Monday, May 10, 2010

An Open Letter to Gumpy

Dear Gumpy,

It's been almost a year since you passed away.  Life is so much different without you.  Of all the things I miss, it's being able to pick up the phone and hear you tell me you are proud of me I miss the most.  You always seemed to know when I needed to hear you say that.  There have been so many days lately that I've wished I could just call and hear you on the other end of the line.  I get through by reminding myself that I have big shoes to fill for our family now that you're gone, and you would want me to stop crying in my beer.  You would probably tell me to stop acting like a suckling if you saw my tears as I'm writing this.

Yesterday was Mothers Day.  I think you would have been thrilled by the day.  Ema loved the new place that Gladys and I are living in now.  She liked it so much she started joking with us about making a place for her to stay.  While she thinks I am just being polite by saying this, I hope you know that she will always be welcome in my home.  Gladys is very supportive of this too.  All Ema needs to do is ask.  I know you wanted me to live at the farm to take care of her, but I hope you understand that my heart is in Detroit.  So even if she doesn't stay with us much, I will always watch out for your Chickadee.

As a family, we have tried to make sure she wasn't alone during the big holidays.  Gladys and I were in Tampa for Thanksgiving, so she had dinner with us at Gladys' mothers house.  Mary made sure Ema was home for Christmas.  Jim and Char visited her right around your birthday.  Mom and Rebekah took her on a cruise.  She really did not have too much time to sit and mope.

You wanted me to make sure my Mom and Rebekah are taken care of too.  Just so you know, I try but there is no taking care of Rebekah.  She takes care of herself and will tell you how you can help.  So I do when she lets me.  On the flip side, Mom has enjoyed our new apartment.  She's been over almost every weekend for something, usually with Haithem.  It reminds me a lot of Sunday nights at the farm, watching 60 Minutes, playing cards and eating popcorn.  Mom even calls when she gets home, the same way Mary would call when she made it back to Lansing.

By the way, I wish you were healthier when you met Haithem  He's kind, patient, an excellent carpenter and very intelligent.  Just who Mom deserves.

I'm not sure if you heard, but Gladys and I did get married.  She's the right girl for me.  I knew it when I met her and I think you knew it when you met her too.  August 7 will be our first anniversary and I couldn't be happier.  Hell, we went to a Toledo Mud Hens game the night we got married!  If that doesn't speak to how well she fits in, I don't know what would!  Ema gave me your wedding band.  I was honored that she let me have it because it gives me a symbol of your marriage and the sacrifices you both made to stay together for 58 years.

Of those promises I made to you, I work all the time to try taking care of the ladies in the family with varying degrees of success.  I'm sure you understand.  You left me with a hard-headed lot.  The keeping the rest of the family together is a little tougher.  It has been great to get the occasional message from Frank Walter.  The rest of us keep up by phone calls, Facebook (I know, you still don't get it) and from this journal I'm keeping of memories I have of you.  We all needed time to grieve and figure out how to live without you Old Boy.

That has been the toughest part.  We all knew you would not be here forever.  There is just no good way to prepare.  I keep trying to keep you alive in my heart by acting a little more like you.  I walk into the kitchen in the farm and declare, "A little faster if you can stand it," just like you did.  I'll cross my arms and pat my forearm the way you would in the middle of a conversation.  I love our family enough to do things that hurt me greatly to try keeping them safe, just like you did for me.  I'm still working on the patience and tact you practiced with me.  Someday I'll be good at it too.

We will make it.  Sometimes that doesn't seem as obvious as other, but I know we will be alright.  You left each of us with great memories and a fine example to live up to.  You left us all well prepared.  I love you, miss you and happy for you that you were finally able to make it home, where you deserve to be.




Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gaining a Friend in Heaven

Tuesday, Gumpy gained a friend in heaven.  Ernie Harwell passed away after a nine month battle with cancer of the bile duct.  He was a true gentleman by all accounts; a man who was generous with his time, enjoyed life, worked tirelessly and had a wife who admired him until the end.  Kind of like Gumpy.  While they never met, I am confident they would have been fast friends.

I didn't have a portable radio as a kid, so I couldn't sneak a listen to Ernie and his broadcast partner Paul Carey very often.  In the early 80's, I was a bigger fan of George Kell and Al Kaline doing the occasional Saturday television broadcast of Tigers Baseball because it was an event that my dad and I would watch together.  Ernie's book, Tuned To Baseball was my first real introduction to the man.  My Aunt Mary gave me an autographed copy in 1985.  I don't think I slept much until I finished reading it for the first time.  I have been a big fan ever since.

It shouldn't come as a shock that I cried a little when I found out Ernie had died.  I cried a little when I found out he had cancer too.  Some of the tears were for the recognition that another piece of my childhood is gone forever.  Most of my tears were because just how much Ernie reminded me of Gumpy.  In a small way, I lost Gumpy all over again.

Both men were humble.  I don't recall hearing either of them talking about how much they had accomplished, instead they let other people do the talking for them.  They just did the accomplishing.  Both men were great at making people feel like they were the most important person in the room.  Neither of them were prone to critising people, although they both faced plenty of situations where normal humans would have felt justified criticising the Hell out of someone.

Both men enjoyed life.  You could hear Ernie's smile on the radio.  Gumpy's laugh was never far away. They adored their wives, their families and the people they cherished.  They loved the game of baseball and had plenty of stories to share.  They took the time to mentor the men who worked with them.  They were men of great faith, hopeful that they had done enough to please their maker.  

For them, I think their great faith was well placed.  I'm hoping they get a chance to finally meet over a cup of coffee at some dinner in Heaven so they can chat a little Tigers baseball.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Saturday, Ema was lamenting the fact that she really had not left our family with any words of wisdom.  Her mother had a plethora of little sayings that she repeats to herself, like, "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right."  As we were talking about it, she mentioned that she thought Gumpy did not leave us with any words of wisdom either.

To me, our conversation was ironic.  I have learned so much from the actions of my grandparents that the words really did not matter.  Neither of them were braggers.  They just did the right thing.  I credit Ema with my love of reading and my fascination with our family history among other things.  This blog is dedicated to remembering many of the things that Gumpy taught me.  Yes there were words in our communication, and the non-verbal parts of their communication spoke to the integrity of my grandparents lessons.

We talked about how Gumpy treated everyone like they were the most interesting person in the room.  From the mechanic up town to the President of the Union, he genuinely was interested what they had to say.  I remember walking the course at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc for the Buick Open when someone stopped him to talk about the Grand Trunk Railroad.  They hadn't seen each other in at least 20 years.  Gumpy stood right there and chatted with him for a good five minutes.  At the end of the conversation, the gentleman said, "Ed, it was great to see you again!" (Ed was his nickname when he worked for Grand Trunk.)

I asked if he even remembered the guy.  Gumpy said he did, barely.  The man clearly recognized Gumpy and it made the man feel better that a friend from so long ago was kind to him.  It just took five minutes and he made the man smile brightly.  With all of the time we spent together, I learned so much from observing those little moments.

Gumpy had a sincere affection and appreciation for people.  He taught me how to do this by doing it himself.  It is no longer a skill to be learned for me, it is something that is a sincere belief for me too.  Perhaps that is Gumpy's greatest legacy with me.