My great grandpa was one of the most splendid men that ever lived. And I thought he'd live forever. You see, he just passed away last fall at the ripe old age of 103. Up until the last few months of his life, he was in good health, both body and mind. He lived with his bachelor son since losing his wif in 1958. They lived in a glorious, huge, old two-story house in a woodsy part of a small Iowa town. Four bedrooms upstairs, one of which was Grandpa's. His son, Frank, slept downstairs. The ever thoughtful Grandpa decided Frank should sleep downstairs, because the stairs might be hard for Frank to navigate with his bad leg, a war injury.
Grandpa was a very gentle and kind man. He never complained or raised his voice. He was a rather small man with wisps of snow white hair and sparkling blue eyes. He was a farmer in his day and I never saw him without his faded bib overalls on. Once during a brief hospital stay, Grandpa became disoriented and kept trying to get in his closet. The doctor finally said to let him get dressed. As soon as he got his bib overalls on, Grandpa's mind began to clear.
Grandpa was one of nine children and had ten of his own. And raising "good" Catholic children, his extended family is well over 150. When Granpa turned 90, we had a family reunion to celebrate his birthday. These celebrations continued on his birthdays and they seemed to go on and on. We celebrated his age of 90,91, 92, on up to 100. Then we celebrated his turning 101, 102, and up to his last birthday of 103 which he attended with as much agility as his 90th party. You never saw him without a grandchild or two on his lap and he always had room for more.
My Grandpa loved nature. He could easily have been "Father Nature" himself. He loved to grow things, nurture them and enjoy their beauty. The large windows in his house overflowed with plants with at least one always in bloom. He had a fabulous vegetable and flower garden every summer and would welcome the chance to take you on a stroll to view the beauty. I remember a time last summer bringing him a long stem rose to which Grandpa replied, "How long before it'll root?" Leave it to Grandpa. He'd try to grow anything! Visits to Grandpa were always special to me. He had such a calming effect on me and I''d savor our time together. He would shuffle across the creaky old hardwood floor insisting you'd have some coffee and cookies together. During which he always had a good story or two from the past to tell you. His memory was amazing! He could name all the children in his country school and tell you where they sat. He also enjoyed telling hunting stories and once you got him started, it could go on all afternoon.
Then one day I stopped to visit and Grandpa seemed different. He didn't want to go out to his garden. He forgot the cookies. He looked very frail. And I knew he wouldn't be with us long. I went to see him more often. His health went downhill very fast. Most of our time together now consisted of my sitting on his bedside, holding his hand in silence and exchanging tender looks. He seemed so content. I hesitantly asked him if he was afraid to die. He shook his head 'no' and smiled. A few weeks later Grandpa died in his sleep. It was a sunny day and the gardens were blooming exuberantly.
The day of his funeral, the small Catholic church was brimming with family and friends. Many flattering words were spoken during the service. The closing song was "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling'. Among the first to walk out with the procession, I looked out over the faces of my large family who filled the church. And through the tears, I saw many sparkling eyes. I smiled and realized Grandpa would live on forever.
Return to the Burke Museum
Sign the Guestbook View the Guestbook