It was a hard blow to get the news. Her father called her and told her that the man, who was more like her father than her actual father had ever been, had died. “They came up to the stop sign,” he said. “He put the right turn signal on. Ma told him that he had to make a left. The car rolled through the stop sign and down the embankment. The trees stopped the car. When I opened the door, he was just slumped over with his forehead touching the steering wheel. There was no pulse. He wasn’t breathing. He was just gone.” Her father had been driving the car behind him. “It was that quick.”
Her grandmother asked her to do the eulogy. She thought she was too young at 27. “I’m a terrible public speaker. My hands shake and my voice stutters,” she told her grandmother.
Grandma insisted. “You have to do it.”
So she did it. She took on the task and wrote the eulogy. She practiced. It took her three days to get through it without crying. When she read it to her grandmother, she managed to get through it without shaking, stuttering, or crying.
Grandma smiled with tears running down her cheeks. “We know who the writer in the family is.”
The church, where the funeral was held, was the same church her grandfather had taken her to since she was born. It was the biggest she had ever been in. There were rows of multicolored glass windows along the second floor balcony. She had spent numerous hours counting those square pieces of glass in the past.
The priest nodded to her. She looked nice for once and was even wearing a skirt with nylons and heels. She stood up and headed for the podium. She tripped on the step and nearly landed on her face. She pushed herself up and pretended that hadn’t happen.
She set the papers on the podium and put them in order before she looked at the mass of bodies there to celebrate her grandfather. She took a deep breath and lifted her eyes. The sun gleamed into each of those different-colored squares of glass. Her heart raced instantly, and her hands started to shake. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She remembered sitting next to her grandfather in this very church every other Sunday since the divorce. Her heartbeat slowed. She placed her hands on the podium and held on as she opened her eyes and began to speak.
“A son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, great uncle, great grandfather, confidant, and friend. We all knew him as something. Every person who met him has a story about him.
I only knew my grandfather a short 27 years. I still remember getting up at 5:30 a.m. to go pick weeds from Grandpa’s many gardens.”
Images of her sitting in the dirt and picking weeds helped calm her body. Grandpa took the time to show her which ones weren’t weeds.
She used to like going with Grandpa to church on Sunday mornings at 7:00 a.m. Grandpa usually left while communion was going on. Grandma, however, liked to be the last person out of the church, and Grandma always had to talk to the priest.
As she continued on with the eulogy, she remembered stacking wood with Grandpa. She knew her cousins could all relate as she spoke about it. She caught JoAnn’s big smile. She also smiled as she remembered her grandfather moving the wood again to where Grandma thought it looked better, and bitching the whole time.
Grandpa had a heart of gold and would give anyone the shirt off his back. She had seen it many times. He fixed old broken things: lawnmowers, snow blowers. Mrs. Riley was sitting in the front pew. She was Grandpa’s neighbor and older than he was. He had fixed her lawn mower numerous times. The kid, who mowed the lawn for her, broke it regularly.
Grandpa had nothing to prove to anyone. If someone didn’t like him, he didn’t care. He was crass and abrasive. She knew she developed those traits from him. She learned not to care what others thought of her and never to let others’ criticisms affect her decisions or goals.
A memory floated through her mind of her younger brother, at eighteen, calling Grandpa old. That was only five years ago. Grandpa jumped out of the chair and had her brother dangling from his throat a foot off the ground. Grandpa demanded, What did you say? Grandpa was old school where “men were men.” His generation didn’t take insults, and they certainly respected their elders.
She also remembered how Grandpa loved that old 1984 Mercedes. Memories of working on that car flooded her mind. He never let her actually do anything other than hand him tools, but she did learn the names of the tools by the time that car was drivable.
She smiled when she remembered how Grandpa always stole cookies from every family gathering for his lunches for the week. He went to every family party because Grandma had insisted.
“We will always remember him as Bob, Grumpa, or Rocky 79.” The place erupted in laughter. Grandpa had been in a fist fight three years before and had lost to a fifty-year-old man. His black eyes had been a running joke ever since. Grandpa certainly had a temper, but he never struck out in anger at those he loved. She knew she had inherited the same temper, but times have changed. Now you have to use your words and not your fists to win a fight.
“We will miss you, Grandpa. You left one hell of a legacy.” The priest gave her a nasty look, but she didn’t care.
She closed her eyes, while friends and family clapped. It was over. She managed to get through it.
She felt lips touch her forehead gently and heard, I miss you too. I will see you again.