Today, in just a couple of hours, there will be a service to celebrate the life of my maternal grandfather, who went home to be with the Lord early Monday morning. Anytime a loved one passes away it is normal to reflect on favorite memories.
When I reflect on my favorite memories of Grandpa there are quite a few. I can remember as a very young boy going with Grandma and Grandpa to the mountain property that they had, where the only housing was a tent. I remember the trips up and back more than the actual time there, playing in the back seat and on the floor of the blue truck–when the wearing of seat belts wasn’t enforced. Many of my fondest memories with Grandpa took place in West Virginia, at Holly River State Park. Our annual week-long trips to Holly River are among the highlights of my childhood, and Holly River remains one of my “happy places.” More than any specific thing Grandpa did on those trips, I remember the freedom my brother Phillip and I were given to explore on our own. Though probably not literally, it felt to young boys like we had free reign of the entire park! Playing in the creek, swimming in the always-too-cold pool and playing softball; feeding the trout, going on hayrides, and walking to the commissary. I do remember the hikes we would take with Grandma and Grandpa, and I remember Grandpa would always turn the flashlight off on the way back from late-night activities at the pavilion and it would be pitch black along the road. Before long, the flashlight would come on again, from under Grandpa’s face, shining up to illuminate his smile.
Grandpa’s long hours building the “cabin” in the backyard of the home we lived in from the time I was 5 until I was 13 cannot be forgotten. I think that will likely go down in history as the most soundly-built “playhouse” any children ever had! And who can forget Grandpa giving Dr. Pepper to our German shepherd, Sampson? By the way, every time I drink soda from a bottle—glass or plastic—I have to blow across the top of the bottle and get a few “toots” just for Grandpa. I suspect I will do that for the rest of my life.
I think more than anything else I loved to listen to Grandpa tell stories. It seemed this happened most often at the table, after a meal or during “treat,” (late-night dessert, which almost always included ice cream!) and I could listen to Grandpa’s stories as long as he wanted to tell them. Most of the stories were of his own escapades, but he seemed to tell stories of his friend Kramer with just as much enthusiasm. I think if I had one wish it would be that we had recorded Grandpa telling some of his best stories. He always got so tickled with the stories himself you couldn’t help but laugh along with him. I imagine none of us will ever forget many of his tales, and I suspect many of them will live on for at least another generation or two, as my generation recalls these stories with one another and with our children.
Interestingly, I still remember the time when we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa when I was in college, and realizing that Grandpa now talked to me like an adult. That was a special feeling. I was not blessed with Grandpa’s gifts of mathematical and scientific knowledge or hands-on talent; I think Phillip got those genes. But it always fascinated me that Grandpa had worked on the Pioneer Venus satellite, and it amazed me to watch how he would figure things out and design systems probably few other people would understand. I also remember sitting on the floor by the kitchen telephone in Minnesota when I was in high school, listening to Grandpa trying to explain my Algebra homework to me from half a country away.
I think there was only one time I had the opportunity to be in Grandpa’s Sunday school class, but it was a pleasure to see the painstaking detail that went into his many charts, and to hear the understanding that he had of Scripture. His example of consistently reading through the Bible each year is something for which I am also grateful.
As I write this, trying to think of what to share, I find my mind filled with lots of memories…far too many to share. I know all of Grandpa’s grandchildren loved him very much, and we all know he loved us, too. We are all blessed with many happy memories of Grandpa…memories we will never forget.
I do not recall having very many conversations with Grandpa on the telephone, but I do remember my last one, shortly after he returned home from the hospital this past fall. We talked briefly about him and how he was feeling, but then he wanted to know about our new home, my new job, and the terrain of South Dakota. It was clear that he was at peace with whatever the Lord’s will was for his health and life. I will miss Grandpa, and I wish I could have seen him again before he went home, but I am grateful for the knowledge that he is in heaven, completely healthy. I know I will see him again someday. I remember that every time Grandpa prayed, he would always say, “And thank you most of all for the Lord Jesus our Savior.” This Christmas, he is in the presence of our Savior, thanking Him face to face.