1. I knew my grandmother Dorothy was raised in Minnesota by Austrian immigrant parents, but I never actually had any idea how they ended up there. I sort of figured, you know, Ellis Island or whatever, like everyone else. NOPE. Her dad defected from Franz Josef’s army, y’all, and fled to Canada, and came to the U.S. from there. AND, he was way way older than Grandma’s mom when they got married, so according to my aunt there was always a question about whether he might perhaps have left a wife and family behind, somewhere on the Austro-Hungarian border, when he skipped town. SCANDAL! That might be the only thing juicier than my dad’s grandfather defaulting on a farm loan, fleeing to Oregon, and getting the Pinkerton Detectives sent after him.
2. When my oh-so-Catholic Grandma Dorothy and Grandpa Sal got married in 1947, she went to the priest beforehand to inform him that one of her bridesmaids was Jewish and would therefore not be receiving Communion. (Side note: Grandma had been given the middle name “Esther” in honor of a Jewish family friend, which I think is actually pretty progressive for an Austrian Catholic farm family in Depression-era Minnesota). But the priest’s response was “No Jews on my altar.” (I know, right? In 1947!!! Wouldn’t you think, that TWO YEARS AFTER THE END OF THE HOLOCAUST – but whatever, I could rant about that all day). He told her that her choice was unacceptable and she would need to pick somebody else.
Now, many a young Catholic bride in pre-Vatican II America would have accepted the priest’s word as law and gone off to have an awkward and hurtful conversation with her friend, and then find a backup bridesmaid who could fill the vital wedding-party requirement of believing in Jesus. Not so Dorothy Prihar, whose response, in essence, was, “Screw this guy.” Solution? Go back to priest, feign repentance, and present a “revised list” of bridesmaids where the incriminatory Jewish last name was changed (presumably to something more Catholic-sounding) – and then go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway, and to hell with you if you have a problem with it.
If I know one thing about my grandmother, it’s that she had a keen sense of hospitality. If I had to guess, I’d guess that her friend never found out about it – Grandma Dorothy would have viewed that as an egregious assault against good manners.