My last living Grandpa died last week. This is the talk I gave at his funeral:
I’d like to share with you today my thoughts and memories of my Grandpa. That’s how I always think of him, as Grandpa. I always think of him this way because he was an excellent Grandpa, and that’s because he did Grandpa things: He took us to Liberty Park, and let us ride on the Ferris wheel, the merry go round and the “big whip,” which was his word for the tilt-a-whirl. He had his own words for lots of things. Ice cream bars with chocolate on them were “milk nickels” no matter what the box said. He took us to the park to play, to fly kites and throw a boomerang that I was fascinated with. He took us fishing and hiking. He spent time with us. We stayed over at his house on weekends. He took us to do things all together and one on one. He taught us things that grandpas teach, like:
How to untangle a fishing line,
How to feed a goat at the petting zoo,
How to hold a fish up for a picture by sticking your finger through its gills (which we would never do),
How to get rid of a tick by sticking a hot pin on its butt,
How to get a hook out of a fish’s mouth, and
How to safely load and shoot and clean a rifle.
When I was 12, Grandpa bought me my first gun, a Winchester .22 caliber rifle that I treasure to this day, mostly because it reminds me strongly of him whenever I see it or handle it. Grandpa was not the type of person to buy you a present like that and just hand it to you at a party with a ribbon around it. My .22 came with a series of very stern lessons about gun safety and responsibility. I remember going to the gun range (there were two different ranges we would go to over the years) and having long discussions about safety and responsibility before I was ever allowed to touch the gun. Grandpa would show me, with meticulous demonstrations, how to load the gun, how to fire it and how to clean it and then insist that I do it myself with him watching and correcting me. He insisted that when he or anyone else was out on the range setting targets, not only must the gun have its safety on, it must be placed on the sighting table in a certain position and no person may be within ten feet of it. Safety and responsibility were watchwords for grandpa. He taught me to shoot his 30.06 by centering the target and squeezing the trigger just a little tighter every few seconds, so that even I didn’t know when the gun would go off. When it finally did go off, it knocked me down, but because of his instruction I found I had hit the target dead center.
He had many stories of the consequences of a failure to follow safety rules. With the number of times he told me stories of boys shooting themselves or each other with guns; it was a little surprising I ever had the guts to shoot a gun at all. He also had stories about the failure to properly maintain one’s possessions. To this day, if I don’t quickly clean a gun after I am finished shooting it, I have terrible visions of the horrible pitting and corrosion that is taking place in the barrel and the chamber. He rarely ever had to replace anything he ever purchased, including his shoes. It was his firm belief that, once purchased, anything could and, if properly maintained and cared for, would last forever. This is why we sometimes saw my grandpa wearing styles of clothing that were, strictly speaking, around thirty or so years out of date; and shoes that were held together by duct tape. To his mind, they were in perfectly good working order and there was no reason to replace them.
He applied the same ethic to his body and was extremely devout about exercising every day long before it became a fad. He used to tell me stories of playing football and basketball as a young man and riding horses and bulls in rodeos. When he was in the army, he worked out an exercise routine using his shoes as weights and involving running in place and doing jumping jacks and push-ups. He went through this routine religiously for most of his life and would jog or walk around the park often as well. Grandpa was always very fit and healthy and I’m certain that his devotion to exercise was one of the principal reasons for his good health and long life.
Grandpa believed in hard work. He worked hard on his family farm even as a child. As an adult, his work was driving a bus for Trailways. He drove to Kanab and Monticello for 32 years and took his job very seriously. I don’t think there was a single year in all of those 32 years that he didn’t win the company’s highest safety award. He always bragged that he never had an accident and never had a traffic citation, whether in his bus or his personal vehicle. I once saw him get pulled over by a police officer, and I’m still not sure why the officer pulled him over, because grandpa never allowed the officer to even suggest for one second that he could have been driving over the speed limit. The officer eventually went away, agreeing that this could not possibly have been the case.
Grandpa’s homes in Salt Lake and in Monticello or Kanab always had a large sign that read: Day Sleeper, Do Not Knock. I used to imagine the vast numbers of people who wanted to stop by and visit grandpa or sell him something but whom, after reading that sign, dared not knock on his door, but instead turned and tiptoed away, leaving him to sleep in peace.
Once, when I was about ten, I travelled with Grandpa to Monticello on his bus and stayed with him there for the weekend while he waited to make his return trip. On the bus trip south to Monticello, I slept on the bus, on the seat right behind his. We got to Monticello early the next morning while it was still dark, and went straight to bed. I slept for a couple more hours, but soon woke up at what was still an early hour and wanted to go exploring. I got dressed and went to find grandpa, but he was still asleep, not having had the benefit of sleeping on the bus, as I had. I decided to go exploring on my own, and walked out the front door, which I immediately discovered had locked behind me. I explored the neighborhood a little and then returned to the door and read the sign: “Day Sleeper, Do Not Knock.” After thinking about it for a while, I decided I couldn’t violate the clear message of that sign, so I walked around the house to see if I could find another way in. Of course, Grandpa was not the sort of person who would leave a back door unlocked, so, after investigating all the possibilities, I sat down outside the front door to figure out what to do. Some time passed, and Grandpa must have heard me, or just came to check on me, because suddenly he jerked the door open, obviously wondering where in the world I was. When I told him what I was doing, he didn’t get angry at losing his well-earned sleep, or at my causing him a heart attack when he found me missing, he just laughed and made breakfast and then took me exploring in the red-rock country of Southern Utah. He was always a very good traveling companion.
Now, Grandpa has embarked on a different journey, and though none of us can make the journey with him, we can be sure that the qualities he exemplified in his life will stand him in good stead where he is headed. The Lord now has a good hard worker, a steady, safe, and responsible man who’s ready to teach with a story or pitch in with a strong hand where it’s needed. We miss him here, but we know he’s needed there.
One of my favorite Robert Frost poems is called “Reluctance.” It goes like this:
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended. The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season
It’s with reluctance that we find ourselves at the end of our time with Grandpa, but we know we’ll see him again, and he’ll be fit and healthy again then and have new stories and new things to teach us. Good bye until then Grandpa.
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