Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Eulogy for Grandpa

Words can never capture the spirit or character of a person. Our memories are our richest connection to the man we all knew and loved. Even these memories, these treasured visions are difficult to convey. How can words capture the twinkle in grandpa’s eye when he was teasing grandma, that special smile when he was enjoying a conversation, or the quiet earnestness of his mealtime prayer?
I’m sure my sisters and cousins have their own dear memories of grandpa, but whenever I think of him I will always see him watering his beloved plants in the greenhouse in his customary uniform of a remarkably clean tan shirt, mesh hat, and green work pants. All of those mounds of dirt and somehow grandpa stayed relatively clean. Perhaps, if I think a while longer, I will remember the time in the van when grandma was blustering about something a lady had done which grandma seriously disagreed with. Grandpa merely smiled that mischievous smile of his and kept her blustering on with some well-timed quips like “you’re absolutely right, dear” and “the nerve of her.”

There was also an occasion where he gave me a box of redbird matches in order to burn a few items in a barrel behind the greenhouse. “Now there’s plenty of matches in here so take your time,” he advised. I was not the most pyrotechnically adept city-kid and after going through a flurry of matches that were systematically blown out by the wind, I humbly went back to him for some more matches. Grandpa seemed surprised and a little amused to see me back with an empty box. “You need to be patient and careful when you start a fire.” When I went back to the barrel I was astonished to find the fire blazing away - one of my matches had worked! When I returned to grandpa to proudly inform him that one of my matches had indeed worked, he didn’t seem as thrilled as I felt. Grandpa merely gave me a simple smile and said, “Sometimes you have to be patient.”

Grandpa was full of little bits of wisdom like that. Little things that seem so straightforward when you say them but are difficult to live. He really was a great man.

Some voices in the study of history are proponents of a theory known as the Great Man of History. Thomas Carlyle, one of these voices, once wrote “The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” According to this theory, history can be told entirely by the impact of the personal charisma and genius of well-placed historical figures. Because grandpa was not a politician, notable thinker, or revolutionary, Carlyle would not call him a “great man.” His story would never be told. Grandma would know exactly what to call Carlyle’s theory, and if you don’t know the word she’d use, you can find a layer of it on any barnyard floor.

The theory errs because it uses a superficial measurement of greatness. Grandpa may never have done anything worthy of Carlyle’s attention, but he lived his life with a genuine desire to do right and a strong love for his family, friends, church, and community. Grandpa was a great man because he was a good man. He was a great man because he loved us and lived his love. We miss him, but, perhaps if he were here, he’d smile that special smile and tell us that we just have to be patient and we’ll see him again, soon enough.

Who deh?