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“But who wears the dress?!”

Spent time with two sweet girls this week – 7 and 10 years old. We talked about the summer and how we are all busy with weddings. I attended two weddings of my husband’s colleagues. One couple now has a blended family with six children. The recessional from the ceremony was the theme from “The Brady Bunch.” Everyone giggled, cooed and cried.

The little girls told me of one upcoming wedding they will attend: “Our great cousin! And she is marrying a girl.” I commented, yes, girls sometimes marry other girls and boys sometimes marry other boys. When I asked if they were excited about the wedding, they both looked perplexed.

“Cathy, we have a question about our ‘great’s wedding’ ”

Hmm. I thought this conversation could get interesting.

“What is the question?”

“Well, if there are two girls getting married, who wears the dress?!”

I laughed. So sweet. Still, weddings come down to fashion curiosity.

“Well, you will have to go and see! Maybe both of them will wear dresses – or neither or just one of them. They can wear what they want,” I said.

The little one smiled: “Oh, I hope both of them do, that would be best.”

(S-R archive photo)

The children

A man kills five children in Texas… a woman gets off a subway, pushes a stroller with her toddler in it onto the platform and re-boards the train…children are fleeing violence in Central America and people in Murrieta, Calif. protest their arrival…Enrique rides atop trains, a dangerous journey, out of Honduras to find his mom in the U.S. She left years ago, seeking work so she could send money to her starving family.

Children in our families or scores arriving from a foreign land deserve what each person inherently longs for: safety and love. The stories this week are heart-breaking and complicated. And while leaders ponder political and humanitarian options, the children continue to suffer.

(S-R photo: Demonstrators from opposing sides confront each other outside a U.S. Border Patrol station in Murrieta, Calif.)

The power of good

I read a lot of nonsense on Facebook, but then this story popped up today. In a world gone mad with adulation for rock stars and Kardashians – ugh – I love reading about people with courage and humility.

Sir Nicholas Winton is one man whose compassion saved 669 children from the Holocaust. Today those 669 people have more than 15,000 descendants. He got children out of Czechoslovakia and into England before the Nazis could claim them. When he wrote to the U.S. asking our country to accept these children, the written reply said, “The United States is unable…”

Winton – at 104 years old - gives this advice to others: always be prepared to do good in the world.


A first step…toward healing

Pope Francis met with six victims of sexual assault; people who had trusted clerics, but were victimized through sex crimes. (Why do they call it “sexual abuse”? As though there is some standard of “sexual use” that is acceptable? It is a word thing, I know.)

The pontiff spoke of the need to address not only the criminal priests, but also the bishops who did nothing or little when learning of specific men who committed these crimes. He asked for forgiveness of the Church for its inattention.

Francis has appointed a special commission to address the sex crimes scandal, and included in that team a prominent Irish victim who is now an advocate.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, acknowledged the meeting is an important step on the long road to healing – and restoring faith in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

We can only hope.

(S-R photo: Pope Francis I)

We are Americans, a country of other

On this 4th of July holiday weekend, it is nice to remember the attraction of our country: to live in a land where we are free to worship as we wish, to love whom we love and to explore opportunities we desire. Joe Nocera writes of his Italian heritage and how he and his elderly mom now view their diverse community.

(S-R archive photo: Florence, Italy)

Twelve little girls, in their lines

The stories are now 75 years old: those Madeline books of our childhood. She was one of 12 little girls, in their lines, leaving a house covered in vines. Madeline is on exhibit in New York at the New York Historical Society.

The books, written by Ludwig Bemelmans, continue to delight children.  He was an Austrian immigrant to the United States. He wrote the first book on the back of a menu in Pete’s Tavern in Manhattan. Bemelmens wrote four other Madeline books before his 1962 death. His grandson continues to pen the stories.

Life magazine first published the Madeline story – the week World War II began. And while the story is set in France, French children have not appreciated Madeline as Americans have. The France in the stories reflects an imagined, not realistic Paris.

Still, the stories continue to delight children. And after the exhibit closes in October, the story of Madeline’s stories while live forever at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Some gold does stay forever.

(S-R archive photo: John Bemelmans Marciano, grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, 2008)

StoryCorps: voices that inspire

If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.
—Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel

Our stories help to heal. When we tell our story, others may need to hear of our experience and be inspired. And when we tell our own story, we give ourselves a chance to heal, celebrate, remember.

StoryCorps gave Jordan Kemper a chance to tell her story of homelessness, her journey to hope and a new life. 

(S-R photo: Morning fog covers the valleys near Bernbeuren, southern Germany, at sunrise )

50 years since Civil Rights Act

The men were teens and believed the new law was enough. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, sex or national origin at schools, workplaces, voting booths and “public accommodations.”

In 1964, the nine black teens from Bessemer, Alabama walked into the heart of their town, into a store with a small lunch counter, and sat down on the side previously designated for whites only.

Soon they were told they couldn’t sit there. Soon men with baseball bats arrived. The teens were hit; they fought back and escaped, but one was so brutally beaten he had to be hospitalized. The FBI “investigated” the crime, but supposedly the assailants could not be identified.

Five of the nine men are alive today and recall their story of courage and how that one act of courage changed their lives. 

Retirement: Last day at work

My husband retired yesterday.  He is one of 10,000 baby boomers who retire each day in our country. He had 10 people who reported to him and they loved him. At lunch yesterday, a few of the guys started saying numbers “six,” “three.” When my husband asked what they were talking about, one answered:  “We are betting how many months until you get bored and want to find another job.”                                                                                  

What they have been told, but may not believe: it is not the work my husband will miss, but the incredible friendships. The workplace becomes our daytime home and often colleagues feel like members of our extended family. These people work together, but also offer each other comfort, support, laughter and kindness when tragedy or unexpected life events occur. Tasks get done and the list continues, but what people remember most are the relationships. My husband wrote in his final email:

“…the people you lead give you the honor of being their leader.  I was given that honor by a great group of people.  We have worked closely; we sometimes argued, but in the end we were always striving to have fun while we work…Thank you for being candid with me.  Thank you for telling me when you disagree and working to find a better way.  Thank you for making me proud of our work.  Thank you for making me laugh.  I will remember you always…”

My husband turned in his “company car” and waited for me to pick him up. He was joined by ten people who hugged him, joked with him and carried his belongings. They slipped a silly photo in among his things. They confessed a few stories, “Now that you are no longer our supervisor…” They told him nothing he didn’t already know. They all laughed. As my husband climbed into the car, he was given the best send-off of all: “Remember, we are meeting on Saturday in a few weeks. Beer and chicken wings!”

The job is over, but the friendships - the best retirement gift of all - continue.

(S-R archive photo)

Words that bind us in love

Sometimes I read columns or stories for which I have no adequate words –and that is precisely the focus of Joseph Luzzi’s column about his Italian father – bellissima! 

Irish babies

An earlier blog posted stories from Ireland about the babies who died at the Catholic-run orphanages – working houses for unmarried, young mothers.  Apparently, some of the stories were embellished or misunderstood or misreported.

A story from Monday continues the discussion on a sad and confusing part of Irish history. 

(S-R archive photo)

Faith, home and love

Murphy was lost for two years – and is finally home. The family dog, Murphy, was lost on a family camping trip in the Tahoe National Forest, but the family never gave up hope of a reunion.

Murphy was spotted by a camper earlier this month and the family was notified. They arrived with those items most attractive to our pets – the dog’s blanket and the family’s “scent” – via their clothing.

The plan worked. Murphy returned to the items and was found sleeping on them.

We love our pets who love us. Unconditional love is hard to come by and is worth going back to the woods to find.

(S-R archive photo: Dogwoods)

One more week

My husband retires in one more week. The journey has been looonnnnggg. Mostly, his commute on that freeway has been miserable. Soon, he will commute to the mailbox, golf course and woodworking store, when he likes.  

We will manage new routines, expectations and activities. I have listened to others along the way and am working on my fantasies – I mean realistic expectations. I am quite confident ballroom dancing is not in my future – although I wish it were. I can give that one up. I am hoping for morning walks - I know, not every day. And some yard work, please.

Writer Nancy Anderson suggests retirees make a 100-day plan – like a newly elected president writes. Seems such a plan may smooth the transition process.

My husband certainly has a plan, I suspect. His only request so far: allow him to sleep as long as he likes for one month. Seems reasonable.

One week…and one month…and counting.

(S-R archive photo)

The cost of $ports

We remember him as the sassy, scrambling quarterback of the Chicago Bears. Today, Jim McMahon struggles with dementia and depression – results of his head injuries from football, he says.

McMahon is part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The league agreed to a $765 million settlement without acknowledging it hid the risks of concussions from former players. A federal judge in California has not approved the settlement, claiming the amount is insufficient.  

Many former players suffer from head injuries as well as injuries to the rest of their body. Sometimes players are not told of the medical findings or are not thoroughly examined when they are carried or limp off the field. The injuries last long after victory is won – or lost – at the game. The abuse must stop; the league must acknowledge their secrets that harmed these athletes and compensate them. The league cannot afford to pass.

(S-R archive photo: Former Chicago Bears player and head coach Mike Ditka.)

“It’s good to be Catholic!”

Went on our annual parish field trip to Safeco Field to watch the Mariners. Any parishioner who wants to go pays a modest fee for the bus ride and ticket. We leave from the church parking lot and make our way to the 300 level of the stadium. An eclectic group of “here comes everybody!”

With my husband on my left chatting to our son next to him, I turned to the man, David, on my right. He has a disability - a stroke perhaps, a head injury, maybe - leaving him struggling to talk. But he delights in these parish adventures. He always arrives alone and joins the group.

As the players threw the ball, swung their bats and trotted around the field, David and I chatted. I asked if his bag of peanuts was actually his dinner, “Yes, would you like some?” I declined. It took him the entire nine innings to crack open the peanuts and eat them all. Later I regretted not asking him if he wanted a beverage when my husband went for our food.

As we watched the game, David looked around our group of 45+ parishioners and said simply, “It’s good to be Catholic!” I gave him a quizzical look and he said again, “Look around! It is good to be Catholic!”

I doubt he was referring to any theological construct or doctrine of the trinity. He was glad to be at the game. He was glad to be part of a community that claims it loves one another as Jesus loved.  I admit we don’t always get it right.

But when the church doors open wide enough for everyone to come in, when we welcome the stranger, the one who is different, we are getting closer to living the mandate we were given. And then, David is right: “It is good to be Catholic!” at a ball game, huddled together, sharing friendship.

(S-R archive photo: Safeco Field)

Remembering the police officer

The sadness continues as police officers are killed in the line of duty. One of the men killed last week in Las Vegas, Alyn Beck, was buried yesterday. His family and friends gathered to honor his life – his commitment to his family, his service to his community.

A man who would have given his life for his family, his colleagues, for the community, had his life taken – as though he were hunted. The madness must stop. For all our sophistication in this country, we cannot seem to recover our values of civility and respect for each other.

On this Father's Day, may Alyn’s wife and three small children find peace and comfort.

(S-R photo: Pictures of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officers Alyn Beck, left, and Igor Soldo)

See Spot

I read the Spot books a zillion times to my son when he was little. Spot had birthday parties, meandered and was lost, celebrated Christmas and had an eclectic collection of friends. His marketers also produced fabric with Spot’s image. My son has a pillowcase and little blanket I made for him so he could nap with Spot.

Spot’s creator, author/illustrator Eric Hill, 86, died last week at his home in Templeton, Calif.  

Spot was a gentle character whose playful image delighted toddlers and taught little lessons of inclusivity and kindness. The dog’s spots were inspired by markings painted on airplanes that Hill had seen when he was a young man living in England.

Thanks, Eric, for your lovely legacy – your work has been Spot on.

Healing hound

A family has adopted its son’s military dog. Marine staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz was killed in 2011 in Afghanistan. His military dog, Dino, was his constant companion.

Diaz’s parents, Salvador and Sandra Diaz, welcomed Dino into their life last week when the dog was discharged from service. Dino has some adjusting to do since he responds best to commands spoken in Hebrew, not English.

“He’s very affectionate, real rambunctious, just like our son, Christopher,” Salvador Diaz said.

Sometimes in the depths of our grief, a simple link to a lost loved one serves to heal our hearts, even when that link needs walking, feeding and an occasional bath.

(S-R archive photo)


The bride wore green

Sometimes it is nice to read stories from other cultures and learn what their customs and beliefs signify. A wedding between frogs – really? I wonder if the Indian “bride” had her croaking opinion considered in the union – or if it was an arranged marriage.

(S-R archive photo:  Waxy Tree Frog)

Bishop must go

He claims he did not know sex between a child and priest was illegal?! Robert Carlson, a former archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese, claims he did not know sex between a child and a priest (or presumably any adult) was illegal.  I had to write it twice because the comment is truly unbelievable.

Carlson, now archbishop of St. Louis, served as point person on clergy abuse in the 1980s to the mid-1990s.

Theologians must complete years and years of education. What part of Catholic social teaching’s main principle -“the inherent dignity of every human person” – did Carlson miss? To claim legal ignorance on this horrible activity is ludicrous. Carlson needs to step down from his role in the Catholic Church – he is not worthy to serve God’s people.

(S-R archive photo)


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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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