I tossed and turned last night (a great feat for someone whose belly is not a thing to be tossed and turned lightly – or easily – if at all), my mind on things lost. As is the usual protocol for dealing with lost items, I traced and retraced our paths, our exact steps, the last time I remembered seeing them, holding them, making mental note of them.
It was our weekend for losing things…a credit card, a Very Special Necklace from a Very Special Aunt’s trip to Disney World, my husband’s maternal grandfather.
The credit card and the necklace are replaced easily enough. A call to the credit card company, a trip to the Disney Store (where perhaps a close enough likeness will work), careful thought to take care of these replacements.
But the grandfather? How awful if it were so simple to replace a man! My thoughts of him are vivid and stark in comparison to the vague, blurry recollections of the credit card and necklace. He wasn’t a person to be forgotten or to fade into the background.
My first meeting with him was 10 years ago, at Ethan’s college graduation (10 years ago? ACK!). It was December, and we celebrated an early Christmas with a poinsettia and candles in Ethan’s mother’s hotel room in Longview, Texas. Wayne (his grandfather) and Arvilla (his grandmother) expressed their pride in Ethan’s accomplishments: Wayne loudly and Arvilla softly. Each accolade seemed to be accompanied by a sly passing of a crisp dollar bill as Wayne shook his hand, or patted his knee, or squeezed his shoulder.
And at the actual graduation, as I sat next to Grandpa Wayne and turned to the right page in the program to sing the first hymn, I nearly jumped out of my skin. This was no meek, “I don’t know these people; I’ll just sing quietly and blend in” voice next to me. This was a loud, proud, exultant voice singing “How Great Thou Art” as if great Thou really wert. Two years later, he stood as the best man, my husband’s sole groomsman, at our wedding; and his firm handshake, intense blue eyes looking directly into mine, and strong words “It is a rare thing to find a good wife,” made my gaze watery as I considered the recent loss of his good wife.
I know there are lots of family members and friends who are today replaying their interactions with this man who was Grandpa Wayne. There are those who saw him in his last moments, in a coma. There are those who saw him for the two long days he was hospitalized with a brain hemorrhage. There are those who saw him marry Ethan’s grandmother, saw them both grieve the loss of a child, saw him grieve at his wife’s death, saw him rejoice again in the finding of new love just a few years ago. There are those who called him by other names: Friend, Brother, Swede, Dad, Love. And I know each of their memories differs drastically from mine. But for me, this granddaughter-in-law who is admittedly part of the outer circle who knew him not as intimately nor well, the unembellished memories can be encapsulated in two words: his voice.
I don’t know how to describe it clearly. It was a voice that said what it said loudly and plainly, but it said much more than that. You could tell he had had a hard life but was not going to let that keep him down. You knew from the way his large, muscular hands moved in coordination with his words that he had worked the land and worked large animals. And I’m almost sure that Henry Higgins would have pinpointed him as a Midwestern Swede in less than half a sentence.
He loved to sing and sing lustily and forcefully. This was a definite family trait, I realized as I listened to him join several of his brothers in chorus at the reception of his second wedding two years ago. There is something so joyous about hearing grown men sing at the top of their lungs, first in English, then in Swedish. Uninhibited by social convention or fear or whatever it is that makes the rest of us sing timidly and poorly, these men sang as if they had reason to sing. No mere congratulatory toast or prepared poem would suffice. This called for !!!SONG!!!
And so I realized, as I tossed and turned, searching in my mind’s eye the van seats (credit card?), the back yard (necklace?), and the unknown glories of heaven, that really we’d only lost two things this weekend. Grandpa is far from lost. We know where he is, and I know that he is absolutely reveling in the fact that all of the singing there is purposeful and strong and heartfelt.
And I was reminded this morning that not even his voice is lost, as I heard my almost 3-yr. old son (also a fraternal twin, like his great-grandfather) loudly proclaiming his usual morning chorus as he descended the stairs: “HOW-WAY-WOO-YAH! HOW-WAY-WOO-YAH!”
(photo: Ethan, Grandpa Wayne, Grandma Irene, and our five last October)