A Christmas Reflection: 2006
And who are our “Neighbors?” (Luke 10:25-37
Dick Bernard

Nearly 50 years ago, May 23, 1957, Grandpa Bernard died.

He was the first of my grandparents to bid adieu. I was 17. His ‘mates’ on this mortal journey of ours – my other grandparents – followed him over the next 15 years. Grandma Bernard was next, April 24, 1963. They died at 85 and 82 respectively. Grandpa and Grandma Busch, March 1967 and August, 1972, 86 and 88, completed their life spans representing my grandparent ancestral generation.

In their stories is the story of our humanity: an endless succession of beginnings and endings.

On November 10, 2006, Grandpa’s latest descendant, Lucy, joined the human family.

For all the years I knew them, Grandma and Grandpa Bernard lived in a house that was postage stamp in size. In my memory, they did not have a car, unless one counted that 1901 Oldsmobile stored in the Grafton (ND) City Hall. It was a mysterious contraption, that car. At least once we saw Grandpa drive it in a parade. I knew it to be his car. (For more on the automobile: see article on this page.)

Grandma and Grandpa likely never expected to be rich in a material sense neither did they enter married life expecting to be poor.

Best as I can tell, Grandpa had an excellent job, and excelled at it for many years. But doing the right things wasn’t enough. Life drastically changed course in one week near the end of May, 1927, when Grandpa’s employer, and the bank that held their savings, went out of business. Fraud and even collusion were suspected. It made no difference. At 55 Grandpa was out of work and they were broke. Soon the Great Depression, and then WWII would dominate their lives for many years.

Who helped them survive the initial shock, and later, - and who didn’t care – is an unanswered and unanswerable question. What is known is that their youngest child, Frank, was only 12 when catastrophe struck. Their oldest child, Josie, who was deaf and 24 years old, was still living at home. Their son, my Dad, had the ill fortune of graduating from high school the same week their world fell in. His plans abruptly changed.

Ten years later Grandpa began to get Social Security. He was likely in the first group of citizens to receive that benefit but there had been a very long dry spell between, and Social Security wasn’t that much anyway.

Grandma and Grandpa were classy people. Though poor, and without much formal education, they exuded dignity. When we went to visit, Grandpa always wore a tie. Grandma, too, was first-rate. They were respected citizens. I know Grandpa had spent some years as president of the local fire department.

The legacy they left behind was not money or things, it was us. They’re not responsible for what we’ve done or will do with our lives, but they live on in us, nonetheless.

One of the few certainties of mortal life is that it will end.

Another certainty is that life’s road ahead is uncertain; unpredictable, no matter how carefully planned.

Lucy will learn as we all do, that there are limits to what she can control or predict: ultimately, we all need ‘neighbors’…and they won’t necessarily be the people we’ve chosen.

August 12, 2006, all but one of my grandkids, the Bernard’s great-great-grandkids, had an opportunity to sit in Grandpa’s 1901 Oldsmobile; two of them took a ride in it, as did I.

Now Lucy has arrived, 134 years after he Great-Great-Grandpa’s birth, February 16, 1872.

What is on the road ahead for Lucy and her ‘class’ of humanity in this ever more complicated and interdependent world? 100 years ago, Grandma and Grandpa’s world was small. Lucy’s neighbors are everyone, everywhere. How will she remember our generation 50 years from now?