Greta sang almost flawlessly, despite dementia. (Courtesy Michael van der Hout)
Greta sang almost flawlessly, despite dementia. (Courtesy Michael van der Hout)
Until a decade ago, the North Portland Eagles lodge held a two-day Mayfest of polka music, cabbage rolls, kolaches, flowers and a couple hundred attendees. But above all, Mayfest meant the relentless happiness of Gene Sadowsky and the Little Bohemian Band.

I recall one Mayfest session on the day after Ascension Thursday when the toe tappers shuffled into the big gray former supermarket, some wearing their dirndls or lederhosen.

Sax and clarinet player for the Sadowsky band was the polyglot Father Frank Knusel. At one point in the evening, the priest sat on his break, savoring, nibbling his meal, liking to talk, a lot, about words, in English, French, German and Dutch, sipping red wine from a plastic glass in between.

The good Father sat across from his friend Greta, a petite German senior with dyed auburn hair who held Claudette, a stuffed Easter bunny, and loved Father Frank and polkas and waltzes.

The burly Czech accordionist with the bluest eyes elbowed himself down at the table, devoured the kolache held in his claws, and washed it down with cold black coffee in a warm and perspired wind of interruption.

“Padre, did you go to Mass for Ascension Thursday yesterday?”

“I said the Mass.”

“Oh yeah. That’s right. Of course!”

“Ascension Thursday, ‘Jeudi de L Ascension,’ always falls on a Thursday, a public holiday in France.”

“Now how did they pull that off?”

“Napoleon and Pope Pius VII agreed on four religious public holidays in the concordat of 1801. Ascension Thursday was one of the four.”

“But then back to work on Friday for France, huh?”

“No, not the French. There is Le Pont de L’ Ascension, The Bridge of Ascension, that crosses over Friday and connects Thursday to the rest of the weekend.”

“So, voila, a four-day weekend.”

“Oui! And they have fowl for the Ascension. The Italians serve the food of the vine, beans and grapes, as a feast for those in heaven.”

“Wow! All we ever did in Minnesota was we all went fishing, don’t you know.”

And the burly Czech accordionist, overwhelmed by his appetite, lost interest in the subject and stood up and looked for more things to devour.

By that time, the break was up. So back on stage Father Frank lowered the microphone for Greta to sing a song with the band.

And when the band played, Greta delighted listeners in her beautiful soprano voice the circus-like waltz “Du Kannst Nicht Treu Sein” (You Can’t be True Dear), knowing every word by the heart from which she sang, reaching each note with ease, never missing a beat, incredibly in time with the music.

And the tears welled up in her big brown eyes as she lovingly looked out across the smiling faces on the crowded wooden dance floor of the lodge. She swayed to the music, singing like a songbird.

Greta always seemed happy. Bedeviled with dementia, she wasn’t quite sure just where she was that evening but would go on to do other impeccable performances at the Oaks Park Oktoberfest in those last two years of her life.

And Father Frank would play alongside her and was there to say the funeral Mass for his beloved friend “the little German angel.”

Greta came into this world on a Monday and left on a Tuesday. Although there were 81 years between the two days, life is always too short.

Thursdays of all days, Thursdays, among the first and the last of us, our Savior departed, in the wisp of a cloud as his friends stood on a hill and looked up at the sky.

Van der Hout lives in Southeast Portland and attends St. Pius X Parish and Mount Angel Abbey.