was an excellent student, graduating as salutatorian in a class of seventeen in 1950, with special honors for mathematics. She was demure, reserved, unimpressed by the farm boys who asked her out on dates. Only one man was known to impress her, but the world would never know until after she graduated. Paul Alexander taught English and Latin at the school, and while a strict teacher, he had an easy rapport with one group of students in particular, including Dorothy. Several weeks after graduation, as she was preparing to get as far away from the farm as possible, Paul asked Dorothy out on a date.

Saint Patrick's Church, Fayetteville, Ohio, 14 June 1952.

Dorothy took a job sixty miles to the north, as a civilian clerk at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. Little is known of how the courtship of Dorothy and Paul was able to prevail given the distance, but two years after their first date, they were married in Fayetteville, at Saint Patrick's Church. There was little time for a honeymoon, as Paul's Air National Guard unit was called into active duty, and he was sent off to Germany to serve as payroll officer for his squadron. Dorothy moved into an apartment in Cincinnati with one of her sisters. Upon his return, Paul took a job with Procter and Gamble. Hoping for a position in Cincinnati, they were forced to relocate for an opening in Cleveland, in the hopes that they could one day return.

But before that return, Dorothy gave birth to her firstborn, early in the morning during Christmastide. At five weeks, he was christened David (for reasons unknown), with a middle name of Lawrence, for one of her brothers who died in a farming accident some years earlier.

Winnebago Drive, before the annexation by the Village of Milford, Ohio, June 1956. #29 is in the foreground.

With the company transferring Paul to Cincinnati, and with the birth of a second child, they knew that a two-bedroom apartment at the inner-ring suburbs of the city wouldn't be enough. They went east, outside the county line, to a village known as Milford, already expanding to meet the postwar demand for housing. A neighborhood of starter homes took its place where corn once grew, and where the Hopewells had once built ceremonial mounds for centuries before the "discovery" by Columbus. In a somewhat ironic memorial to that heritage, the streets of Clertoma Village were named for various tribes. And so a new life began with other young families, at a house on Winnebago Drive.

Three other children would join David, two of them in quick succession; a girl named Mary, a boy named Stephen, and after a break of several years, a little girl named Patricia. Together they all lived in a three-bedroom-one-bath house of less than 1200 square feet. When other families moved away for larger houses on the hill outside of town with split levels and one-acre lawns, the Alexanders bloomed where they stayed planted.

By all accounts, Dorothy might have been dismissed as "just a housewife," but there was more. She was an aficionado of the domestic arts, a herald of a bygone era at a time of modern conveniences and long stretches of leisure time. She not only cooked and cleaned and did laundry, but made dresses for the girls, patched jeans for the boys, canned beans and peaches, and grew a 400-square-foot vegetable garden in the back. She would wake up "with the chickens" by about five in the morning, have her coffee, her one cigarette for a day, and do her crossword puzzle from the newspaper. In the mid-1960s, Paul was elected to the Board of Public Affairs, a body of Ohio village governance separate from the Mayor and Village Council, responsible for the management of locally-operated public utilities, mainly water and sewer departments. Dorothy took a part-time job as a clerk in the village hall with the water department.

Rosselot cousins forming their signature “human pyramid,” Brown County, Ohio, Summer 1969.

The children enjoyed the occasional sojourn to the old farm, and the proverbial scenes so often associated with life in the American heartland. There were volleyball games in the yard, running in the fields, fishing at the pond, picnic dinners in the yard with fresh-picked corn and beans. The Rosselot clan grew to as many as fifty cousins, many of whom are still very close to this day.

April 1969. Clockwise from viewer's right; Stephen, Patricia, Mary, and the author.

Time went on, as time always does. The end of the 1960s saw changes to the popular culture, with a brood of children approaching adolescence in the face thereof. There was Scouting and Little League, school and swim club, the staples of diversion in small town life. It was at this time that the pressure of the office, and his own personal angst, was taking its toll on Paul. Physical maladies would present themselves, first one thing, then another, all inconclusive. When he was forty-five, in 1970, the doctors finally gave his difficulties a name -- multiple sclerosis. What was worse that that it was the variety that would never go into remission. All the Betaseron in the world would never ease the condition.

Dorothy could see the handwriting on the wall. With the growing up and moving away of the children, and with her husband's eventual retirement, she knew their "golden years" would never get easier, only harder; as the years went by, and age took its toll. After a period of silent resignation, she realized how thankful she was for what she still had, and stiffened her resolve.

It is one sign of a successful marriage when the husband and wife are able to renegotiate their "balance of power" (for want of a better term) when conditions warrant. Dorothy's father was not only a farmer, but an inventor. She used an inherited trait to her advantage. She became the home repair expert, the plumber, the electrician, the fixer-upper. When the washing machine broke down, getting a repairman would cost money. Why not get the part and fix it herself? As the years wore on, the children moved away, and life became just a little quieter in the house on Winnebago Drive, it became no less busy. Still awakening before dawn, only now without the cigarette, she'd drink her coffee and work her crossword puzzle in silence, before once again taking on the day. Even with the help of one or more of her children, there was no mistaking who was in charge of the care of her husband.

Paul and Dorothy, September 2003.

During the 1990s, Paul reached the official retirement age, having already been on disability for some years. They seemed reasonably content with their lives. Dorothy would occasionally play volleyball with other women of the neighborhood. It was her one diversion from what awaited her at home.

Then in December of 2001, Dorothy suffered a minor stroke. It was enough to herald the beginning of the end. Even as she continued care of Paul in the home, it became more difficult. A childhood injury to her ankle returned to haunt her, among other ailments common to advanced years. And yet she continued to rule the roost, accepting help, if reluctantly, but still calling the shots.

The little starter home had recently been significantly renovated, adding a larger master bedroom and wheelchair-accessible shower, and the dream kitchen and breakfast nook that Dorothy always wanted. Life seemed to improve for a while. But the newly-acquired luxury only eased the inevitable. Dorothy was having more trouble with the routine of care, even with assistance of her daughter and a home care aide. Keeping track of medications, overseeing activities of daily living, just the day-to-day routine of running a household, all became too much for her. But she would never give up the reins, such was her devotion to her husband.

29 Winnebago Drive, circa 2012.

Her siblings were becoming concerned. Maybe a facility would be the best thing for Paul, to say nothing of Dorothy. But she would have none of it. She knew what she signed up for, and refused to sugarcoat it. She would care for him in their own home.

Then in the fall of 2011, it happened.

Dorothy was taking the stairs to the basement, when somehow she lost her footing and stumbled all the way down. Landing on the concrete floor, she broke her neck. By all accounts, she should have met her end right then and there. But she refused even death, getting herself up while bleeding profusely from a gash on the head, and crawling up the stairs to dial 911.* Paul was the only other one there. As the other children rushed to the house to meet the ambulance and tend to Paul, they found a man sobbing, sitting helpless as he could do nothing to save her.

After coming out of intensive care, the children knew that whatever quality of life they might enjoy, depended entirely on having them together. Given the differences in their circumstances, this was no easy task. But such a place was found, a very pleasant retirement community, on the northheastern outskirts of the city, in a town called Sharonville. It was here that the family rallied to their father's side, and where, on a Monday evening the following February, Paul slipped peacefully away.

Dorothy (finally) gets over having pets in the house, thanks to “Buddy” the Dog, and “Carmen” the Cat. May 2012.

After the burial, Dorothy wondered what would happen to her. She received the news that an apartment in the opposite wing was already awaiting her. She entered her new home, with as many of the creature comforts that could fit from the house where she raised a family. It was met with tears of joy. She found a home away from home.

It was hoped that she would live a life of ease, resting from her labors, finding solace in her memories of home and marriage and family, while making new friends and discovering new recreations. For a time it seemed that it would be that way. But with a genetic precondition, compounded by her head injury the previous year, made for a respite that was short-lived. It was a year or so before her dementia advanced to the point where she could no longer live without constant supervision. After a brief period in the "memory care" ward, the situation demanded an alternative.

Cincinnati is home to the first and foremost care center devoted specifically to patients with Alzheimer's and dementia. Alois Alzheimer Center is located in the northwestern outskirts in the village of Greenhills. It was there that Dorothy spent her final months of life, with the best care that money (and a well-prepared trust fund) could buy. The firstborn was there to see her in October of last year. He found his own mother, a shadow of her former self, her mind nearly gone.

It was the saddest day of his life.

The end of that month was occasion for another rallying of the family. A call received in Washington told the firstborn that Dorothy had "hours, not days" to live. Within 36 hours he was there. Family members took turns keeping vigil. Sunday morning found Stephen keeping watch and praying the rosary, as Dorothy, laying peacefully, was summoned to her Final Journey. Her firstborn received the news by text message shortly before noon, while assisting at Mass. He left immediately to join the others. As their mother was carried away to be prepared for burial, the firstborn accompanied them, praying the 129th Psalm:

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
    From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord;

Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
    Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive

in vocem deprecationis meæ.
    to the voice of my supplication.

Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
    If you, Lord, were to mark iniquities, who, O Lord, shall stand?

Quia apud te propitiatio est ...
    For with you is forgiveness ...


The following Saturday, she was laid to rest alongside her husband.

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I remember grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell's tomato soup. There was praying before bedtime, with Mom leading the Litany of Loretto every night in May, and the Rosary every night in October.

Then we would sleep in beds covered by knotted quilts.

The author in uniform at the age of 4 1/2, Summer 1959.

I remember the sailor suits Mom made for us, the costume she made for me to play the part of John the Beloved for the Passion Play in the fourth grade. She sent me to the farm one summer, when I was six and a half, to count tax stamps from cigar boxes to redeem for funds for the missions. It was the most boring summer of my entire life, but a few years later, I too learned to drive a tractor before I was twelve. I remember her getting up with me before dawn to deliver the morning paper when I was ten. I only lasted a year and a half with that job. Without her it would have barely been a year.

When I entered art school in 1973, I needed a portfolio case to hold my drawing board, art pad, and tee-square. Buying one in the store was an expensive proposition. Having inherited her father's penchant for invention, she made one. Fashioning a balsa wood frame and pasteboard from an older project, she covered it with naugahyde, also used to create both the top and bottom-for-under-the-shoulder handles. She added brass hinges and clasps, and naugahyde slots to hold the tee-square. The result was so professionally done that several of my classmates wanted to pay her to make them one. But she wasn't interested in mass production. That case lasted through five years of school, and I still have it today, still in workable condition.

I inherited her genius for math, with a little help for good measure. While the "New Math" became popular in the early 1960s, Mom taught me a shortcut to the elaborate "long division" with what amounted to "short division." I used the latter for most of my life.

Mother and Caregiver, May 2015.

When one or another marriage in the family was on the rocks, Mom was the rock of stability for the children who could only watch the drama beyond their understanding. And when she left us, it was all eight of "Grandma's boys" who carried her to her place of rest.

Mom was a woman of many gifts. Sentimentality was not one of them. Even then she could surprise me. I graduated from college in August of 1978, and arrived at my aunt's house for the festivities. Mom greeted me with a hug and a kiss. That hadn't happened since ... probably since I was an infant.

I was the only one of the four to leave Cincinnati. She dreaded the very thought of it. I'd surely be helpless, incapable of wiping my own nose. But I managed, if sometimes more than others. She would get a phone call some nights from a young man who had imbibed entirely too much, channeling his inner Willie Nelson, singing his drunken man's lament:

Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it
'Cause I know just what I'm gonna do
I'll start to spend my money callin' everybody honey
And wind up singin' the blues
I'll spend my whole paycheck on some old wreck
And brother I can name you a few
Well I gotta get drunk and I sure do dread it
'Cause I know just what I'm gonna do.

She thought I was nuts. She was probably right. Fortunately, things were eventually looking up. She noticed that in her final years, and seemed to miss me even more.

Most important, our mother taught us the redemptive value of suffering. You never know how much you need God, until you uncover the veil of delusion, and realize that all is not well. No one needed God more than our mother, and one might daresay that no one ever counted on him more. Cheating death (if only for a while), cheating the odds, she prevailed. Even the son who took the longest to be delivered in the beginning (as firstborns often are), knew that she would wait for him again at the end.

And so it was.

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Today, I sew my own patches and awards on my Scout uniform, almost as well as she would have, but better than the average soccer mom. I also hem my own pants, if only when I have to.

One night I arrived early at a party in Baltimore with the prospect of rain causing a delay. I was met by a hostess who conceded to not being ready, and whose new jeans needed hemming. I offered to do it for her while she went about other preparations. When the job was done, she was suitably impressed. That was the highlight of the evening. The rest of the party was a downer. (The only thing worse than a room full of drunks, is a room full of old drunks.)

In memory of Dorothy and Paul Alexander, an unnamed donor has furnished new hymnals for Saint Andrew Church, Milford, Ohio. The memorial bookplates are dated for what would have been their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary.

I didn't have the role of caregiver that the others did. Mary is a geriatric nurse, and accompanied Mom to most medical appointments. Stephen has been the administrator of our parents' affairs, including the disposition of our inheritance. Patricia recovered from a rare form of cancer, and passed on returning to a lucrative career, answering the call as Mom and Dad's primary caregiver.

As for me, I was Master of Ceremonies for both funerals. At least it was one thing I was good at.

We tend to see each other about once a year, usually when I'm in town. Our children join us. Sometimes even Paul flies into town, all the way from Seattle, and is reunited with his cousins, as though nothing ever changed.

But a lot has changed. They say that it's always harder when the mother leaves. They also say that when the last of the previous generation passes on, those who remain are one step closer to the grave. In the months that have followed, everyone's grief has passed, and we have moved on with our lives. Or at least it seems that way. I am not as sure of myself. Mom was what every good mother is meant to be, the glue that holds the family together. If tradition is any convention, a father may rule a house, but a mother makes it a home.

My only home now, is elsewhere.

But until that "great and terrible day," I'm going to the diner down the street for lunch. I believe I will have grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. Hold the pickle.

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* She later claimed that angels carried her up the stairs. We can only take this on faith, as there was no one there to prove otherwise.