Sunday, May 22, 2005


This was what i read at my grandfather's funeral:

The day after my grandpa died, I went with my grandma, uncle and cousin to buy a rosemary plant Grandpa had planned to buy. He'd had trouble growing rosemary. Days before he passed away he told Grandma, "This time we're gonna do it right."

This surprised me, as it would anyone who has visited my grandpa's corner of the world. When he moved to 125 Hollywood Avenue in Elkhart, Indiana, in 1954, it was a barren horse pasture. By the time I came along in 1968, it had become a lush alcove of flowers and towering trees, a favored spot for birds. It's a wild place, ever changing, full of nooks and curves. Grandpa shaped his garden with subtle strokes so as not to upstage God.

I couldn't imagine such a master gardener fretting over a common herb, but Grandma could. During their 60 years together, she had comforted him when he questioned his life's worth. "He would have considered himself a failure," she told me when I was back home for his funeral, in April. His self-doubt was most acute, she said, after my father passed away. He wondered where he had gone wrong; if he had given his oldest son too little care, or too much.

This surprised me too, and I wondered if my grandpa knew he was a hero to me. Not only for the ink he put in my veins (he was a newsman; a picture of him in a bow tie, with a pen poised above a piece of copy, hangs above the desk where I write), but because of the way he cared for me as I grew. He could be prickly, like when I was a teenager and he suddenly barked, "You're not innocent anymore!" Or when he mailed me a copy of one of my stories covered with red editing marks. He once yelled at his wife: "I'm humbler than you!" More often he was gentle. He had a terrific, infectuous laugh. He seemed to understand that nature would run its course no matter what he did. The world was never as peaceful and fair as he wanted it to be. It was a harsh climate in which to raise a family. But he led by example, and we all turned out ok. Even now, after all my moving around, and my distance from the place where I was born, I still look on my grandpa's two-acre plot in northern Indiana as my base. It's the place I go during my occasional visits to meditation, when I'm told to find my quiet, safe place.

The woman at the nursery wouldn't let us pay for the rosemary plant. She remembered my grandpa, as do scores of people I'll never know. On the drive home, Grandma told us that Grandpa had planned to go easy on the plant. Give it a little less water, perhaps. Let it do as God intends.

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