Thursday, September 17, 2009

Because of Frank and Carrie

I introduced Katie to Frank and Carrie Kwiatkowski at Mass last Sunday and said, "Honey, get a good look. That's what I want us to be 25 years from now." She understood.

Katie and I celebrate our 25th anniversary this fall, and when we hit our 50th (GW), I'll be Frank's age. I first met Frank at Saturday morning men's group, about the time my dad was dying of melanoma. Frank and Dad were the same age, and this, plus Frank's peppery defense of the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, attracted me to him immediately.

On Sundays and many weekdays, these 80-something lovebirds sit in the pew directly in front of me. Now, wait a minute, I can hear Carrie saying. I'm nowhere near 80! Which is the truth. I think she's all of 76 or 77. And she always wears a hat. Often, it's something old-timey and sweet, but sometimes she's sporting headgear that even my fashion-savvy 21-year-old daughter, Marian, would covet.

Frank was a former Marine, a milkman, and something of "a wild Indian" by his own confession when he met the still-teenaged Carrie in upstate New York. After Carrie used a holy card of St. Therese of Lisieux to pray for a better job for him, Frank landed a position with Prudential Insurance and rose to regional sales manager. After retirement Frank was elected to five two-year terms as Amsterdam (NY) town supervisor; he also served as a county supervisor.

Nearly 60 years into their marriage, the Kwiatkowskis are the happiest couple in town. I sometimes pass them on one of my afternoon walks as they sit on a bench atop Independence Park, overlooking the Atlantic. They always, always wear these expressions of quiet, assured contentment and peace. Carrie often has a rosary in her hands, delicately passing beads, with her lips gently pursed. Frank might be reading about St. Faustina and Divine Mercy. The couple is active in the Carmel community nearby.

It's funny what happens in a Catholic church like ours. You become deeply attached to people you might not even notice otherwise. When Frank was hospitalized with a chest ailment, I went to see him. Next time he was in, I went again with Ferde, and then again. I suppose I was reminded of my last visits to Dad in the hospital, of the tenderness I felt. But I would love Frank and Carrie even without the Dad connection. Their witness, their presence in our parish is a testament to the beauty of traditional marriage and lifelong adherence to the faith. Catholics like this with whom you worship regularly become closer to you in some ways than family.

Frank and Carrie have family to spare: five children and seventeen grandchildren, including a granddaughter who graduated from West Point and has served two and a half years in Iraq. It does the old Marine proud, I'm sure. But come to our church in Beverly some day and I'll introduce you. Come 25 years from now, and I hope to show you another St. Mary's couple just like this.