And Then it Becomes Real


By request, for a few relatives and friends who were unable to be at the funeral today — the eulogy I gave before the long-winded reverend took over and talked about Waterloo and other things (yeahh…). I haven’t tried to speak in public since I was ten years old (and it didn’t go well then). But this was for Granddaddy. My notes shook in my hands but I stood there and faced the crowd and said my piece.

(Leaving real names/details in is a conscious choice here. I may change that later.)

Who am I to stand here and tell this great man’s story? Most of you know me as Harry’s eldest grandchild — but I am also “Only.” He was the only grandfather I ever knew, and I am his only granddaughter. It became our farewell, in person and over the phone.

“Love you, Granddaddy!”
“Love you too.”
“Only, that’s right.”

The single other thing I heard about as often from him was the question, “Do you need anything?”

As the sixth child of seven, Harry probably learned to share at a very early age. Nobody could be more generous with their time, presence, money, or knowledge.

When the United States became involved in World War II, Harry stepped up. His country had a need and he filled it, coming home with a Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross, and the Italian Medal of Military Valor. He always spoke of his service with pride, and the 4th of July meant that much more to me with this hero by my side during the fireworks.

His faith was simple: Love God, family, and country, and do all the good that you can. That favorite question of his, “Do you need anything?” was implicit in the way he lived. For almost 66 years, he was my sweet Grandma’s faithful, adoring husband. He was a wonderful father to my mother, Jeanne, and to her brother, Billy, and he was the kind of grandfather every child should have.

Granddaddy lived his love consistently and unconditionally. Although we lived 90 minutes apart at the time, he attended every one of my high school concerts. As we singers filed into the gym and took our places on the risers, I sought his face in the audience. I always found it.

Do you know what he did on the morning of his 90th birthday? I found him in his favorite room of the house, the kitchen — making a full breakfast, like a short-order cook, for his three small great-grandchildren. They ate like kings and he grinned the whole time.

The Harry you knew was also the indulgent grandfather who let me stay up late playing rummy. He pulled for the Duke Blue Devils with me (unless they played Wake Forest — the Demon Deacons were his favorite!), and we drove Grandma nuts yelling at the tv during ACC tournament games. He was the man who burned his first pancake every time, despite being an amazing chef — and yes, I have his Lemon Chess pie recipe if you want it later. He was also the only grownup who, when I was small, told the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears just right…and he was the man who showed me the joy in a life of serving others.

Granddaddy embodied the Golden Rule like no one else I’ve known. He was a devoted member of the Lions Club. Some of my earliest memories include going door-to-door with him, selling brooms and light bulbs to raise funds. He was an excellent salesman, though I like to think that the cute child by his side swayed a few customers too! Together, we rang the bell for the Salvation Army in the cold, sold drinks out of the Lions Club booth at sweltering summer festivals, and distributed Thanksgiving baskets to needy families. There was never a question of whether he would serve when asked, and I never heard him complain…his attitude was, “I have it to give; why wouldn’t I?”

The look on his face the day I became a Lion will stay with me forever. I hope my roar is even half as loud as his.

Harry kept that attitude of service — and his sense of humor — all of his days. When I last saw him, do you know what his final words to me were, as he sat there surrounded by photos of family and mementos of a life well-lived?

“Do you need anything?”

I love you, Granddaddy. Give Grandma a hug for me. “Only.”

I managed to get the words out (I got a few chuckles in there because my family is awesome, heh) and only cried through the last couple sentences.

After the preacher’s remarks, the Army honor guard stepped forward. The bugler played “Taps” as the flag was folded for presentation to the family, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Shortly after, the family filed out and the other guests came to talk to us before leaving. (I cried so hard through most of the compliments and hugs that my brother had to speak for me — once the floodgates are open, they’re open, and I hadn’t really grieved out loud yet.)

Gonna sleep with one of Granddaddy’s shirts beside my bed tonight. Gods, I miss him so much already. It’s so strange to be back here without him — he is a large part of what made this particular area of the state home for me.

Before bed, though, I’ll wrap up in a blanket and step onto the balcony of the condo we’re staying in, and listen to the ocean in the winter darkness. That is also part of what makes this area home — as much as I love the mountains, I could never deny my saltwater heritage. So, tonight, the sea.

Tomorrow, gently moving forward with a heart full of memories.