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.