Friday, August 30, 2013

Visiting My Roots

We had Grandpa's funeral service back at the family farm in Wisconsin. My grandpa actually came from Illinois, but Wisconsin is where my grandma was from, and where they both taught early on in their marriage. My grandparents are buried side by side in a beautiful country cemetery overlooking the fields my grandma walked across as a child, to attend the same school at which she would one day teach, and my grandpa would be the principal.

After the ceremony, we had the now-famous balloon release where the wind blew the balloons into a tree. It was a fittingly humorous send-off for a man who loved to laugh at the absurd. Even if the funeral staff probably did think we were a few eggs short of a dozen as we cackled hysterically!

It was a beautiful, restful time of family and reminiscing, visiting all the old spots and chatting with relatives we get to see every decade or so. And of course, stopping by the farm--not my grandma's farm, which burned down years ago---but the farm run for years by her niece, Dorothy, and Dorothy's husband, Charles.

My cousin is in her 80's now and most of the work is done by her children and their children, but Dorothy still comes down every day to help. While we were visiting, I was wandering around the farm taking pictures and saw, in the dim barn, a farm hand spryly mucking out the gutters. It was only later, when I saw her up close, that I realized the "farm hand" was my elderly-in-name-only cousin.

This is Exhibit A as to why I never wanted to be a farmer's wife---I'm not tough enough! Unless I had 20 kids to take over the work so I could retire early---and after 20 kids, I'd NEED to retire!

However, the farm is a lovely place to visit, especially for kids. My grandparents would always visit there on furloughs, and for my mom, "exotic" meant cow pies in Wisconsin, not the humdrum beaches of Waikiki. She passed that same attitude onto each succeeding generation and we all wear our visits to the farm as badges of honor.

Whenever I visit the farm, I always visit my namesake, descendants of my cow-sister, Tina. When I first visited the farm in the 90's, the family named a cow in my honor. She's long-since passed to her reward, but her daughters' daughters' daughters are still there and producing children every year. This year's crop was especially cute, and I do think there's a resemblance....

Going back to one's roots is a time for personal development and self-discovery. I discovered I am NOT the cow-whisperer, because young Tina would have nothing to do with me until I bribed her with some hay. And even then, you could see she considered the whole affair iffy business.

I also got to pillage a few small items from the spot where my grandma's old home used to be. My cousin owns it now, and he generously game permission for me to forage a bit. This is the old stone foundation of my grandma's barn, the selfsame rocks on which my mother mashed her foot, when the horse got too close to the wall.

 I came home with an old rusty bed, the battery case from an ancient car, and 3 classic soda pop bottles.

  Tiggy was thrilled to be able to carry the bed frame out of the jungle.

Thrilled, I tell you. (I'm training her to be a sherpa)

The whole family had a wonderful time, even my mom, who broke her foot 45 minutes before the funeral was due to start. A very big thank you to the wonderful friends and family who took such good care of us and generously opened their hearts and homes to us (not to mention feeding us such delicious food!). We really will have to do this again soon, preferably without someone dying first!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Wonderful Grandpa

My grandpa died June 17, the day after Caleb and I got back from campmeeting. His death was not unexpected, due to his heart condition, blood cancer, and frequent strokes, but you're never quite ready to say good-bye to someone you love.

I'd expected my memorial blog post to center around what a wonderful grandpa he had been to me. I was the youngest of 4 kids and my parents both worked full time. For some reason---perhaps due to my youthful exuberance---my parents found it expedient to send me to stay with my grandparents frequently during school breaks and holidays. I was fine with this. I got to be queen of the roost and have fun with pretty much the world's best grandparents. Sorry about the rest of you, but I got the cream of the crop.

But what I discovered as my mom and I searched through old photos and mementos in preparation for the funeral, was a glimpse at how profoundly my grandpa had impacted my own life. My grandpa was an amazing man---anyone who knew him will tell you that---and he left a lasting legacy for those blessed enough to have him as a part of their lives. He lived a live of quiet dedication and integrity---the kind of life that impacts those around in ways they aren't even aware of at the time.

Like me, for instance.

I'd never realized before how so many of the things that make up the whole of me can be traced directly back to the unconscious influence of the wonderful, godly man that was my grandpa. I am so very, very grateful to have had him in my life.

It is impossible to isolate and analyze all of the many ways he influenced me, but here are just a few of them....

1. It's pretty obvious we both have it going on in the looks department. You have to be born with it, folks.

2. A life-long gift of reading is an amazing legacy to leave. My grandpa was always reading. My mom was always reading. She would read at stop lights. I guess it gets worse every generation, because my children get mad at me when I try to read while driving. Spoil sports!

3. My grandparents' missionary service in Hawaii has left our family culture an amazing mixture of pasty white mid-western, Asian, and Hawaiian. Our family cuisine runs the gamut from rich, brown gravies (and anything with Jello or mayonnaise) to sushi and li hing muis with lemons. (and yes, that's me on the right. It was an awkward age, OK?)

4. My grandpa is responsible for my love of all things Christmas. From a very young age I was "needed" in decorating for Christmas each year---though I'm sure at times I was more hindrance than help. Now I'm working to pass the same spirit of excitement and wonder along to the next generation.

5. An avid photographer, my grandpa had reams of slides and movies that he loved to take out and show all his grandkids. Between him and my dad, my siblings and I developed a love of photography that lasts to this day.

6. My grandpa was an amazing teacher, beloved by all his students. He knew how to make dry material come alive through humor and fun, but also inspired a respect in his students that lasts to this day. Teaching is something I love to do also---there's nothing like seeing the light click on in someone's mind as they grasp a new concept.

7. OK, so this one's only partly true. Grandpa wasn't all that crazy about cats, but he put up with them for the sake of those in the family that loved having them around. Thereby allowing for the growth and development of one crazy cat lady.

8.  Road trips with Grandpa! Who in our family doesn't remember at least one? Yosemite, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, the Rockies....I was fortunate to take many cross-country trips with my grandparents, igniting my love of the open road.

9. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! I grew up feasting on the most amazing tomatoes in the world. It's still just not summer without some home-grown tomatoes, though I have to grow them myself now.

10. Perhaps the biggest way my grandpa shaped our family was through his culture of unfailing generosity. His home was always open to those who were in need---that's just how our family IS. So it was something completely natural for me to open my own home to three little munchkins in search of a forever home.

I am so profoundly grateful for the amazing family I have been blessed with. My grandparents, my mom and dad, even my siblings (they aren't so bad now that they're grown up!), all helped to shape me and all enriched my life immeasurably. I will miss my grandpa, but I look forward to seeing him again and telling him how he changed my life in so many wonderful ways.