Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wood whittlers & Communists

Robert was born in 1938, four years before Vladimir’s family was slaughtered by the communists occupying Slovenia. Robert will be 70 years old in January. Vladimir is living as a retired priest in Pine Grove and is close to 90 years old. Vladimir came from a family of 12 children. He lives with and takes care of his sister Draga who is also in her later years of life. Vladimir and Draga were present when the communists broke into their home and killed their parents and handicapped brother, leaving their bodies brutalized in the basement of their home in Zapotok. One week prior to the house invasion, Vladimir’s brother Frank was killed because he was a Catholic lay leader and resisted joining the communist party. The story of Vladimir’s experience with communism is told in his book “Communism as I know it” by Vladimir Kozina. It’s currently in its eighth printing. It’s a book I’ve asked my children to read, after they read “Animal Farm.” His life’s sorrows and joys are carefully etched in his face. He is a beautiful soul.

Robert was born in New Jersey and ultimately settled in California raising a family. I am his oldest daughter. He always earned a living but was constantly crafting things with his hands. For my birthday this year, I received a wood carving of St. Francis with five birds. It’s prominently sitting at my front door. I love it. My Dad’s heart is in that wooden St. Francis. I will always treasure the labor of his knife, the paint, and sandpaper the softened the edges of the wood.

Piero is JD’s second cousin. He is in his 60’s and living in Como, Italy. He is known for making homemade nativity scenes out of something as small as a walnut, to as large as a hollowed out television set. His life hobby is working with his hands and honoring God at the time of His incarnation. Piero is a gentle soul. I just love him and am so honored to know him. Some of my heartiest laughs have been around his kitchen table.

Joseph was born in Germany and came to the United States speaking no English, he settled in Alabama as a Benedictine Monk. Joseph Zoettel spent 50 years crafting cement, stones and junk into a miniature city of the world's most important religious structures. Born in 1878 in Bavaria, he was maimed in an accident that gave him a hunchback, but miraculously did not impair his ability to bend over and build tiny things. Brother Joe died in 1961, and all 125 of his buildings still stand, protectively nestled on the campus of St. Bernard Abbey in a place called Ave Maria Grotto. You cannot visit that place without feeling the love of Brother Joe. Brother Joe feels like a member of my family. He created his wonderful grotto with 4 crude tools. He was a man constantly in pain but constantly expressing his joy with his art. His life of toiling and prayer are testament to his artwork. There wasn’t anything lovelier to me than walking amongst his creations in his grotto, where he left the pain of the world behind. He knew the horrors of communism such that he never saw his family again after his arrival in the United States. Below is a picture of his replica "Vatican City" in miniature. It was created from the junk he refused to throw away.

Today, Vladimir is a retired priest whose life was spared miraculously during the home invasion of 1942 because he parents and siblings refused to tell the communists where he was hiding. At the time of their murder, he was lying prostrate in the attic of his house, listening to the torture of his family beneath him. I’ve known Father Kozina for the last nine years. He is man who not only has a deep abiding faith, but he is a man who works with his hands, created beautiful wood sculptures and religious tributes. He uses common “junk” and makes creations that move and are gloriously lit up with common house bulbs, Christmas lights and thingamajigs.

Nothing is junk to these four men. They all have come from lives of hardship, pain and joy. Their creations speak volumes about their faith. I often imagine Father Kozina praying or whistling as he works, Brother Joseph doing the same. I often wonder what my Dad or Piero might be thinking as they assemble their creations. As long as the communists are far away, I guess it doesn’t really matter.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net or on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Papa's Heart

J.D.’s dad is a generous soul who likes to shop; but more than that he enjoys the giving and the gifting. He has his favorite haunts where he shops in his spare time and many people, whether family or friend, find themselves the lucky recipients of his generosity. He has a good memory for the interests and activities of others and he particularly bears this in mind while he investigates his favorite shops and warehouses.

He’s always been that way. I’ve known Patrick for over two decades. Whether it’s a book he thinks you might be interested in reading, or whether he is hosting a rehearsal dinner to welcome you to his large family, he gets a twinkle in his eye when he knows “he got you.” I suppose “Papa’s” heart of generosity was born from not having everything when he was young, much like my own parents and their generation. He had Irish immigrant parents who worked hard and scraped together a “living” to raise their family during the Great Depression.

I’ve watched Pat’s generosity through the years with friends and acquaintances and he has never changed. He has a soft spot for the down trodden and has “adopted” people into his extended family with financial as well as philosophical support. He is generous with advice, concern and support. Both of J.D.’s parents are huge advocates of the power of education and encouraged their family to pursue all their educational objectives. Pat loves to write. His hobbies are writing, history, politics, religion and giving. He is certainly one of those special people who should always have a pedestal. He has a lot to share with others.

You would think that this is a Father’s Day tribute to J.D.’s dad, and in a way, it is a very belated one, but as I sit and write this column, Pat is being prepared for heart bypass surgery. I remember writing a column such as this almost two years ago November for my own dad. I was scared to death and so was my family. This isn’t any different. Pat has been “Dad” to me as long as J.D. & I have been together. In essence, he has been a huge part of my life and I can hardly remember the years before him because as the years go on, he has been part of my family, as much as I’ve been part of his. Parents shape who we are as people. Pat’s influence is so broad, there isn’t a canvas large enough or broad enough to encompass the lives he has touched.

These are the times when we wish we could adequately express what a person has meant to us, the times when we feel certain vulnerability about them and their well-being. They only serve as reminders that when we are loved so much and generously by people with big hearts, it’s easy to forget to say “You are important and loved in return!”

Dad Maher, this is one of those times. We are praying for you, the skill of your surgeons, your recovery and the health of your new arteries and for the strength you will need in the days ahead to come home. God bless you and MoMaher and give you a speedy recovery.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her by email at familyfare@sbcglobal.net or on the web at www.familyfare.blogspot.com