By John Rieping | All rights reserved | Published 18 January 2013 in The Madera Tribune
Days arise upon which our personal existences depend. Our birthdays are an obvious example. In my case, today is another. Forty-nine years ago my parents Joseph and Theresa (“Terri”) wed.
From their blessed union, three sons, a daughter, and I would be conceived in the following decade.
In Jan. 2009, I spoke with my parents about how they found each other, which apparently was at a regular Catholic young adult gathering across the street from St. John’s Cathedral in Fresno, California, around Nov. 1962.
“That was officially where I had enough nerve to approach her (and ask), ‘Didn’t I see you? We met before’,” my father recalled, “She probably thought that was a lot of…”
“The usual line,” my mother said.
By then my 26-year-old dad, an immigrant from Germany, had already become very impressed by those of Mexican ancestry in California.
“Because they’re different,” my mom said with a laugh.
“Some of them have a very pronounced (Christian) faith,” explained my dad.
Yet he wasn’t lying about having seen her before. He had witnessed my mom, a Mexican folkloric dancer, perform with her troupe at a charitable benefit in Sanger.
“The truth is I had been talked into going to a $25-a-plate dinner,” he said. “I think my uncle had been approached by the church… He said (to me), ‘If you go to that fundraiser… I’ll pay half the ticket.’”
At the time, my dad only earned $350 a month, so the offer was attractive. But the expense wasn’t his biggest concern.
“The trouble was I didn’t know too many people there… Am I going to sit like a wallflower just looking around?” he remembered.
It turned out that keeping one’s eyes open wasn’t so terrible.
“Then I saw her… She had a beautiful dress. She had made it all herself. (It had) a Mexican eagle (made of sequins) in front (of its long black skirt)… She left a big impression on me.”
So he spoke to her at the young adult gathering in Fresno and her initial skepticism faded when he mentioned details of the Sanger fundraiser.
They talked and went out a few times, but for my mom it wasn’t love at first sight… or even the second or third one.
“Later on when I sent her a St. Valentine’s Day card she finally realized what my name was,” he said with a grin. “She got tired of asking… She (had) never caught on to the name.”
Rieping is admittedly a rare name in California.
“Leaping. That’s what I kept hearing. Joe Leaping,” my mom said.
“I didn’t roll the R” like she expected, my dad said.
But my dad persevered.
“She was very conservative. She wasn’t outgoing,” my dad said. “But the more she held back the more I went for her. Because I’d always asked the Lord (God) to send me a Catholic girl who was more into religion than I was.”
With a smile, he explained, “That way she could raise the kids Catholic and I don’t have to worry about it.”
Ultimately he wouldn’t be spared such efforts. Over the years she helped fan the flames of his own Christian faith.
Around April 18, 1963, they would celebrate her brother Joseph’s birthday and, after three or four months of dating, my mom reciprocated my dad’s open affection.
“When I took her home that evening… she finally said, ‘I love you, Joseph.’ Boy, I was shaking. I was shook to pieces.”
Hearing my dad’s recollection, my mom laughed.
Less than a year later, their mutual confessions of love would become a public vow to which they ever struggled, when necessary, to remain faithful.
One day my dad learned to his dismay of my mom’s perpetual prayer to be poor. She saw the spiritual benefits of poverty as far outweighing anything material success could offer. Now she suffers the poverty of Alzheimer’s disease. But with her loving husband beside her she is truly rich.
“I think the world today is upside down,” missionary sister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mother Teresa said. “Everybody seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater development and greater riches and so on. There is much suffering because there is so very little love in homes and in family life. We have no time for our children; we have no time for each other; there is no time to enjoy each other. In the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.”
Yet in loving homes lie seeds of hope.