Writing My Grandfather’s Eulogy

Grandpa. Grandpa.

Are you there, Grandpa?

The rain has stopped. The sun is shining. The lake is full and the fish are biting. It will be fall soon and the pheasants will be flying. The old car needs fixed and I could use an extra hand. The Huskers have a big season ahead; hope the defense holds. Grandma has dinner ready; the kids need their hands cleaned. Oh, Grandpa, where have you gone?

I wonder if the big yellow house will miss Grandpa. The screen door – the one that banged shut before sunrise when he went to warm the truck and load the dogs. The picnic table where he cleaned the fish – where us little ones squealed and giggled and poked at the slimy flopping things. Even if Mom didn’t want us smelling like fish, Grandpa didn’t mind.

I wonder if the lake will miss him – the rocks on the dam where the walleye would spawn; the beach; the marina; the old boat ramp and the cracks in the concrete there. The spillway and the old river road – the place by the river where he’d drop us and we’d walk for ducks. I wonder if the ducks will miss our Grandpa.

I wonder if the roads will miss him – the snow-covered roads on Opening Day. Remember when he said Dad had the sharpest eyes ever? When he said you were faster than a pheasant? We were beaming. And then we’d walk the big fields – we’d walk with grass over our heads – and at the end there he’d be, waiting for us … waiting for us to scare the birds to him. Grandpa was much smarter than us.

I wonder if the Oil Patch will miss Grandpa – the smell of oil and the black on his hands. The brush-covered pipes where rabbits ran. The gravel where we’d park after a long walk and eat the sandwiches Grandma had made. We took pictures there and football games were on the radio. Now I wonder if we will ever see that place again.

I wonder if the big dining room table will miss him – where we sat when we got too big for the kids’ table. Where he joked and our uncles laughed and our mothers just shook their heads in embarrassment. The cards we played; the games we played. Thanksgiving, Christmas – “Here, Grandpa, I saved you a seat next to me!”

Oh, Grandpa. Your grandchildren will miss you. You were the best kind of grandpa – the kind of grandpa that gave us hats. “You can’t be a good fisherman without a good hat,” you’d say. And so we’d put on the old, grease-covered hat you gave us, we would smile, and you would grin, and then we’d go fishing.

Oh, Grandpa. Mom and Dad will miss you. They will miss you so much that it makes them cry. And we don’t know what to tell Mom and Dad. We don’t know what to say. Oh, Grandpa, where have you gone?

If you head south out of Trenton, take a turn off the highway, and get lost on back roads, eventually you will come to a place where there is nothing but empty sky. If you go in December, it will be cold, so you’ll want to dress warm — good boots, gloves, and layer upon layer — so you won’t shiver when you leave your car and begin to walk. There will be the crunch of ice and frozen dirt beneath your feet, until soon you’ll reach the ridge top and a great space will open up before you. You’ll stop. And you’ll begin to listen.

The rush of the winter wind blows against the canyon walls and bends the wild grass. As you watch your breath, your thoughts begin to drift. And off in some distant place there is a dog barking. Yes, you’re sure of it. There it is again. Maybe it’s a puppy –an ornery, little yellow Labrador so excited to be so young. And then on the wind you think you hear the voice of a man, the sound of a man cursing a blue moon, yelling at the dog to “get the hell back before he scares all the dang birds away!” And suddenly you find that you are smiling. You are smiling because you remember a moment in time that is dear to your heart … and you are glad.

And as you turn back to the road – back to a warm house waiting; back to a mother, seven brothers, two sisters and a thousand grandchildren loving – you will whisper to the white snow clouds on the horizon: Thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for the memories.

(Note: My paternal grandfather recently passed away. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the funeral, but my father asked if I’d write something. My cousin read this at the ceremony and I hear he did an amazing job. I feel so grateful, privileged to have such family.)
A tree in winter on an empty road in Nebraska.