Thursday, July 30, 2009

Goodbye Mrs. Kramer

"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, Let us swear allegiance to a
land that's free, Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, As we raise our
voices in a solemn prayer."

(little known preamble to Irvin Berlin's God Bless America, and a favorite of Mrs. Kramer)

next-door neighbor -- Noun -- a person who lives next to another

That may be the dictionary definition of a next-door neighbor. Mine is simply two words --The Kramers.

One is only a neighbor because of proximity, and next-door because they are adjacent. Putting them together means you boast "next-door neighbor" because that means they are friends, by choice. In Philadelphia it takes on new meaning as you usually share a wall, and all the sounds that come through it. Need a can of peas for dinner, paper towels to clean...go to Kramers. They have our house key... we have theirs.

We lost my former next-door neighbor, Mrs. Kramer, last week. Always Mrs. Kramer, as my mother was always Mrs. B. to them... as a sign of respect, unlike today's 8 year olds that call you by your first name. And respected she was.

Her faith was always at the center of her life, and her imitation of Christ was as close as you'll find. She was always happy to see me and talk to me. She was always happy to see everyone and talk to everyone. When she asked you "how are you doing?", she meant it and wanted to hear all about it. How many people do you know like that today?

Before I went to India last year to visit John Deeney, SJ and the Jamshedpur Jesuits in Lupungutu I stopped by to talk to Mrs. Kramer. She had been there years ago to visit her sister who was one of the first female lawyers in Philadelphia but gave it up to join the Medical Mission Sisters. She wanted to let me know what I could expect and promised her prayers for a safe journey. This was a big deal for me because I am quite convinced that no one prayed more than Mrs. Kramer. No one. Not even the Pope. And she was busier than the Pope.

My buddy Rick Dougherty loves the saying " some people are a drain, others are a reservoir." Mrs. Kramer was the latter - big time. In today's world where people, particularly young people, can barely utter a "what's up"... Mrs. Kramer always greeted me with "hello Tommy B!", in a most melodic way. Just her "hello" could make a bad day seem better.

Her last months were spent at Jefferson Hospital's ICU. One night I visited her after work, after visiting hours (my mother always told me to walk in like you own the place and no one will stop you), and just sat by her bed and prayed. There were no religious icons in the antiseptic room, so I attached a special set of Irish connemara marble rosaries to her bedside. I was touched when I saw them on top of her coffin at her funeral mass at Our Lady of Calvary Parish. On another visit her grandson David and I were alone with her in the room. Mrs. Kramer was intubated and couldn't speak. So we all joined hands and I recited the Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph by heart, ending with "St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for Mrs. Kramer." If I read her eyes correctly she was thinking "attaboy Tommy B!".

But last week Mrs. Kramer told her daughter Nora that she spoke to the Lord and that it was time to go home. Nora mentioned that they were almost finished remodeling the rec-room to make it easier for her. She replied "no, I am going home to the Lord." And so surrounded by her children she left this earth and went back home to the Lord.

As Catholics we believe that a trip to Purgatory will be mandatory because we need "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven, by those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified." She would have been the first to tell you she was far from perfect but I am sure that Mrs. Kramer's stay was as brief as buying a SEPTA token for the El, although she probably got talking to everyone and didn't leave right away... like an typical Irish good-bye in the foyer ;-)

A Jeb once asked me what I was "doing for the kingdom, the kingdom of God on earth?" The question kind of shook me at the time because I didn't have an answer. It wouldn't have shaken the girl from Saint Joachim's and Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls (and the niece of former SJC coach Bill Ferguson). She was always doing for the kingdom. Always bringing people closer to God, with every word, every action, and every song. In fact she requested that her funeral mass take place at night, because Mrs. Kramer was all about seeing people in church, and her life was beautifully eulogized by her son Billy.

When my own mother passed away the best advice I received (mainly because it wasn't advice but a statement of fact) was from St. Joe's AD Don DiJulia who said that "no matter how old we are, no matter how old she is... we are all rookies when it comes to losing our mothers." Nothing we can do will prepare any of us for this eventuality. I was happy that Mrs. Kramer was there to sing my mother's funeral mass. After the mass was over she sang 'Danny Boy' as Mom's coffin was carried from the church. I looked up to give her a "thanks Mrs. Kramer" but she never looked down. After mass she said had she looked down she would have lost it. Then she added that it was her belief that I would get a sign from Mom that she was OK.

So sometime, someday, be ready... Billy, Eddie, Nora, Betteann, Joe, Bob, Moe and Dee.... expect a sign. Knowing your mother it will probably come in a beautiful song ;-)

So goodbye Mrs. Kramer. I for one am sad that you're gone, and will miss you, our talks, and your example of being a woman for others... but I know exactly where you are now. Enjoy your eternal reward. You deserve it. Heaven now has a new choir director!


Tommy B

Elizabeth C. Kramer, 81, chorister

By Walter F. Naedele
Inquirer Staff Writer

Elizabeth Cummins Kramer, 81, of Torresdale, choir director at Our Lady of Calvary Church in Northeast Philadelphia since 1968, died of complications from heart surgery on Thursday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Mrs. Kramer was president of the Northeast Philadelphia chapter of the American Cancer Society during the 1980s, her son Robert said, and in the mid-1980s its national office gave her its Courage Award.

Mrs. Kramer also was president of the School Crossing Guard Association of Philadelphia from 1966 to the late 1970s, and pool director at the Northeast YMCA in the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Olney and raised in Frankford, Mrs. Kramer graduated from Little Flower Catholic High School for Girls in 1946.

At a teenager during World War II, she entertained as a singer at USOs throughout the city, her son said, and from the 1960s through the 1980s, she organized variety shows and performed in them at nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Photos show that she worked with The Pastimers, a band composed of police officers.

Each year at Christmastime for the last 20 years, she organized choir visits to more than 50 homes, her son said, working from "a list provided by her pastor, for people disabled or ill."
At Our Lady of Calvary, she was the soloist at weddings and funerals since the parish was founded in 1963.

Inspired by her late sister, Sister Nancy Cummins MMS, a lawyer who became a nun with the Medical Mission Sisters in India, Mrs. Kramer housed a total of 12 foster children in the mid- to late-1980s, in stays that lasted from a week to a year. Besides her son Robert, Mrs. Kramer is survived by sons William T., Edward, and Joseph; daughters Nora, Betteann, Maureen, and Dolores Kramer; a sister; 12 grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. Her husband, William J., died in 1983.

A viewing and funeral took place yesterday. A visitation and short prayer service was set for 8 to 9 a.m. today at Our Lady of Calvary Church, 11024 Knights Rd., Philadelphia, before burial in Our Lady of Grace Cemetery, Langhorne.

Donations my be made to:
8400 Pine Road
Philadelphia, PA 19111

1 comment:

  1. Hey T,
    Loved the note on Mrs. Kramer. It was very touching. I think you missed your other calling (well, the third one after first being a priest and the second being a politician) as a writer.