REAGANTOWN, Pa. -- On Monday, one of my uncles, one of my cousins, my brother, my father and I were five of the six men who carried my grandfatherís coffin to its final resting place.
Shouldering him over the hard Pennsylvania earth was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.
The act of putting down in words the events of the past four days, and the toll they have taken on me, is almost as difficult. But I hope and pray that as I do so, it will provide me with both closure and strength: the type of closure and the strength I eventually gained after the loss of my fatherís mother some years ago, and which I now need to deal with losing my motherís father.
Itís impossible, of course, to sum up my grandfatherís life and what he meant to me in even a long essay. I could post the obituary, but that would not begin to do justice to him; death notices are not designed to do such things. But I can write about his life and what he taught me, and pray that God gives me the capability to write what should be written.
My grandfather was 83 years old; born on March 14, 1920; died on July 4, 2003. In a way, now that I think about it, it was fitting that he died on the Fourth. He was not a rich American or a famous American, but he was a good American. It wasnít merely that he paid his taxes and voted: he had an American character. He worked like an ox and gave of himself to others. He never complained a bit about the lot he drew in life; instead, he worked harder to achieve his dreams. I donít know if he fulfilled all of the dreams he had in life, but had you met him, you never would have been able to tell whether he had or not. He had his home and his family, and his garden, and I do think he was happy.
During the funeral on Monday morning, my mother spoke about the legacies that my grandfather had given her. How she was able to say all those wonderful things during that sad hour will always amaze me, just for the sheer strength it must have taken. She said many of the same things I wanted to say if only I could have mustered the will to do so. After she spoke, though, I felt as if I didnít need to say anything. Her words were far superior to anything I could have said then, or anything that I write now.
So, Mom, I hope that you wonít mind if I borrow one point from those that you mentioned: namely, my grandfatherís Legacy of Faith.
I do not think that I have known any man who had a stronger faith in God than my grandfather, nor any man who did as well practicing that faith without fail in his daily life. It was always something I found special, but in the past few years I realized just how inspiring and special that was. And it was his example above all that I have tried to emulate in my own adult life.
My grandfather was baptized a Methodist on the same day as my mother was, and in that same plain Methodist church where his funeral was held. I donít think he ever lost sight of those original teachings; teachings that the Methodist Church once held very dear.
For me, that explained a lot about why he never drank and never cursed; why he had perfect attendance at the churchís Sunday School program for at least sixteen years, and why he served in leadership roles at that church for much longer than that. And I do think that if the Methodist Church had held the line the way my grandfather had held it, I never would have left it.
But my point is not to focus on doctrinal issues. It is, rather, to try to show how devout a person my grandfather was. For if the end result of Christianity is, as the old saying goes, to lead men from wretchedness into happiness, then there was no better example of that in my life than my grandfather. He never had an easy life, and he only earned what he did through sweat and toil and aggravation. Lesser men, I think, would have abandoned their faith or complained mightily about the injustice of their situation; but my grandfather never complained. He bore his cross as was his duty, and he did it with style and class and with his sense of humor intact. I can only pray that, when hard times come in my life, I will be able to do the same.
You should also know that my grandfather was truly a modest and humble man, not merely in his own countenance but in how he lived his daily life. You could not help but notice that if you were you to walk into his Connellsville home, the home where my grandmother lives still. It has everything that one might need, and it is a cozy and quiet place. But it is almost as if it comes from a different era, and I have to think that was how they wanted it.
On Sunday, when our family took a break from calling hours at the funeral home, we came back to that house and shared a meal. We talked for a bit but largely ate in silence, and some of us in that family room where he spent so many of his days. No one sat in my grandfatherís favorite recliner, a recliner which, if I had to guess, is at least 30 years old.
Later, as my grandmother was standing over it, she remarked that she had once suggested that my grandfather purchase a new recliner, as the present model was shabby. My grandfather would have none of this, for as he noted at the time, the old recliner worked fine.
I donít know if I would go thirty years before I replace my own favorite recliner, but I do think that instance was a small lesson that one ought to be thankful and satisfied with what one has in life. That doesnít mean that one shouldnít work hard, or refuse to change; but rather that one ought not focus on material things compared to other things in life.
God knows I have often failed in putting that and other of his lessons into practice, but I can hope I someday gain the strength and insight to finally learn what my grandfather and so many of those close to me have figured out.
July 6 Ė July 8, 2003