Sunday, December 24, 2006

Happy Trails, Grandpa

My grandpa died last Wednesday, after a long struggle with emphysema and other health issues (none of you smoke, ever, ever, ever!). After a last-minute scramble to find a flight, I flew up to Oregon for his funeral on Friday.

As a tribute to Grandpa, I'll paraphrase what I said when I manged to gulp back tears and get up and speak at the service

My grandpa was a great man. He was a German immigrant (1925-ish, at the age of 2), a wheat farmer, a Navy sailor, and a favorite in Sherman County, where he grew up and raised his own family. He was a real cowboy, and a really great grandpa. He always had a quick smile, impeccably combed hair, and a little side joke to make you laugh.

I'd always heard about how my mom and her sisters rode and drove the combine, starting from when they were very small. I'd always been promised a turn up there with grandpa, out in the fields on this exciting piece of machinery. Finally my turn came. This was probably the only time I got to spend completely alone with Grandpa (for more than a few minutes). I got to sit on his lap, steer the combine, listen to stories. I didn't last very long; it was too hot, too dusty, and I couldn't bring a book. But this is a memory I pull out sometimes: sitting with Grandpa in a big noisy machine, wheat fields and blue skies all around us.

As I'd said, my grandpa was a real cowboy. Somewhere I heard that he killed rattlesnakes and cut off their rattles, when he was out in the fields. I wanted some of these rattles, very badly. One day, when we were out visiting (I couldn't have been much more than 8), Grandpa came in the house and said, "I got you something, kid." (he called all of us "kid") He tossed onto the table... a bloody rattlesnake rattle. I wish I had those rattles now. What a thing for a kid to get from their cowboy Grandpa. I can just see him out in the fields, seeing a rattlesnake, remembering that I wanted some rattles, and getting them for me (let's skip over the part about HOW he got the rattles...). We had a lot of grandkids in the family and to be specially remembered like this was pretty neat.

I'm a small-town girl at heart. Living in the Bay Area can be hard sometimes. It helps to know that I come from such a heritage. It's my roots, even further back than the Willamette Valley. These are immigrant roots. Farmer and cowboy roots.

My uncle stood up and said a few words, too. It was very, very moving to see him struggle with his emotions as he spoke about what Hans (my grandpa) meant to him. He said, he thought he (himself) was tough. He was from Texas; everyone from Texas is tough. But no. Hans was tough. He was a hard worker. And played hard, too. Shared some terrific stories about my Grandpa playing jokes on their hunting pals, getting the last laugh. Grandpa worked very hard, but he always had a lightheartedness about him. And boy, could he tell a story. I do wish I'd gotten some of those stories on tape. He told stories like you see grandpas in the movies tell stories. Everyone sat rapt, around the table after dinner, listening to Grandpa tell stories.

As my cousin Becky said, Grandpa's daughters thought he hung the moon, and so we all did, too. And we did. There was and will be nobody like my grandpa.

Grandpa is now buried in an achingly beautiful location; a small country cemetery on a hill in the wheat fields, surrounded by the land he worked (and loved), in full view of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. It's hard to think about it. But I'm glad that I got to be there for this final goodbye. He will be remembered with so much love and joy for his life.

Happy trails, Grandpa. Say hi to Uncle Bill for me. Watch out for me, and everyone else. We love and miss you so much.

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