Grace Osterbauer was a 24-year-old bride-to-be when she took her first cake-decorating class, and the impulse compelling the Texas beauty to make that $35 investment remains today, now a 40-year-old mother of eight.
“I wanted to make the Catholic events of our lives super special,” she said.
Grace and her husband, Paul, are both frugal, raised in homes where “celebrating was minimal,” she says. There’s a widely circulated story in Paul’s family about a grandpa who didn’t want to light the candles at his daughter’s wedding reception until she and the groom arrived, hesitating to burn them longer than necessary, a Great-Depression mentality he couldn’t shake.
An exasperated protest from the groom’s mother became a punch line and a call to action: “Light the candles!”
Some occasions warrant celebration, even if it costs a bit more, like the Costco bottled root beer Grace splurged on for her son’s First Communion party, which made for a nice decorative touch and well-received root-beer floats.
She has filled a hutch with merry-making contents: crystal glassware, gold candlesticks, festive tablecloths, hand-cut banners, pedestal cake stands. And for the past six years, the homeschooling mama has made a business of sweetening others’ celebrations, taking orders for customized sugar cookies that mark baptisms and birthdays, First Communions and confirmations, graduations, promotions and retirements.
She waits until the kids are in bed to whip up her royal icing and retrieve her piping tips, squeezing out scallops as her iPad sounds a mix of Dixie Chicks and Bob Marley.
“It may be just a cookie,” Grace said, “but it can help people realize how special they are. It makes them feel worth and love.”
I’ve been collecting stories of Catholics like Grace, people who make a point to celebrate blessings in their lives – both the neon and the pastel.
I spoke to Greg Arrigoni, a certified balloon artist who first developed an understanding of “sharing and caring” as a boy at Sacred Heart parish, where he and his dad brewed huge pots of coffee for social gatherings. By 22 Greg was dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas. His grandma bought the most expensive white fur at the fabric store – $15 a yard – and made the Santa suit he still wears today, 37 years later.
The balloon art came about in response to an annual tradition at a Mississippi River marina: to share a bottle of champagne each spring when your boat is launched. One year Greg decided to up the ante, surprising fellow boaters by filling his houseboat with balloons and releasing them at the river. There was something about balloons – bright, cheery and nostalgic – that kept beckoning to Greg. Soon he was buying them in wholesale and flipping through the pages of a magazine called Balloon Images, astounded by the intricate creations.
“I had to be part of this,” said Greg, who has since created the world’s largest balloon arch, the product of 65 helium tanks and 140,004 three-foot balloons.
Despite its reputation for deprivation, our Catholic faith is a celebratory one. We are drawn into thanksgiving with incense and bells, candles and wine. We mark feast days and holy days. We celebrate the Mass.
Every act of celebration, however simple, can be a spiritual exercise, affirming life and honoring the Creator. When we pause and applaud the occasions that have meaning but no traditional link to invitations or toasts – the creation of a Bible study, the loss of five pounds, the mastery of a junk drawer – our hearts expand. We can catch a whiff of heaven, a world that is whole, healed and joyous, where the celebration never ends.
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and editor of SisterStory.org, the official website of National Catholic Sisters Week.