From the Pastor: Happy Birthday, Dad!
After the censors got a hold of my column last week and chopped out half of it due to its “controversial” content, I didn’t want to put much effort into a column only to have it disappear again. So here is a reprint from 2018.
This past week I went to my dad’s house for his birthday. We sang “Happy Birthday” and “Sto lat” (which means “100 years” in Polish) and he blew out the candles on the cake. He mentioned half-jokingly and half-ruefully that until he reached his 80’s he had always thought that wishing someone 100 years was wishing them a really long life but now he thinks 100 years might not be long enough after all! As a side note, I had to look up the proper spelling for “Sto lat” and found the Polish lyrics translated into English. I can say with certitude that one verse sounds like something that the men in my family would have made up, yet it was already a long treasured traditional song before these guys were old enough to alter it. It begins and ends as a cheerful song which, like a toast to the birthday boy, proclaims a wish that he live among us 100 years in health and happiness. How nice. But in the middle verse there is also a wish that anyone who doesn’t drink to this toast gets struck by lightning! There are some things so “out there” that you just cannot make them up. Such is not the case with the rest of this article, though.
When I was about to depart, my dad took me aside and nearly begged me for one more birthday present. “Son,” he whispered (in the “hushed tones” of someone who is badly in need of new hearing aids) “if you want me to make it to my next birthday, you have to rescue me today. Please take your Aunt Irma with you. She is driving me absolutely crazy and I don’t think I can survive her much longer.” How do you tell your tearful 82 year old father “no” on his birthday, especially when everyone in the house (except Aunt Irma, who at that moment was quite happily inviting some telemarketer and his family over for the birthday celebration) heard his “whispered” plea? Seeing no way out (I wish I could honestly say, rather, “Seeing a beautiful opportunity to show my love to both my dear old dad and my aunt...”) I put on my happy face and called out to her, “Aunt Irma, I am going to Pensacola to spend Independence Day with Fr. Emmanuel. Would you like to come with me?” Before she could answer, dad already had her suitcase packed and in the car and was ushering her out the door with what sounded like a sincere (I see where I get it from) “Oh, you’re leaving already? I’m sorry you weren’t able to stay longer. Please do come again in another 82 years!” This man, who, even with his cane cannot walk 100 feet without stopping to rest, said all of that as he practically carried her out the door, down the driveway and to my car which was parked several houses away. He lifted her into the front seat, slammed the door and, leaning back against the car wiping tears and sweat from his face said, “I’ve never had such a happy birthday as I’m having right now. Take her far, far away and tell her I moved to Oregon if she asks. Now go before she figures out how to unbuckle her seat belt.”
So off I went for an eight hour trip which turned into 10 (and seemed like 20) because of bathroom breaks, wildflower sightings (of which each supposed new variety must be smelled) and an occasional need to pull over for random things such as to stop her from ripping the GPS unit apart as she insisted on finding out how they folded up the map to make it fit into such a small plastic box. Along the way she sang Sto lat approximately 300 times, asked where we were going 250 times, and told me in more detail than human knowledge could possibly impart every aspect of the life, job and family situation of the previously-despondent telemarketer who was perhaps currently on his way to dad’s house to celebrate with the one person who was happy he called. When we finally arrived, since we were running late we had to almost immediately head out to the beach where we were going to watch the fireworks. Fortunately for everyone, Fr. Emmanuel was “fresh” and he and Aunt Irma had a wonderful time as she tried to figure out what side of the family he was from. He, of course, was constantly kept in stitches laughing, not knowing that she was serious. He played right into it, telling her that he and I were twins, and, as proof, said we both had the same name, Father, because our parents didn’t know that “twins” meant “two babies instead of one” and couldn’t come up with a second name under pressure. Right at that moment we entered the town of Gulf Breeze and a sudden look of clarity came over Aunt Irma. “I know this place,” she said in a reverent tone that was filled with either awe, fear, or bliss, and I couldn’t determine which. “It was the night of November 11, 1987...” and her voice trailed off and she hasn’t spoken about it since. You might want to look it up. The time, date and place might explain quite a bit about dear Aunt Irma!
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka