A Eulogy for my Grandfather27 Jul 2014 | poetry
When I was growing up, to me Gramp was not so much a regular person as he was a virile, indomitable presence. He was the man with a thousand guns and a woodworking shop; a man who hunted and fished and did other masculine outdoorsy stuff. (Now that I think about it, I never actually saw him do most of these things but nevertheless I was convinced he was a master of them.) He was a man who would hand his young grandson an ax and expect him capable of splitting firewood; a man who needed said firewood moved from one pile to another pile for no discernible reason. In other words, to my childish mind Gramp was a man who could do things, manly things. The sort of things that demonstrate Man’s control over Nature.
I find this Romantic conception of the “outdoorsman” very appealing, at least in theory (I’ve always preferred theory to actual practice), and Gramp was the embodiment of this idea for me. What’s more, he’d carved up his own little piece of nature for himself: Parker Country. This too was important to me as a kid because I moved around a lot, but this place was a fixed, physical point. The unchanging, unmoving root where all the diverse branches of family met. Just as Gram provided a sense of family connectedness in Time with her limitless knowledge of the goings-on of the extended family, Gramp provided a sense of connectedness in Place. Not only a place to connect with family and friends, but a place where you could connect with nature and with yourself. Even if you couldn’t visit, the knowledge that the place existed meant a lot. For much of my life it didn’t occur to me that Gramp appreciated this aspect of Parker Country or that he had intentionally tried to provide this for his family, but of course he did.
I first realized this 15 years ago, when I brought Charlene up to Camp with the intention to propose to her at the top of Buck Mountain. It was hunting season and Gramp insisted that we wear bright orange jackets which looked ridiculous. He was so happy for us. I think it meant a lot to him that I wanted to propose here and that he got to be part of it. That weekend we got to chatting about the hunting season. At that time he would still ride out on the trails with the 4-wheeler and I asked him if he ever hunted anymore. I can still remember the look on his face when he said, “No, I just like to watch the deer now.”
It was the first time I looked at Gramp as a regular person and not a stereotype. He was a man who had a profound appreciation for the beauty of nature. It was a side of him I never stopped to consider before, a side that was easily overlooked. He had a bit of the poet in him, however hidden by the gruff demeanor. So I don’t think it out of place that he reminds me of the concluding lines from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. I like to imagine that if that poetic side of my grandfather could write a message to us all, it would sound like this:
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
If there is one place we can search and always find Grampa, it is here in this place.