Monday, September 13, 2010

A Life Remembered

We awoke early on Saturday morning, dressed in our Sunday best, filled up the gas tank and the tires and headed north to Bellingham.  The immediate family gathered at St. James Presbyterian Church to remember and celebrate the life of my grandfather, Jack Tyler Brown.  My mom's cousin Judy and her daughter Kat (with whom I'd grown up) had flown out for the event, Kat coming all the way from Florida.

It was more formal than my dad's memorial had been, or Samantha's for that matter.  But totally appropriate for Jack.  I was holding it together pretty well until the bagpiper played "Scotland the Brave" as the processional - which had been used as the recessional at Sam's & my wedding.  So that was a kick in the gut.  There were hymns and scripture readings, and a duet of congregation members who play ancient instruments played "Amazing Grace" on a concertina and hurdy gurdy - which unplugged the dam and let loose the waterworks.

Opa holding me in Germany, 1968

There was a time of sharing remembrances, where folks in attendance stood up and talked about my grandfather and what a good guy he was.  And then it fell to us.  My brother went to the lectern and spoke of "moments", a very loving and evocative tribute.  Then I followed with the piece at the bottom of this post.  My stepdad Robert finished up with the tale of his whirlwind courtship of my mother almost 30 years ago, and how he was welcomed by my grandfather into the family.

Opa and me being goofy, circa 1981

Laughter punctuated the mistiness here and there, but when the veteran color guard marched down the center aisle and performed the flag ceremony, all eyes gushed.  The flag was slowly and methodically unfolded and held at a slightly upward-facing angle while "Taps" played and we barely remained upright.  Then they re-folded Old Glory and the naval officer presented it to my grandmother, who had not expected the ceremony at all.

Opa holding his grandson Tyler in Seattle, 1994

The congregation gathered in the reception hall and partook of the buffet while my photo montage cycled on my laptop.  The family then retired to my grandmother's house and shared stories and photos and wine.  Rae and I made a vow to travel north more often and spend some time with my grandmother, as there is much family history I feel I need to absorb.  It seems like no matter how many times you hear the old stories, there's always something new to discover.

Omi & Opa at my wedding to Raechelle, 2009

Anyway, this was my tribute:

Jack Tyler Brown was the kind of guy who made an impact on people.  Whether through his naval service, his teaching career, his church community or his family.  I have no doubt everyone here could tell a story about how my grandfather impacted their lives.  I could speak about how he connected with others, how he never met a stranger, how he thrived in a marriage of almost seven decades, how he served his country, how he was an icon to his students, how he always had a hug and a smile for a visitor.  But I’m going to be selfish for a moment and take this opportunity to tell you about how Jack Brown impacted *my* life.

It was due to my being born on an Army base in Germany that Jack was known as “Opa” to his grandchildren.  When Jack and Dorothy came across the Atlantic to see their first grandchild, they were given the German names for their station.

“Opa” did with me all the things a grandfather should do with a grandson:  He taught me how to fish, and how to clean what we caught.  He taught me how to make homemade ice cream, and how to grow scarlet runner beans and tomatoes.  We built things together.  We explored the beach or the dunes or a mountain trail, and afterward collapsed in a recliner and snoozed in front of the ballgame (something I know my siblings experienced as well).  We were silly.  We were incredibly silly.

Staying with Omi & Opa during the summers of my youth, whether at their cabin in the Sierras, or their home in Florence, Oregon, are some of my fondest memories.  Weekend mornings, the smell of coffee and newsprint, sharing the bed and the Sunday comics section with two laughing grandparents and one of three consecutive dogs.

And while all of these wonderful moments do add up, what was even more powerful is the message he gave to me.  I was smart.  I was able.  I was capable of achieving anything I set my mind to.  And it didn’t matter what that was – as long as I lived worthy of life.

That is how Jack Tyler Brown impacted my life.  I will treasure his memory, just as I will miss his hugs and his laughter, and his amazing pistachio bunt cake.

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