Niagara Gazette

May 25, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Memorial added breath of life

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Patriots (Hope that doesn’t get us audited) — We’ve observed Memorial Day already, we just didn’t realize it.

You couldn’t exactly set your sundial by it, but every twilight in decent weather Jim Moss’ old dog would waddle down the street, tugging Jim behind him. We always exchanged a few words, and thought we knew him pretty well.

Eventually the dog was called up to the Great Kennel and in December, so was Jim, 95. Last Saturday, they gathered to remember Jim at St. Stephen, our only Catholic congregation.

As we’ve said, we’re going to too many farewell rites, too often leaving with no insights into the deceased. Particularly vexing was one last fall for an acting pal, a wonderfully droll man named Carl Kowalkowski, and in 1 ½ hours, a program bill the size of a small-town phone book, not one word was said about his special charms. Look, we’re not trying to stamp out prayer in church, but if the eulogy doesn’t bring us closer to the subject, why bother?

Jim Moss’ eulogy, delivered by the Rev. Dan Fiebelkorn, former pastor, was perfect. We learned, for example, that Jim faithfully brought two elderly nuns to Mass and that, Father Dan said, “Sister Ann Nonymous was a handful.” (He named her, we won’t, but any reference to a cantankerous nun will bring down the chapel.)

Jim, we learned, had worked for decades at Bethlehem Steel and would tell Father Dan of its unspeakable heat as a science, not complaint. We suspect a bit of pastor-client secrecy was breached here – Jim was loath to have people think he’d had it hard.

World War II arrived. With a family and a defense job, Jim was deferred but felt that unfair and volunteered, flying recon (i.e., spying) over enemy territory. Again, he kept it mostly to himself but Father Dan knew. Thanks for sharing.

Father Dan said he respected Jim Moss so much that when he learned of his passing, “I didn’t cry, I smiled.”

Then Father Dan broke down.

“Jim would have hated for me to do that,” he said on recovery.

In more than a decade of watching Jim walk his dog, we never learned what we learned from Father Dan and then a daughter, who had helped choose the music including “If I Ruled the World.” Said she: “If Jim had ruled the world, it would be a much better place.”

Copy that for Father Dan.

Sustenance followed, as a wedding broke out in the church. When all had been scrumptiously served, the St. Stephen Bereavement ladies abandoned their posts to press their noses against the glass doors, watching, like kids outside a toy store window.

It was a day to die for, but we can wait.

Come visit. We’ll tell you what we know. It won’t take long.

Polly and Doug E-mail