When I started writing yesterday’s post, I intended to share memories about all four of my grandparents. But as I got into it, I realized I was focusing on the end of their lives, and that gets a bit maudlin after awhile. My intention was to illustrate how all of their funerals were really positive events. They were a chance to gather with family and celebrate a great life. At my paternal grandfather’s funeral, my aunt expressed the sentiment perfectly in her eulogy when she said, “He was tired and in pain, so we wouldn’t wish him back. But we do miss him.”
I can tell you plenty of stories about him. Unlike my mother’s father, he was ridiculously healthy in his later years. Every day he would walk from his condominium at the mouth of Emigration Canyon to his office downtown and back again. The trek was at least a 10 mile round trip or more. But after he turned 90, he fell down, and he never really recovered. He slowed down considerably and got a bit dingy. One of my cousins, a cardiologist who essentially became Grandpa’s personal, on-call physician, recalls once asking him if he wanted a glass of water, and Grandpa replied, “We Japanese don’t drink water.” Make of that what you will.
Still, up until the end, he had moments of lucidity, and he never lost his sense of humor. He was especially fond of limericks and clever poems, of which he had an endless supply for every occasion. This is the one that was repeated at his funeral:
Fell in the fire and burned to ashes.
By and by the room grew chilly
No one wanted to poke up Willy.
When I was but a lad of three years old, he and my grandmother celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and it was my job to participate in the program by singing a verse Grandpa had passed on to my father, who passed on to me:
Took great care of his Mother, though he was only three.
James James said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down to the end of the town
if you don’t go down with me.”
I got up on stage and, staring out at what seemed like an endless sea of people, burst into tears. That’s one of my earliest memories – choking in front of Grandpa. I’m now trying to teach the same song to Stalliondo, who has the requisite age and moniker, but Grandpa isn’t around to hear him atone for my mistakes.
He was a man of considerable accomplishment – a businessman and a civic leader, as well as the guy who invented the first “Colorizer” paint. Every time you buy a bucket of white paint and get the Home Depot guys to inject some color into it, you can thank my Grandpa for that idea. In fact, you should probably pay me a royalty, which I’ll be happy to collect on his behalf.
I am his youngest grandson, so I have no real memories of him as a captain of industry or a leader of men. To me, he was just Grandpa, the guy who asked me to sneak him a piece of candy after Gram had put it away before dinner and then let me take the fall when Gram caught me in the act. He was the host of a weekly Family Gathering every Sunday evening, when any cousin in town had an open invitation to drop by unannounced and visit. He was a man who had life in perspective and, even amid the accolades he collected over the course of his career, never took himself too seriously.
My favorite story in that regard was recounted by my cousin at the funeral. Robert Redford once approached him at some official function to introduce himself. They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and my cousin, eyes wide, said, “Grandpa, do you know who that was?”
Grandpa shrugged. “No,” he said, “but people do that all the time, and you have to be polite.”