Monday, November 16, 2009
Last week I attended Grandpa’s funeral. Before I write more about Grandpa, let me just say that Mormons really know how to do a funeral, and my family, in particular, REALLY knows how to do a funeral. Granted, there is a difference between a funeral for someone who died too soon and is leaving behind people who need her or him and a funeral for someone who was truly ready and looking forward to the move. But even in the case of my mother, who died too soon, the funeral was fantastic. I remember, in fact, joking in the limo that followed the hearse. We drove past a garage sale, and my mom loved garage sales. “Stop the hearse!” we yelled. “She needs to get just one more in!” Being a Mormon means that you can joke on the way to the cemetery because you fully believe that the deceased is laughing right along with you, and that she is happy to be where she is.
Anyway, as I said, my family in particular knows how to put on a funeral because when the dinner was all over and the funeral potatoes had been cleaned up (as if there were any leftovers of THOSE), we had a massive sing-in. Which is what SHOULD happen after such a happy moving day celebration, right?
Which brings me to the first thing I wanted to say about Grandpa: he left a legacy of music. All his children sing, and their children. And now, our children, too. I loved seeing my boys standing next to uncles and grandparents singing all the favorite hymns, trying to sing harmony with cousins and second cousins. I loved seeing the way music brought us all together, and how we couldn’t put Grandpa in the ground, or leave the church where we sang later, without singing the family’s favorite good night song, “Now the Day is Over.”
Besides the legacy of music that I got through Grandpa, I have specific memories of singing with Grandpa. Particularly, one afternoon when neither of us had anyplace to hurry off to, we sat on his front porch in the rockers, and he taught me a song about a bluebird. It was a duet, and I don’t think anyone had ever taught me to sing a duet with them before. I remember being so proud when I mastered my part and we sang it together. Thank you, Grandpa, for the music you gave us.
That memory on Grandpa’s front porch is one of only a handful that I have of one-on-one time with Grandpa. I didn’t have as close a relationship with him as my cousins who lived in his neighborhood or my cousins who lived out of state and got to stay with him when they visited (I am one of 38 grandchildren). But the ones I have are good, and I am very grateful, in addition, for the other legacies he left, the other ways he touched my life through what he taught his children.
One, probably the biggest, is a love of reading. I got my love of reading from both of my parents, but I got the ability to think critically about what I read from my father, who, I’m sure, got it from his father. Grandpa was a self-educated man who didn’t even finish high school, but he was reading constantly—and not just fiction but the great philosophical works of the world as well as biography, history, etc. It was an inheritance from him, I believe, that led to my receiving a copy of the Bhavagad Gita for Christmas one year from my father, which I read for maybe fifteen minutes and never opened again until I had a world religion class in college—but I was so proud to HAVE it, and loved the idea of studying it. Besides his INTEREST in ideas, I inherited his belief in the value of them, and of reading itself. Because he had a whole room dedicated to his books, and when I visited his house I needed only to stand in that room to know I had permission from God to spend hours doing what I loved more than anything—reading.
Grandpa had an amazing work ethic that his children inherited and tried to teach to their children. He also had a lack of desire for worldly things. (Granted, I can’t be sure that he had no desire for more stuff. It could be that he was just poor, which is true.) He avoided debt as much as possible. He lived in the same humble home in Rose Park all of his adult life. He paid cash for his cars. He died with no debt and with enough saved up to provide for himself and his costs. He didn’t have expensive tastes. I know I benefitted from these characteristics of his.
Finally, Grandpa had a great sense of humor. I’ll never forget his laugh, which was sometimes even a giggle. He joyed in wordplay and teasing his children and grandchildren. One running joke involved pretending that the word “six” was actually “sick,” so that whenever a grandchild or great grandchild was six years old, he would say, “How old are you?” “Six!” “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear it. I hope you get better soon.” “No, not SICK, Grandpa, SIX!” “Oh, have you seen the doctor yet?” Etc. etc. The five-year-old kids all knew it was coming and looked forward to it. Another running joke was the teasing he got for eating ketchup on his eggs. I overheard this one for the first time when I was very small. One of the uncles told Grandpa, “I knew a man who ate ketchup on his eggs, and now he’s dead.” The joke, of course, is that people die anyway, and Grandpa would go on to answer about the people who did not eat ketchup on their eggs who are now dead. But, being so young, I didn’t understand it, and was too afraid to eat the ketchup I loved on my eggs for a few years.
My favorite memory of Grandpa is from the campouts we used to have at Mantua (near Brigham City) with all of the cousins. Early in the morning we would be awakened by a tapping on the trailer canvas and hear Grandpa calling, “Rise and shine, gub-de-gub-de-gub.” Don’t know where the gub-de-gub came from, but it was Grandpa. The nonsense words were an other legacy I got from him, I realize now. My father has all sorts of made-up names for things. The first time I realized that these words were made-up and not in common parlance with the rest of America was when I was eating at a friend’s house and asked for the “glommers” (salad tongs, they informed me after they got done laughing). I don’t know if Grandpa made up that particular word of if Dad just inherited the propensity to make up words. Other made-up words include “flanger” (garage of TV remote), “chumbies” (kids), “nosser-noss” (a form of tickling with a fist twisting on an eager tummy), “getchum-get” (tickling). Not to mention shortened words for things: “ruts” (carrots), “yuns” (onions), etc.
And, of course, I inherited a legacy of activity in the church. I’m pleased as punch to have grown up a Mormon and can’t imagine life any other way. I’m absolutely convinced that this was as happy a way to live as any other way out there and better than most. I’ve never found obedience to the “rules” of membership difficult. Tithing is as easy as breathing, liquor and cigarettes have never been tempting, honesty is the natural and best way to live. My life is easier in so many ways because I was raised to live this way. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Grandpa did a lot of civic work and was a great leader in his congregations, but when it comes down to it, I think his real legacies are the people he left behind, and the people they raised, and the people they are raising, etc. I hope he is proud of how we’re turning out; I think he must be. I’m grateful for his life and what I inherited from him. Thanks, Grandpa. Happy reunion with Grandma. I’ll catch up with you a little later and we can sing about the bluebird once again.
[Grandpa in the glory days of grandparent-hood. I'm third from the right in the front.]