#668 – Dick Bernard: Dad's Birthday

Twenty-five years ago today, December 22, 1987, my Dad celebrated his 80th birthday.
Being Dad, it became a particularly special event, worthy of note this day.
As I recall, my sister, Flo, and I had taken the trip from Minnesota to Dad’s new home at Our Lady of the Snows, overlooking the Mississippi River Valley just above East St. Louis IL. Dad had just moved there from his previous home in San Benito TX, where he’d lived since he and Mom became “winter Texans” in 1976, and not long thereafter purchased a small home at 557 N. Dowling, and became full-time residents of that Rio Grande Valley community.
Mom passed away in August of 1981 and Dad had a decision to make. He decided to live on, staying very actively engaged in the San Benito senior and Catholic and general community. He became an active volunteer at the Berta Cabaza Junior High School across the street from their home, tutoring Hispanic kids whose first language was Spanish, and by all accounts, the volunteer job was a great fit for him. That story, with photos, continues here.
In 1987 his good Valley friends his good friends in San Benito, the Brashers, began talking with him about this Apartment Community called Our Lady of the Snows in their home town of Belleville IL They weren’t Catholic themselves, but they thought the Apartment Community there might be a good fit for Dad, and he decided to try it out with a short visit, then in the summer of 1987 with the help of Flo, and later with my help, he made the long move north to a small apartment in that wonderful Apartment Community.
Our Lady of the Snows became an exceptionally great fit for Dad, and he blended in with everything there. That’s a story in itself.
But this story is about his 80th birthday….
Dad was always a methodical sort of guy, and he’d become acquainted with a physical fitness program through the U.S. government which made suggestions for senior activities, and awarded certificates to those completing their projects.
Eighty days before his 80th birthday he made a decision.
He was going to walk a 15 minute mile once every day, culminating with the 80th mile on his 80th birthday.
I don’t recall him announcing this goal at the outset, but that’s what he did.
He picked his route and his time. He would begin at the stage area of the ampitheatre at Our Lady of the Snows at 7:45 a.m., walk back and forth, row to row, until he reached a mile. (On the general map of the shrine, the area I’m describing is in the lower right hand corner of the developed area.) Somehow he had calculated what was a mile. His goal was to reach the Bells by the time the Angelus rang at 8 a.m.
He’d walked this route the previous 79 days. December 22, 1987, Flo and I were with him.
I recall it as a chilly morning and, worse, a little icy and thus potentially hazardous along Dad’s chosen route.
No matter.
This was Dad, and this was his route, and this was the 80th day, and the day for the 80th 15 minute mile on his 80th birthday. No little thing like ice was going to stop him!
This day he led and we followed, and he was a man on a mission. We did our best to keep up, but it was futile, at least for me.
He arrived at the Bells two minutes before they rang.
There was no drama. He’d made his goal.
He lived on at Our Lady of the Snows till his death November 7, 1997, not quite making 90, basically covering every inch of that remarkable facility on foot, many, many times.
I got into my own habit of walking that day in 1987, and since, I calculate, I’ve walked the circumference of the earth.
Lately a bit of osteo-arthritis in the right hip has crimped my habit of 2 1/2 miles a day, and I’m searching for an alternative.
There are habits and there are habits.
Happy Birthday, Dad!

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