I can’t believe it’s been a week. A week. Time goes so fast, or slow, or fast again, depending on how you look at it, and how you feel. To me, and in talking to Mom, to her as well, it seems as if the last week has stretched out creating the illusion that oh so much more time has actually passed than has. Yet all in slow motion… stretching. It’s strange.
It’s strange what emotions do to you. Sad ones anyway. A week ago today Mom called me early early in the morning to say her husband, Don, has died suddenly, and what everyone believes is pretty peacefully, in his sleep. She woke to strange breaths, tried to wake him, called 911, did chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, and watched as they worked on him both here at the house and then again at the hospital. He couldn’t be revived. She was sitting with him when she started making calls.
I couldn’t believe it early that morning and still I don’t know if I can believe it. I was just here visiting a month and a half ago. Just here at the house hanging out with them. Here chatting with him, loving that occasional mischievous grin he’d get sometimes when he thought he was pulling one over or getting your goat a bit. I really liked that grin. I really liked how he made my Mom happy. Gardening, traveling, spending time with family, trying new Vegan recipes together, reading the paper over good espresso in the morning, and watching the news at night.
Don was a passionate man. Passionate about seeing and exploring the world, passionate about his grandkids and kids, passionate about my Mom and their life here on the farm. He loved trying new gardening techniques and recipes and finding just the right mix to make a suet the birds would like and eat, mixing it up in big batches and devising a plan of delivery so the bigger scrub birds couldn’t get it all.
Sitting here helping Mom go through some of his papers I discovered he was a bit of a poet and philosopher at heart, eloquent when he wanted to be in writing his thoughts down. Snippets here and there of things he’d experienced while traveling, feelings he’d had as kept moving forward through life.
He was an amazing guy, and though I didn’t know him nearly long enough, or know him as well as I would’ve liked, I really only need to know this… he loved my Mom well, he loved his children, and he adored his grandchildren. He had friends he cared about and who care about him. He knew what life is all about. He lived his life using that as his guide… it’s about the people you love and who love you. And because he lived his life that way, because he knew it was all about loving his people and them loving him, he made such and impact on those people… he made an impact on me. I can see him in the beauty of his grandchildren, in their smiles, their sense of fun, in their determination. I can see him in his children, how they are as parents, who they are as people. His legacy is vast and far reaching. His memory, his impact on everyone, so lasting and strong.
Don… you loved well… and you are so well loved…
And if you can hear this… hear me… I hope the fish are bitin’ where you are, and I hope they look out because Fly Fish Don is coming.
I’m so fortunate. I have always known this somehow, even though I’m no stranger to trouble and obstacle and death and sickness. I’ve known it. I’ve also been lucky to somehow always have known the things that are most important in life. Which again I will say are the people you love and who love you back. That and all things gadgety. Well, maybe not really, but I love gadgets and was attempting humor.
Anyway… I’m fortunate to know these things, but then I experience something like I did this past weekend at Grandpa’s memorial service and I not only feel that fortune magnified, but I’m humbled by the enormity of it.
There we all were, family, friends, friends of Grandpa, and former students and teachers of Grandpa’s. The later groups, the former students and teachers, surprised us all. The surprise was not that they were there so much as what they said. It was humbling to know that Grandpa, who we as family already knew was stellar in his role as father and grandfather, was also stellar in his role as friend and educator, as boss and mentor.
The memorial started and we were sitting up toward the front. All of the family was around us, tables filled. I hadn’t looked behind me until it came time to pass the microphone around and offer people a moment to share their thoughts and feelings about Grandpa. We’d already had the siblings, his children, each offer their memories. We’d had a couple of musical selections. We’d listened to the words of some of his grandchildren. All fine and lovely and heart felt. All fueled by the deep love and admiration we all share. But then… then the time came for others present to offer anything they wanted about him. I turned around to look and listen, totally surprised by the number of people there. There were a lot of them, and offer they did.
From the man (and forgive me for not remembering their names) who talked about being a terrible student until he had my Grandpa as a teacher for the 5th and 7th grade and how he learned lessons from him in confidence and how to be a better boy, and therefore man, to the man who said he’s known two great men, his father and my Grandpa, and how he named one of his son’s after Grandpa. This man a student of his so long ago. There were stories of him as mentor to new teachers, a friend when he worked as an accountant before he was a teacher, as principal and in his role as assistant superintendent of public schools. Story after story of his heart, his integrity, his willingness to be a friend, and to help someone out. Stories about the quiet unflinching discipline that made people want to be better, to do better. Stories of his honesty, his being quiet and gentle, of him as a man of high expectations and a big heart. Stories of how people in his work life knew the most important thing to him was his family. I was, as I think we all were, floored by the outpouring. Person after person stood. It went on for a while. And as it did I think my heart actually grew. Swelling with the emotion of it, the wave. Swelling with pride.
It’s not that I was surprised by it, it’s just that my experience of Grandpa was/is as a member of his family. My time with him was always family time. He never spoke of his work. I mean, never. Not to me. The closest I ever got to that was occasionally hearing he and Grandma discuss something or another about his work when he was assistant superintendent and that was always fleeting. Grandma bringing something up, asking a question, Grandpa answering, and then moving on to being with us. Attention on us. Attention on his family. So I never thought of him really as a working guy, which of course he was. And when people starting standing up, starting talking about him, bells went off inside, along with a swell of pride. Because, of course, he was the same man everywhere he went. And because he was the same man, he had the same effects on kids he taught in school, kids he had to discipline in school, people he hired and mentored as teachers, friends he made along the way. He was the same man everywhere he went, and being that man, he touched so many lives, more than I imagined.
I sat there, tears coming down, feeling an overwhelming sense of him, as a whole man, and along with that feeling an intense sense of honor and pride at being his granddaughter and all that entails. We have a legacy. This beautiful amazing legacy left to us by both our Grandpa and our Grandma. It’s such a privilege to be a part of that legacy, to be a part of this family, and also such a responsibility. We must use those lessons taught to us so well. We must honor his memory, and the memory of our Grandma, by being the best people we can. By living the best lives we can. We must continue to put out that energy of acceptance, warmth, laughter, expectation, guidance, heart, adventure, good will, integrity, humor, and abiding love of life and family. We must. It would be his wish, his expectation, and that expectation is strong, still. He and Grandma would want us to continue on with love of life, love of family. And, they would be, and I feel are, proud of us. Proud of the people we are. The people they made of us. Just as we, to the last of us, are oh so proud to be Grandpa and Grandma’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.
I am proud, and honored, to be their granddaughter. More than I can articulate adequately here. There really aren’t enough words to describe it. And maybe that’s OK. Maybe my Uncle Tom’s words, said at our family gathering after the memorial, say it all, “My Dad is a rock star”. And yes, yes he was, and still is to all of us.
Families have many stories. One of ours involves a man named Legson Kayira. Giving Legson a home during the 60′s is something my family is proud of, and should be. They took him in, which was probably not really as easy as they let on, and then proceeded to make a life long connection with him. In fact, during my mom’s wedding last summer one of the events we have pictures of was a phone call to London, where Legson and his wife have lived for several years. In the photos my mom and all of her siblings who were present are lined up along the side of the house talking on the phone, or waiting to talk on the phone, to Legson.
Today I was looking around for info on Legson Kayira because, I think, I’m facinated by the story of a man who would walk across Africa to get an American education, and I’m proud of the part my family played in his journey. Legson later wrote a book called “I Will Try” about his experience and has written others since. My grandparents had a copy of that book and I remember as a young child being told the story of Legson’s journey and how he stayed with my family (grandparents, mom, and her siblings) after arriving in the states, during the time he attended Skagit Valley College. At the time several articles were written about his journey and experience and during my search I happened to find the article from Time Magazine called Destination: Skagit Valley. Amazing what can be found online. My favorite part of this particular article, of course, is the quote by my grandmother. It’s classic Martha. As for our family’s part of the story, it’s classic for them. They took in a man who valued education because they could appreciate that aim, and because they felt they had something to offer him, which, for my part, I can testify to. It’s an amazing family, who has, throughout the years, touched many lives in such a postive and great way. They’ve left, and are still leaving, an incredible legacy, of which Legson Kayira is a small, yet amazing part.