Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Habits I've Picked Up

A friend of mine wrote a great book a few years ago commemorating his dad who passed away suddenly from a heart attach.  Eric's book "I Miss My Dad'" helped me enjoy the last few years I had with Gumpy.  He has done a great job of engaging people on Facebook too, often asking questions that get me to remembering the good old days with Gumpy.

Eric's comment tonight was especially thought provoking because it reminded me just how many of my little habits are things I learned by mimicking my Grandfather.  All it took was this call to action:
Share with us a little saying that you carry on from your Dad or loved one... 
Gumpy always had a way of clapping his hands that I picked up.  I usually do it when I am walking into Ema's house to announce that I am home.  He liked to say, "A little faster if you can stand it," when he said it.

Every night after work, he took his shoes off under the kitchen table.  Every night when Ema was getting dinner ready, she would move his shoes to the bedroom.  Every morning, he would struggle to find his shoes and often comment that someone must have stolen his shoes because he could not find them.  I don't do that with shoes, I do that with keys.  I put my keys in the same place every night.  When Gladys starts cleaning, she puts them in the bucket by the door.  I then start wandering around our loft looking for my keys.

Whistling was something Gumpy did unconsciously while working around the farm.  It was a nonsensical tune but I find myself compelled to try it when I am working around the farm.  I still throttle down the riding lawn mower before shutting it off, just like he did.

Gumpy loved his ankle socks.  I never remember him wearing tube socks.  It was either ankle socks or dress socks if he was going out.  When I decide to wear them, I have his taste in socks.

Eric's book is worth a read and his Facebook page is worth a follow.  Thanks for inspiring this blog post!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Gladys and I are puppy-sitting for a friend.  Mr. Man's pretty little, only eight weeks old at the most.  He's so little that he still thinks we are giant dogs with funny barks.  Now that he is a little more comfortable with us, I am hoping he will sleep better.

Until then, I find myself awake with a squirming puppy trying to calm him down so Gladys can get some sleep.  Our loft is surprisingly quiet.  I hear the motor of the ceiling fan above me grind out each rotation.  Every time the roof creeks, it seems to echo through our house.  Each drip from our faucet can be heard from 20 feet away.  The streetlight shines pretty brightly into our space.  The occasional car drives by our building and every so often, you can hear a vehicle speed past as they rush to the nearby hospital.  Detroit, in it's own odd way, reminds me of the farm.

Our house was on the back 40 acres of the farm, which tended to be loud during the summer with the crickets and frogs in the pond near the house keeping watch all night.  At Ema and Gumpy's, the light between the house and the barns illuminated every room.  Occasionally a high school kid in his souped up Chevelle would race by the house but more often it was the steady drone of someone else on their way to work in Lansing.  The farmhouse, built in the late 1800's, had it's own set of creaks and groans that kept absolute silence away.

Detroit seems to have this pull on me that I do not always understand.  The obvious flaws are painfully evident and people seem to love to bury the beauty that can be found here.  Despite occasional misgivings and fleeting thoughts of leaving, I have found my level here.  I have found a community where I can raise my family and keep my loved ones nearby.  Even though Detroit is my home, I am always from Vermontville.  It will always be my hometown, the place I couldn't leave fast enough and now work my tail off to try recreating.

In some ways, I think that is how Gumpy felt.  When he met my grandmother, they were living in a rural farming community in southern Michigan called Waldron.  The village had its own song that he liked to sing.  He kept up with his friends in town and liked to visit the often.   He use to make his kids roll down the windows or get out of the car when they crossed the county line so they could take a nice, deep breath of clean Hillsdale County air.  Life wasn't always easy in Waldron, but his outlook on his hometown was always positive.  

Gumpy had a lot of pride in where he was from, but lived most of his life on the farm Ema was raised on in Vermontville.  He found his level there.  A place to raise a family, a place to keep the ones he loved close by.  A community where he could make an impact and a church he could believe in.

I think I share a lot of things with Gumpy.  I have pride in where I am from, even though I seem to know fewer people each time I am in town.  Life was not always easy in Vermontville, but my outlook on my hometown has changed.  I don't know if I could ever live there again, I have become citified.  Yet, I admire the work ethic and the neighborliness of Vermontville.  When Gladys and I do have kids, I hope they appreciate the smell of fresh Eaton County air!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Remembering Ema and Gumpy's 50th Anniversary

Today would have been my grandparent's sixtieth wedding anniversary.  I know they had their good times and their struggles.  What was remarkable to me was their fidelity to each other right up to the end of Gumpy's life.

In some ways, the last decade has flown by yet I remember the weekend we spent as a family as plain as day.  The family met at the farm early that Saturday to enjoy time with each other.  I saw many extended family members that day, all of them I wish I could speak with more often.  My Aunt Charlotte had pulled together a quilt with squares decorated by many of us and Ema still proudly displays the photo we all took with the quilt.

That evening, we held a reception at the Vermontville Opera House.  It was that evening I realized just how much I look like my Uncle Jim, because I was stopped at least a dozen times by people calling me Jimmy.  One of the highlights of the evening was meeting one of Ema's bridesmaids that she had not seen in decades.

After several hours of meeting new people, reconnecting with long-lost friends and playing a little baseball with a few of the kids; we all retired to the farm because my grandparents were treating the immediate family to a trip to Mackinaw.

The three days we spent up north were not without incident, but we all muddled through.  In fact, we had a blast.  We spent time at the Tahquamenon Falls, truly one of the most beautiful places in Michigan.  A cedar tree lined river gives the river almost a rust colored tint, yet the water is pure.

A few of the family members made the trek from the lower falls to the upper falls by way of a dirt trail.  Thinking that we could do it faster, my ex and I decided to do the walk back.  Little did we know that the one place in the Upper Peninsula it would rain was going to be right over us.  Foggy glasses and soaked clothes made for an interesting trip back.

Mackinaw Island lost power the day we arrived, yet you do not need electricity to enjoy the island.  We had fun anyway.  Both nights, my room turned into the "adult beverage" room, where my uncle Dave and I made sure the cooler was full.  Between him and my cousin Frank, we made sure beer was plentiful, card games were lively and everyone could enjoy our time together.

Most importantly, I learned just how important family was to my grandparents.  I learned that my grandfather would literally fight if he needed to if it meant keeping his family together.  That ideal really sank in for me and it plays into my decision making daily.  This is the weekend that I discovered how much loyalty and family mean to me too.  Disagreements, misunderstandings and hurt feelings are a part of being a family, and we all need to get over it.

I miss Gumpy and I wish he could be here to enjoy this day but I know he's watching.  I know he would be happy that Ema got out of the house today because he would understand just how sad she would be.  While he loved all of us, he was always most concerned about his little Chickadee.  I assure you buddy, we all still love her and we are all doing as much as she will let us to help!  Happy Anniversary!  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Our Shared Wedding Ring

Many things in daily life remind me of Gumpy.  Conversations with friends remind me of him.  Lying awake in our loft, hearing stillness reminds me of the farm and how quiet things were when the crickets went to sleep.  Gatherings with our neighbors remind me of him too.
If I really want a reminder of him, I just look at the wedding band I wear.  It was not the ring I had expected, yet it is still a symbol of my love for my wife and the respect I have for my grandfather.  The ring I thought I was getting was a nice Black Hills gold ring he purchased in South Dakota on our trip back from Idaho several years ago. 
The summer my dad left, my grandparents decided to take my sister and I on a trip to visit our Uncle Jim and his family.  We were gone for almost a full month, with stops at Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse memorial.  Everyone, including me, endured my generally bad attitude.  We all enjoyed a very memorable trip.
After visiting the memorials, we stopped in a little town to pan for gold (I found three flecks).  Gumpy loved Black Hills gold.  After panning, we stopped in a little jewelry store where he found the perfect pinky ring.  It was a beautiful ring, but the jeweler had a little trouble getting it sized properly while we waited, so we agreed to return the next day before heading back on the road for home.  
When we picked it up in the morning, I begged to try the ring on.  Mind you, I was 13 years old at the time and I was trying on a ring that Gumpy had sized to fit his right ring finger.  It didn’t fit well on my ring finger, but it fit snuggly on my pinky.  A little to snuggly in fact.
I said something to my sister when I was having trouble getting it off.  When my finger started to turn a little blue, Ema overheard us struggling to get the ring off.  Gumpy offered his usual option of amputation, which was usually amusing at any time EXCEPT when I couldn’t get the ring off my finger!  Using cold water and soap, the ring eventually came off.
When the ordeal was over, he told me he would will the ring to me.
Unfortunately, he lost the ring in the yard at the farm.  I was a little bummed when I found out because it would have been a great reminder of him and of that trip to Idaho. 
So, I decided to ask for Gumpy’s wedding ring.  When I told Ema I would like his ring, I was not sure what she would say.  Gladys and I slipped down to Toledo to get married six short weeks after Gumpy passed away.  I was afraid I was asking for too much too soon.  
When she gave me the ring, I was beaming.  It needed to be sized, his fingers shrank a bit with age and mine grew bigger.  But it was his ring.  It was his symbol to the world that he loved my grandmother.  The only time it ever left his finger was when he was in the hospital and then only under protest.  He took his commitment to Ema seriously.
Sometimes, I look at my left ring finger with the conflicting emotions of love and loss.  I love Gladys and I am glad I found the right mate.  I am excited that such an intelligent, loving woman chooses to spend her life with me.  I loved Gumpy and I am glad he was my grandfather.  I am excited that such a warm, genuine, caring man chose to spend the end of his life looking out for me.    I am humbled to have this one symbol that reminds me daily of their loving kindness.  I pray I live into the promise of this ring.      

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Decision Making

Gumpy was always pretty clear who made the decisions in his household and he gave me some great advice when I was preparing to get married.  He sat me down and said,

"When your Grandmother and I decided to get married, we agreed that I would make all of the big decisions and she would handle all the small ones.  You know, we've been married for over 50 years and there hasn't been a big decision yet!"
Ema didn't find this nearly as funny as I did, but in reality, they always shared the big decision making.  While it seemed that they bickered all the time, when a decision was made, you could not divide them.  I hope I remember their example when we have kids.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Poem for the Faithful

While my views differed with Gumpy on religion, it was always on the interpretation of modern religion.  He was a devout Methodist who let his deeds speak for him while I am now a Unitarian Universalist with a Humanist bent.  I still believe in God and I know my Grandfather is having a cup of coffee in heaven with God as I type.

This poem came from a former co-worker whose grandfather passed away yesterday.  My thoughts and prayers are with her because I know there will always be a part of her heart that wishes her grandfather didn't have to die.

God Saw You Getting Tired

God saw you getting tired
and a cure was not to be
so he put his arms around you
and whispered,
“Come to Me”
With tearful eyes we watched you
and saw you pass away
and although we love you dearly
we could not make you stay.
A Golden heart stopped beating
hard working hands at rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us
he only takes the best

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Grandfather's Music

One area of life Gumpy and I never saw eye-to-eye on was music.  If you look at my I-Pod, you will find a wide variety of music.  I love Urge Overkill, good trance, smooth jazz and I've learned to stomach some 80's music.  I could never get my mind around the bluegrass and country Gumpy loved.

When Gumpy was out in the field, he had a small radio attached to the fender of his Massey Ferguson tractor.  It was always tuned to WITL, Lansing's only country music station.  I watched countless episodes of Hee-Haw because my grandfather loved the show.  It is where I learned such ditties as,

Gloom, dispair and agony on me,
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren't for bad luck,
I'd have no luck at all.
Gloom dispair and agony on me!  

Since I've been thinking about him a lot lately, I thought you might enjoy a few of his favorite tunes.  I know I am starting too myself.