Two things occur to me: The first is that there's been a lot of eulogizing & emotion-sharing on this here blog lately. What with my tribute to my dear friend Elissa, & my piece on the one-year anniversary of my grandmother's passing, & my reflections after the Boston Marathon bombings, I've talked a lot about death lately in this space.
The second thing that occurs to me, though, is that I've never really told you about my grandfather. He passed away in 2008, & even though this blog existed then (five & a half years now!) I never wrote about his death here because I didn't think my readers would respond positively to, like, me. Stuff with emotion. I kept it strictly funny in those days, almost nothing person, & sharing my eulogy for my grandpa didn't seem to fit into that structure.
These days, though, I share of myself more freely (see first paragraph), & you guys seem to be supportive (thank you!) That's why today, on the five-year anniversary of my grandpa's death, I want to share with you the eulogy I gave at his funeral half a decade ago. He was one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, & suspect that I will always miss him dearly.
If you knew my Grandpa Sandy at all, you know that what defined him most was his undying sense of humor. Granted, I only knew him for 23 of his 83 years, but I think it's a safe bet to say that his orneriness didn't come about with age. The way his two sisters tell it, it was a lifelong thing.
If you didn't hear one of Grandpa's jokes or stories the first time around, there was about a 99.8% chance you'd hear it again– he was notorious for telling and retelling the same ones over and over again. Perhaps most well-known and groan-worthy within our family was The Rutabaga Joke. At every Thanksgiving dinner, without fail, my Uncle Jim has insisted we serve rutabagas, even though he has consistently proven to be the only family member interested in eating them. And every year, as my cousins and I rattled off our same old list of complaints about rutabagas, my grandpa would stop the conversation and chime in: "Rutabagas, eh? I don't like that name. It sounds mean. They ought to be called polite-abagas."
That was grandpa's humor. He was the king of puns and had the kind of comedic timing that could save even the dullest of conversations. No matter how serious – or argumentative – the rest of our family got, Grandpa was always waiting in the wings with a pun or a punchline to divert our attention and lighten the mood. As the rabbi just said, he was a trained expert in "keeping up the troops' morale," a skill that he applied not just to his time in the military but in his everyday life, as well.
And the best part about my grandpa was that even when he wasn't telling jokes, he simply had the sort of personality that lent itself to good story-telling – the kind that, even in his absence, I'm sure will continue to make for good story-telling.
He loved the Ohio State Buckeyes with a passion, so much that after my grandparents' house caught on fire, my mom salvaged his smoky, burnt Buckeyes banner, even though my Grandma tried to sneak it into the trash can. He loved the Buckeyes so much that he once taught his pet bird, Barney, to whistle the Ohio State fight song. He loved food. On a trip to Hilton Head, he once dared to try alligator, and he was notorious for making midnight snacks of other people's leftovers. To my grandma's chargin, he kept bags of popcorn in his car and trail mix in his bedroom, and he loved nothing more than a good free sample from Sam's Club. He made jewelry for his daughters and me out of dental gold, the kind meant for filling teeth, and held a special place in his heart for my mother's mutt, Missy, whom he lovingly referred to as his "granddog." And in his later years, he became famous among friends and family for his refusal to use a cane and his insistence, instead, upon using his giant walking sticks.
My grandfather was a good man. He was the sort of man who saved the tie he wore on his wedding day and wore it again to his anniversary party 50 years later. He was kind and loving and hard-working and friendly, and overall, he was simply a good man. He will be sorely missed as the silent but mighty patriarch of our little family. And so today, in honor of my grandpa, I'm about to say something I never thought I'd say, something I hope my cousins will forgive me for. Today, despite years of complaints and dinner-table mutiny, I am submitting a formal request for this year's Thanksgiving dinner. We probably won't eat them, and we will probably still whine about them, but this November, in honor of Grandpa's memory, I ask my Uncle Jim — please make sure to bring the polite-abagas.