What I would have said at the funeral.
May 24, 2011 7 Comments
Its hard sometimes to say goodbye to the people we love, especially when we knew we loved them but had spent so much of our lives never truly understanding why.
When I was a little boy I saw them maybe once or twice a year if I was lucky. I knew they loved me. They would ask for hugs and let me kiss them on the cheek and ask how I was doing with genuine concern. I loved them, but too often as a child I thought of them as permanent anchors to North Carolina that would always bring me back for a family reunion or for a quick visit to see my beloved cousins. I never understood what was really going on whenever we’d make a trip down to North Carolina.
But Even though I was young I remember being proud of my grandparents. There was some sense of unspoken pride that followed them wherever they went. Even if you didn’t know why, you knew when someone came to them and shook their hand they did so taking the same honor and pleasure in it as any man locking hands with the President and the First Lady.
I remember lifting bricks with granddaddy only a few years before his funeral and swearing that he was far stronger than I. I remember joking about him bing the brickinator, because you could watch him spot the imperfections in a building from pretty far away. I remember heading off to college for the first time in my life and my most prized possession was a gallon jug of grandma’s famous iced tea. I remember watching a woman that was, for as long as I can remember, nothing more than skin and bones cook for dozens of hungry boys who would then travel to school and cook again for hundreds (if not thousands) of students who loved her almost as much as me. To this day I wonder how in the hell they provide for my mother and so many of my uncle’s and aunts. As I reminisce, it became more apparent to me why I never thought they would go away. It seemed like nothing could stop them!
But I remember the first time those two towering pillars of power became mere mortals. It was when granddaddy lost his leg. He cried a lot after that day, and it was always something jarring to the soul to see. My most vivid memory was seeing Granddaddy cry on that bed, wishing Grandma would live to see another birthday. I looked over to her and her back was bent impossibly to the point where she could barely breath. I remember my aunts rushing to find special bent eating utensils to place in her shaking arthritic hands. It was at that very moment I realized my time with them was limited as it is with all people.
I knew at that moment my kids would never meet their great granddad like my niece and nephew were able to. I knew like my mother and father’s grandparents before them, they would vanish into fantastic tales of people with near mythical strength that live on only in legend. But I didn’t have many stories to tell my children. I had barely remembered the names of my own aunts and uncles in full health, let alone the adventures of my grandparents in days when they could do more than I had been alive to see.
So I listened to them as best as I could. I will admit I did not take advantage of the wealth of knowledge their years of experience could have afforded me, I will have to live with that, but if for even a little while my ears were open and they spoke out to me. I spent time granddaddy and heard his experiences in the war and listened to him sing the french national anthem. Although i am ashamed to admit it, I denied my own mother a mothers Day card so I could present one to my grandmother, and seeing the smile on her face as I read it was something that does not compare. My grandmother was even wise enough to realize the switch and mailed the letter back to my mother so they could both share in that joy.
My brother was smart enough to record every conversation with them that he could and I hope one day my kids can look upon that footage and see more than a legend, I hope they can see two beautiful strong people that changed the face of this planet, that built a town, and a generation both figuratively and literally.
It is hard to define how they have changed my life, especially because I am only truly aware of it now that they are gone. They have always affected this change in me, which makes it hard to define myself without them. And although I cannot honor my Grandmother’s memory at her funeral or place flowers on my Grandfather’s grave I hope it will suffice that I carry them with me. That I hold everything they taught and showed me as a living memoriam to their persistence and preserverance. I do this in hopes that my niece, nephew, cousins, second cousins, future third cousins, children, grand children and great grandchildren might one day look to me as such a strong and powerful rock. Maybe one day, when I die they’ll sit down and reflect on all I tried to teach and show them and maybe I can ascend like my grandparents and become a towering testament to what people can truly become.