The service was only about half an hour long.
The pastor did a few readings, led us in prayer once at the beginning and again at the end. She was nice – low key, personable, kind, sincere.
The oldest daughter of his four children spoke first. She read from a couple of sheets of paper, stumbling across the words, her voice cracking every so often, but just as often, her face breaking into a smile as she shared her memories with the rest of us.
He was a good man.
He enjoyed, as she said, the simple things in life. Coming home from work, dinner with the family. Saving all year to buy the perfect gift for his wife, the love of his life. Children. Grandchildren. Cookouts. Checkers and card games. Family gatherings.
We lived on the same block, and our houses were diagonally opposite each other. The youngest daughter and I went to kindergarten together and through all of our school years until we graduated from high school. We were best friends. We lived at each others’ houses, cutting across the field in the middle of the block rather than walking the long way around. We referred to it as "going cross-lots."
Her father left for work early in the mornings. He was of my father’s generation – "The Greatest Generation" – and, like my own father – typified so many of those "great" traits. He worked hard – sometimes three jobs, which I didn’t know until today. He didn’t go on expensive or exotic vacations. He was thrifty. And with four children, he had to be. But money isn’t everything. And he, like that generation, and others scattered into generations that follow, understood that. It’s not how much you have in your pocket. It’s how much love you have for and from the people around you.
He was quiet. If I remember correctly, he wore a hearing aid.
He had three daughters and a son. Girl, girl, boy, girl. And then the grandchildren…I was 14 when the first grandson was born. I don’t like to think about that now, because he’s all grown up, this cute little blond boy. He’s got a wife and two children of his own. I saw him today and I think my jaw dropped. I never would have recognized him. Last time I saw him he was scrawny and blond and in his early twenties. Today he is not a boy, his hair is darker, and he is broad-shouldered and strong. After his mother spoke, he was the next at the podium. And after him, one of his younger brothers spoke, and finally, my friend’s son.
I don’t see the family very often any more. We don’t live in the same town, and my friend and I, we’ve gone on with our own, different, lives. But when my sister and I arrived at the funeral home and saw their mother, and then the daughter, daughter, son, daughter standing in line to receive hugs and handshakes and condolences, time fell away, and it was as if we had all seen each other a few days ago.
Their mother looked the same as she’s always looked to me. Her hair is gray, instead of brown, but apart from that, she looks the same. And the two older sisters – the same. The brother – he looks older, but still – the same face. And my friend, the shortest of the bunch, the youngest of the family, she had not really changed in my eyes either. I hugged her, and she was the only one crying at that time…before the service had started, and before we all shed tears and laughter together. She said, over and over, "I want my father back. I want my father back." I didn’t know how to respond. I just said "I know, I know," and hugged her some more before leaving to take my seat.
My sister and I sat toward the back, over to one side, and sorted out who was who among all the grandchildren. We hadn’t seen a lot of them since they were very young. So strange to see them as young men and teenage girls. How can that be? It was only yesterday that I was that age, and younger, and that my friend and my sister and I rode bikes together and climbed trees. And now, we are not the kids in the families. And yet, we still are, in each others’ eyes.
The three grandsons spoke of many of the same things – how wonderful their grandfather was, and what a good example he’d set. They spoke of playing checkers with him (and losing every time), or playing cards, his love of dessert, his great smile. The spoke of him not only as their grandfather, but as a father-figure as well, and a positive influence on their lives. Their voices broke, but they continued on without stopping, without trying to hide their emotions. They laughed, too, at memories, and caused the rest of us to laugh with them. They brought me to tears again and again, these little boys, grown to young men, speaking so simply and openly of this unobtrusive man.
Over and over the same messages. He was a good man. He appreciated the simple things. He didn’t waste time or energy bemoaning what he didn’t have, or regretting opportunities that were not given to him. He appreciated what he had – a large and loving family who absorbed the lessons he taught by example. Children and grandchildren who spoke of him with affection and respect, sadness, and love. And an inherited appreciation for those riches that masquerade as the simple things in life.