Sunday, January 30, 2011

I hope you're sitting down.

Hi, blog friends! This is not bad news! It's good news, in fact very good news (though of course not as good as the Good News).

I have a granddaughter.

And you may ask: "How can this be?! Old Bob has never been married and has never had a child!"

Here's the story.

About 1995, thoroughly disgusted with the way the liturgy was being mangled in a certain Latin-rite parish here in Minneapolis, I started going to the Ukrainian Catholic parish here, which uses the Byzantine rite of St. John Chrysostom.

(To the best of my knowledge, this rite has survived unchanged since about AD 400, except for the translation from Greek to modern Ukrainian. In the Orthodox Slavic world, the liturgy has always been in the vernacular. What is now the Ukrainian Catholic Church worldwide was split from Rome in 1054, but in 1596 some of the bishops asked to be reunited to Rome, and were, and are now a church sui juris.)

The first few times I went to Divine Liturgy there (at 8:00 am, yuk, but I was much younger and stronger then) I heard the liturgy recited in English, and then, after I got the hang of how it is structured (same as Roman but a little different), I started going at 10:00 to hear the liturgy chanted (a cappella, mind you) in Ukrainian. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

I sang in the choir for part of one liturgical year, and discovered that during Divine Liturgy time is irrelevant. It's exactly as if we are lifted out of time to brush with eternity, and nothing earthly matters at all.

During those many years at this parish, I made many friends, learned to hold a (very halting) conversation in Ukrainian, and did a bit of a stint as an ESL tutor to Ukrainian refugees, mostly Soviet Ukraine.

One very odd sidelight is that one of the best friends I made is a man almost exactly my age, an engineer, a family man, who - get this! - served (not by choice!) in the Soviet Army when he was young, exactly at the time I would have been serving in the U.S. Army if I hadn't flunked the physical exam. It's not impossible that he and I, now friends, could once have been enemy soldiers staring at each other across the Berlin Wall.

During all this time, and before, my favorite eating place was a Ukrainian deli-bakery-butcher shop where I could get heavenly delicious meals and practice my Ukrainian at the same time. This is where I met Maria. Her immediate family came here from Ukraine about 2004 or 2005 (when she was about 13 or 14), and she went to De La Salle High School, my old alma mater, knowing very little English, if any.

In 2010 she graduated from high school and went to college in Duluth. A month or so in her first term we happened to meet and she mentioned that she was still having trouble with English, especially formal written English such as college papers demand (I had a prof once . . . but no.)

So I gathered together a pile of English language reference books: dictionary, thesaurus, grammar, style guide, and so on (packrats have two of everything), and gave them to her. She was so happy that she gave me a huge Ukrainian bear hug (much more enthusiastic than an American one) and told me that she was adopting me as her grandfather.

Since then, we have corresponded regularly. I write her more oftem than she writes me, because she's up to her eyeballs in difficult course work in a pre-med curriculum. But she is happy to have me in her life and has said so:

Me, Nov. 2010:
Hi, Maria, I hope you don't mind that I call you "doroha vnuchka" [Dear Granddaughter]-- if you do, just say so and I won't do it any more. I hope you have a very good month in school before Christmas. Anything I can do to help, just let me know. I'm praying for you all the time.

Hi Didusyu [Grandfather], of course not, i really like when you call me vnuchka :) I hope it will be a good month too, but it's going to be very busy one. I hope everything is well with you. Thank you for caring, it's good to have you "didusyu". Thank you so much!! :) God bless you!

Me January 12 2011:
Grandfathers do worry about their granddaughters.

because that what they feel like doing.

Oh, yes! I want to know that you are okay, well, and happy!

thank you, it's good to know that someone like you care about me.

I'm very happy in my soul (v dushu?) that I can give you some happiness.

im happy for you too

Maria January 18:
Dorogyi Didusu', [Dear(est?) Grandfather (Grandpapa?)
Thank you for telling me what you just did. Your words make me think about life, faith and people who really understand the meaning of God's love. I'm glad to felt better. I promise to write as often as i can and Im glad to have you in my life Didus'. To have you as a techer, friend and person that i can tell everything to means a lot to me. You have my full permission to do so. [tell people about me]
God Bless you! Love always
Vnuchka ♥

* * *

First came the pure joy, the kind of happiness I have never felt in my life, the kind that comes from giving without expectation. I have to explain that while I think I have a hard head (one friend calls me "the Bell-Curve mind") I have a very soft heart, full of sentiment, shmaltz, and romance. When I was young my favorite play was Cyrano de Bergerac, and still is way up there, with that heartbreaking fifth act and its last scenes.

Then the joy became alloyed with worry -- something every parent and grandparent knows, I'm sure, but I never did. Worry by day, worry by night. I asked some middle aged moms and grandmas if this was normal or I was crazy, and they all said it was perfectly normal, and one grandma I know told me that I would be crazy if I didn't worry. These smart women also told me that kids at "that age" also do the fly-away-come-back dance, and it's normal for them to be sometimes uncommunicative.

Of course I'd like to hear from Maria more than I do, but the nature of the situation is that it's just not possible. All I can do is be patient and understanding, and love, love, love without thought of reward. I think St. Ignatius said that was what we should do to imitate Christ. One day a couple of weeks ago when I hadn't heard from Maria for what seemed an eternity, the verse "Oh, Jerusalem!" (I think Matthew, Palm Sunday) popped into my head.

Oh, am I learning so many many new things! My heart is growing and stretching, and even with the down side, I love it. One close friend remarked to me recently that perhaps God kept romance, wife, and children from me so that in old age He could give me this. Blessed be God!


  1. What a lovely post. We are expecting our 20th grandchild and this makes me feel even richer to be so blessed. I am so happy that darling Maria adopted you!

  2. Thank you so much, Mary Ann!

    And wouldn't you know that I already blogged about Maria and forgot I did? What's my name again? ;-)

  3. Old Bob is the name :)

    One thing about grandchildren... unlike our children... (who for a little while) we have "jurisdiction" over... we do not have any of that with the grandchildren.

    They never are never under our "rule" as they belong to the parents... but then we grand parents have the joyous distinction of being able to enjoy the grandchildren and never have to discipline them :) (Usually...)

    Maria is a lovely young lady!