Greetings, WYMOP readers.
Some of you who follow me on Facebook are aware that my grandfather passed away recently. The following is a speech I gave at his funeral this past Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
My apologies, but some of this refers to a previous speech given by my aunt. Hopefully it still makes some sense.
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I walked around for a couple of days wondering just what I was going to write about. What was I going to say? My mind kept coming back to something I’d seen someone else write—in a Facebook post, of all things. I don’t mean to put her on the spot, but sorry, Auntie, I’m going to. The other day my aunt, Alison, wrote that her father had passed away, and that one of the titles she had in her life, that of daughter, was no longer there.
In my response to her post, I wrote that Daughter will be there until she is gone. As will father. Because relationships aren't titles, they're partnerships. You can't have one side without the other, and as long as she’s holding up her end, he's holding up his.
Part of this is self-serving: if, many years from now, my own son thinks he’s getting away with not being my son any more just because I’m gone, well, he has another think coming. He’s mine until he goes. And I am his.
And Grampy is mine, and I am his, until, many years from now, I am gone.
Because we aren’t just here. We aren’t just now. We are everything that got us to this point in time.
He is that stubborn little boy in the boat. He is that frightened young man with a gun. He is that older man who didn't understand why the world was changing, and he is that man who buried his wife and tried to figure out what the hell to do next. He is the man who never stopped being a husband even after his wife was gone, just as he hasn't stopped being a father just because he is gone. Or a grandfather, or a great grandfather, or a friend. We’re still here holding up our ends; he’s still holding up his.
I knew him my whole life. I heard stories about him my whole life. I've heard people talking about him over the past couple of days, and it seems no great stretch to say he was, for better or for worse, many different things to many different people—every partnership is different. Whatever he was to you, from friend to father, he still is. What I’d like to do now is tell you a little bit of what turned him from a grandfather into my grandfather.
First an old story. About forty years old, I think, which would make me around seven and my sister five. We were out behind my grandparents’ house in Topsfield and he was pushing her on the tire swing. Well, tire swings tend to spin, and though she was having fun for a while, that all stopped when her head swung around at the wrong time and glanced off the big old pine tree the tire was suspended from.
The screams were terrific.
Grampy didn’t panic, but worked her out of the tire, got her on the ground, and examined her head. He pronounced her fine, predicted she would have a goose-egg, and let her go—whereupon she ran weeping into the house to tell anyone who would listen that she was surely dying. Grampy and I followed along to make sure she was all right . . . and besides, at that moment I was afraid of the tire swing, so I was fine with missing my turn.
Now here’s the strange thing: as we walked after my screaming sister, my grandfather was chuckling. Chuckling. I know it sounds terrible, and to the seven-year-old me who heard it it was horrifying, but over time I came to understand it: he knew Ari was fine—and she was, if a bit lumpy—and thought she was being a little foolish. That borderline evil chuckle became known in our house as the Grampy Laugh, and I have to admit I heard it quite a few times over the years—usually preceded by the phrase “What did you do that for?” and after I’d done something he found foolish. I was a kid. I was foolish a lot.
Once I grew into adulthood, I didn’t hear that chuckle as often. As an adult it was time to put foolish things behind me. Rather than the Grampy Laugh when I did something he considered foolish or—heaven forbid—wrong, I was simply told what he thought. In no uncertain terms. At length. Possibly more than once. It was a little intimidating—more than a little, at times. If he felt strongly about something he let you know, and I think there was a lot he felt strongly about.
Which brings me to my most recent out-of-hospital visit with him.
I’m a writer, but I write horror stories, and not the kind of thing my grandfather would read. My grandmother was the artsy one, the one who would ask me about projects I was undertaking, while he stayed quiet on the subject. When she passed away I wrote about it. It wasn't anything like my other writing, but he approved. More than approved, he was proud of it, which I was pleasantly surprised by.
But still, it was very different from what I usually write. What I usually write has caused friends to question me: “Why do you write that stuff?” If my friends were questioning me, what would my grandfather think, should he ever get hold of any of my usual work? Would he think it a waste of time? Would he think it a waste of talent? I actually worried about that with all of my grandparents, but him most of all—he wasn’t the kind of man to smile and say “Oh, this is wonderful,” if he wasn’t feeling it, nor was he the kind of man to simply ignore something if he didn’t like it.
Well, I had a book come out recently—not a story in an anthology, or a magazine anywhere, but something with my name on the cover. It’s fairly obvious what it is, and what is in it . . . and it’s nothing like what I wrote about my grandmother. My mother told me that he’d read the local press release about it, and that he was proud of me for it . . . but she’s my mom, and they sometimes sugarcoat things. I knew that if he thought it foolish, or disapproved of it—thought it a waste of talent—I would hear about it the next time I saw him in person. In no uncertain terms. At length. And possibly more than once. The most I was hoping for was to not hear about it at all, because with the men in our family there seems to be a bit of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude: if everything’s okay, why even bring it up?
The next time I saw him in person was the day he came back from Florida. I came to Groveland to go to dinner with him, preparing the whole way to take a bit of unsolicited criticism about something that’s fairly important to me. I picked him up at the house and we went to the dining room at Nichols Village. We went in and sat down with a couple of his friends . . . and that old man proceeded to brag on me. He wasn’t just quietly telling me I’d done a good job, but telling me publicly and making sure I got it. It was, hands down, the nicest time I can remember spending with the man, and it was a pleasant surprise.
Did he ever read any of my work, other than the words I wrote for my grandmother? I don’t think so, no. But after hearing Nancy’s words earlier—and I did get to see her speech yesterday—I’d like to give you a quote from John Irving, an author I think Grampy probably did read. In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the character Owen says “If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” From what Nancy said about him, and his life, I think he tried very hard to do just that, but found it wasn’t possible for him. I kind of think that he saw my writing—no matter what it was, and whether he understood it or not—the way I do: as my own little way of doing just that.
And he approved.
And that’s a little bit of what got me here, and him here. That’s just a little bit of what made him not just a grandfather, but my grandfather. He may be gone, but I am here, and I still have those things that got us here. I’m holding up my end. Was he an easy man? Nope. But he’ll be my grandfather, and I’ll be his grandson, until, many years from now, I am gone.
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Talk to you later.