Thursday, June 14, 2012

Memories, Lessons, and a Legacy

My grandfather passed away Saturday.  I knew it was coming, said my good-byes back in March.  Still, the tears sneak up on me at the oddest times and memories I haven't considered in years randomly crackle across my mind like an old film.

He was a strong man, had broad shoulders and working hands - big, heavy hands that, when laid on my shoulder as a child, made me wonder if my knees would buckle.  He wasn't effusive in his affection, yet that simple act of laying his hand on my shoulder said everything it needed to.  That he approved of me, enjoyed me, loved me.

I learned a lot from grandpa....

...that God has given us much to be thankful for...that ham and cheese sandwiches taste best on Grandpa's homemade bread, eaten in a boat, fishing pole in hand....that it's unwise to slow a 32 foot motorhome for a crow in the road....that "dingbat" can be a term of affection...that sometimes love is cloaked in gruffness.

The older I got, the more I appreciated him for the man he was, the more I was able to see through the gruff exterior to the heart underneath, the more I recognized the twinkle in his eye.  One summer when I was in junior high or high school, he injured his index finger in a table saw.  The injury made his usual activities - gardening, baking, canning - challenging, and I became his sidekick that summer.  My phone would ring early in the day and the conversation would be brief, "Wanna go for a ride?  I'll pick you up in 30 minutes."  -click-  (Grandpa didn't see a need for ending phone conversations with the expected "goodbye" and on the few occasions he did, my mom and I would bemusedly make note of it.)

He and his little terrier would pick me up and away we'd go, sometimes to Costco to buy butter and sugar, other times to go back to his place.  That summer he shared the art of making his famous peanut brittle, demonstrated that scalding tomatoes takes the skin right off, showed me how to knead and pinch and shape the perfect loaf of bread.  He told me stories of being in the war, of growing up on the farm in North Dakota.  And he taught me generosity, always making enough of whatever we were concocting to share.

Grandpa had a beautiful bass singing voice.  I loved sitting next to him in church.  It wasn't a safe position, as he would usually instigate some sort of silent game that would get us both in trouble with Grandma.  He'd poke me with his thick fingers and then feign innocence when Grandma would raise her eyebrows and whisper sternly "that's enough."  I think part of his fun was watching Grandma get riled up because when she'd look away he'd smirk, his eyes twinkling.

After I got married, Grandma and Grandpa came and visited us for a weekend.  I sat next to Grandpa in church that Sunday.  We were singing Jesus, be the Center.  The alzheimers hadn't yet come to steal his voice.  And he was harmonizing.  I can't hear that song anymore without closing my eyes and going back to that moment.  It's been twelve years, and I can still hear Grandpa's voice as clear as if it were yesterday, his rich notes filling the air around us.  This week, I've been so aware of Grandpa in Heaven, free from the clutches and bondage of that horrid disease.  But it wasn't until yesterday that something clicked, that I realized he once again is able to harmonize, to lift his voice in praise.  And that the lyrics of the song he sang those years ago have been truly fulfilled.

Jesus, be the center
Be my source, be my light, Jesus
Jesus, be the center
Be my hope, be my song, Jesus.

Be the fire in my heart
Be the wind in these sails
Be the reason that I live
Jesus, Jesus

Jesus, be my vision
Be my path, be my guide, Jesus.

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