On Saturday my grandfather would be 100 if he were still living. I've struggled to write a fitting tribute to the man I found somewhat inscrutable when I was a child but who I came to realize understood me very well because he was the only adult in my life who suffered similar childhood losses to mine and worse. He was unschooled but one of the most intelligent men I've ever known. He loved books and the power of words as well. In the Navy he found a sense of competence and purpose and belonging, feelings I believe he had experienced all to rarely in spite of his wide range of abilities and his sincere kindness. He loved his family quietly, steadily, and sacrificially...even if it was imperfect by his own rendering...even when those he loved rejected him. When I was a young child I didn't always understand his gentle teasing (truly nothing mean-spirited) was an expression of affection. My grandmother always said he teased the ones he loved and if the day came that he stopped then I should worry. When I was older and depression stole his humor I understood what she meant. He died by his own hand just four months after my grandmother passed. He was 78. I still feel his absence but I give thanks for his presence and influence in my life. Today I share something I wrote five years ago in his memory using this poem template.
I am from Raymond
I am from the cause of a shotgun
wedding, whose parents divorced by the time he was 2, in an age and a
place where both of those things covered a child in shame.
From the boy whose mother died when he was 13 and whose stepmother drove him away from his father's house.
wanting a red-haired daughter to name for the grandmother who took him
in and taught him to sew and to cook, from naming a son for the uncle
who later took him in and taught him mechanics and how to be a man.
am from dropping out of school so he could support family during the
Depression but being a voracious reader and having more sense than many
men with PhDs.
I am from hoes and Burpee seeds, from a workshop
where every tool was shined and placed back on the peg board in its
particular outline and baby food jars of nuts, screws, nails, and bolts
were lined up and labelled in meticulous order. I am from Mason canning
jars and a stock of jellies, jams, and chow-chow. I am from a heavy
Singer sewing machine and finer embroidery than many women can produce.
I am from rounding up excess barn kittens to be drowned but naming the ones spared and sharing a sandwich with them.
am from faith that makes sacrifice, from true religion that takes care
of widows and orphans, from tear-streaked cheeks during 'How Great Thou
I am from the tiny brick house purchased for $8450 in 1946. From the
front porch with the English hapenny pressed into the wet concrete.
am from the German man who cussed a blue streak in Italian and who went
white when a ten year old granddaughter repeated the torrent of profanity. From threats
to "cloud up and rain all over you" if the kids misbehaved. From not putting
off until tomorrow what can be done today and always keeping your word.
From "If clothes make the man, I am a poor measure of a man." From wearing
uniform shirts until they were threadbare and still having a stack of 12
new shirts in the closet on the day he died even though he'd been
retired at least 10 years. From gleefully wearing a striped tie with
plaid pants to church and cutting hair crew cut short after his wife
died "because she's not here to holler at me about it" then
weeping...because she was no longer there to holler about it.
am from raucous laughter over pranks and jokes, from anonymous acts of
charitable generosity, from softly spoken words of wisdom, and from soul
I am from headstones scattered through
several cemeteries and solemn field trips to them when family lore was
handed down as we stood over the graves. I am from a yellowed love
letter with a three page poem and Western Union telegrams at the end of the
war. I am from a tattered Japanese flag that transformed a peaceful
countenance to one of rage.
I am from the man who claimed he was a
stern father who lost his temper too easily, who said he was a poor
husband who caused his wife too much sorrow, who in his last years wept
easily over what his sons had done to their wives and children.
And though my 3 cousins would not acknowledge him while he lived due to perceived slights and the bitterness of their mother,
I will stand without shame,
and proclaim with pride,