I said goodbye to my maternal grandfather this past weekend. He would have been 92 years old this month. He went peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by his four daughters and one granddaughter, Friday morning last. I had some small pangs that I could not be there with him when he stopped breathing, but I made the 50 mile drive the night before and two other times that week, and the week before. It was good to be with him, even though the last time I saw him conscious was two weeks ago.
My mother and her sisters asked me to give his eulogy. I would like to be able to write it here, but I didn't really write it before hand. I just put some notes down on note cards and went from there. But I will jot (or type) a few of the most memorable things about him here...some of it wasn't said, some of it was, but it's all true.
- my mother's side of the family is Lebanese. The Lebanese call their grandfather "Giddo" (JID-doo). He was my Giddo Joe.
- Giddo Joe was born in 1917. Interesting things that happened that year: doctors first linked lead poisoning in children to eating lead paint chips. Also, J.R.R. Tolkien began writing his first "Lost Tales" that eventually became The Silmarillion.
- Giddo Joe played amateur football in 1935. The team was called "The Roughriders". I remember him telling me that for protective headgear he wore not one, but two stocking caps. Apparently, it was enough protection. He remained sharp as a tack until the very end. He loved football til the very end, too.
- Giddo Joe joined the Army in WWII and served as a combat engineer in the Pacific, and the occupation forces in Japan. He left the service a Staff Sergeant and became a civil engineer for the state of Massachusetts. After he retired he was a freelance surveyor. He must have surveyed about 5 million-billion miles of road and property boundaries. Seriously...if you've driven a Mass. freeway, he worked on it. I used to help him during the summer and when I was home from college. It paid well; you'd be surprised what someone will pay to find out the four corners of his lot so he can scream at his neighbor for having a shrub 2" over the boundary.
- We would go around on these jobs in a 1971 Dodge Dart. I can still smell the vinyl and the oil, hear the loud, mechanical sound of the directionals, and visualize the array of tools - mallets, plumb bobs, hundreds of feet of steel tape, wooden stakes, nails, ribbon, spray paint, you name it - in the trunk. I remember how meticulous he was. If we did a job and he found out a week later he was half a degree off on an angle, or a foot off on a measurement, he'd call me up and say we needed to get back out there asap and re-measure. Close enough was not good enough. He was doing something for someone, and he was damned well going to do it right.
- He had the most beautiful singing voice, and led the church choir for 50 years. Even though I'd quite lost my religion by adulthood, I could still go to mass when Giddo was singing. There was little that sounded better to me than him singing a hymn in Aramaic. It would make the hair stand up on the back of my neck and give me goose bumps. I don't think he missed a mass or holy day in 50 years. I figure at least 60 masses a year, his audience was in the hundreds of thousands.
- Giddo Joe was the most humble and kind person I'd ever known. He was always helping people, encouraging them and mentoring them. What stands out the most is that he treated children - everyone's children, it didn't matter - like they were his own. He'd joke with them, play with them, and talk to kids like they were the most important and special people in the world. Last night my wife and I agreed that if everyone treated children like Giddo Joe did, we would have far fewer problems.
I am absolutely not doing him justice here. It was an emotional weekend for me, but in all, it's really a "good" and natural thing. He had 92 great years (his decline was rapid and spanned only the final 5 or so months), he got to know his great grandchildren (I never got to have a strong relationship with my great grandparents) and was never not surrounded by his family. I can't think what could have been left for him to do. When my time has come, if I could be judged as half the man he was I will consider my life a success. I love him, I miss him, and I'll never, ever let my kids forget what a great person he was.
...and with that, I'm back.
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