Thursday, June 12, 2014

Words Left Unsaid

Over the weekend, I was asked by my aunt to speak last night at my grandfather's funeral.  I speak for a living.  I tell tales of times gone by.  You would think that it is no big deal.  I do it everyday.  I can speak in front of a thousand kids and never bat an eyelash.  It is just what I do.  But you ask me to speak in front of my colleagues or other adults - my throat tightens, my voice quivers, my neck gets all splotchy red.  It is not a pretty sight to be seen.

So I started writing.  I mean really, how big of a deal is that??  I do that all the time, too.  Right??  (Well, not here lately...head hung in shame.)  And I just could not find the words.  I also started thinking that I would be married to the paper if I did that.  I would lose my place, stammer, stutter...I don't teach from notes or scripts or speeches or anything written.  Why would I do that this time?? I decided I would just speak from the top of my head.

The visitation was beautiful.  I was amazed at how many people did not recognize me.  One of my dad's cousins...the last time I saw her was at her wedding...when I was 12.  And here I was with my oldest about to enter high school.  The kids were great considering wakes are not the most exciting thing to attend. (Mine will be, mark my words!)

And then it was time for the service.

In true Doran fashion, none of the electronics worked properly.  My poor grandpa could not program a remote or go back and forth from the VCR to the cable box.  Or turn on the digital picture frame we bought my grandparents.  We all kinda snickered as the funeral director swore everything worked perfectly earlier in the day.

So, we were behind schedule.  It was getting late.  The memorial was beautiful.  My cousin read some things that my aunt had written and it was getting to be even later, so I passed on speaking.  It was a geriatric and a very young crowd.  Both groups were tired and hungry and ready to go home.

But here is what was in my head.
When I was asked by Debbie to speak tonight, I was at a loss for what to say.  I spoke with my dad and his response was, "You don't have to say anything.  He was a very ordinary man. He just worked hard.  I don't know what you would have to say."
 And my dad was right.  He was extraordinarily ordinary.  He worked.  All the time.  He worked for his dad's moving company...and we still have the moving straps and dollies to move us from us to house.  He drove a truck.  He delivered liquor.  He managed a movie theater. And was a manager for an early R&B group.  My dad remembers sitting on the basement stairs and watching them practice.  Most importantly, he was a bartender.  At the same bar for as long as I could remember.
I know it is funny for me to say most importantly, but it really was.   I spent many a Saturday morning/afternoon hanging out there.  Conning the old guys out of Hershey bars and "sodie waters". I grew up in that bar.  I learned how to count and count quickly in my head, because of that bar.  Math? Taught in an old Milwaukee corner bar, you ask.  Yup.  It is called Cribbage.    I learned how to subtract quickly in my head as well, from that same bar.  Remember darts...before they were electronic.  Yeah.  I was not going to be the one to bust.  I was also exposed to the basics of geometry through the pool table.  Sounds funny, but 'tis true.  I am a teacher, but also a firm believer that education is everywhere.  Even in Jim's Bar.
Now, that bar served another purpose in my education. Jim's always sponsored my dad and grandpa's Friday night bowling team.  I guess that would a lesson in community involvement and economics.  So many nights spent in houses that are no longer in existence.  Chris Corners, Court Lanes on FdL, All-Star Lanes, Crestview, Silverbird...  I think I came out of the womb with a bowling ball in my hand.  Up until I had so many horrible complications when I was pregnant with our youngest, I was still bowling 3 nights a week.  There's my Phy Ed.  I would probably classify that as Lifelong Sports (if that course code is still floating around).  By, like every good instructor, there was cross curricular integration.  More math.  Marking score.  Once I was old enough to stop begging for quarters for the arcade, they sat me down at the scoring table in the settee area.  Again, this was before technology took over.  This was when you had to use the tele-score overheads.  You know, the ones you fought to get the right side of so you didn't burn your arm marking score for the team on top. You learned the math.  I turn everything into some format of 10s, t o this day, because of bowling. My first love and heartbreak came out of the bowling world.  As did many trophies, scholarships and temper tantrums at tournaments when I couldn't keep up with the older girls.  As I became a grown up, many life long friends have come from that world.  
And that might not have ever happened without my grandfather.
If we could go back to the bar for a moment.  (Because that is what you do after bowling...go to the bar that sponsors you.) My grandfather was a bartender.  That is how I will always remember him.  As a bartender.  At Jim's and when it became Hampton House.  But, he also had a full bar in his basement.  That is where I learned another lifelong skill.  How to tap a proper beer and socialize.  Bar tending got me through college and paid for my wedding, and I am hopeful that it will be part of my retirement. When we spent the summers by my grandparents while my parents were working, we would wait for grandpa to come home.  Stealing his chair, the moment we heard his truck pull up.  Once he came in and got cleaned up, with my grandma in the kitchen, he would send me down for a beer.  You know the full BRICK bar in his basement, complete with tapper. (And boob mug with a Booze IV just for good measure.)  When his buddies came over, I was the bartender.  Whether it was from the tap or from the fridge with a few bottles of  Lite, I learned how to charm and serve.  Which if you know my snarky side, is a very necessary skill.  
What else there?  My love of Frank Sinatra and the rat pack from his reel to reel...which is still in my dad's living room.  Disney, I still covet his Mickey Mouse watch.  Stuffed animals.  He was amazingly talented at figuring out those claw'd be amazed at how many animals he got me from those things.  It was indeed a talent.  My husband still uses his "chemistry set" on our lawn...his was always immaculate.  
I guess my dad was right.  He lived an ordinary life.  He was married to one woman, had two kids - one boy and one girl.  He worked hard.  He was ordinary.  An ordinary father, husband, teacher, bartender, friend.  But, how many us long for that?  Simple time with our parents. Someone you can always talk to and have a drink.   Patient enough to deal with an 8 year-old on his "night out" and to have his friends accept me as well.
The dementia took him from us long ago.  Just a piece at a time.  Forgive me if my tears are limited.  At the surprise 80th birthday party for my grandma, that I helped  him plan...he forgot who I was when his brother-in-law (who has also forgotten me) asked who I was.  He forgot I had the girls.  He became confused and obsessed. Argumentative and combative.  And none of that was my grandfather.  I think I have been quietly mourning his passing for years.  Just, a little bit at a time.  He still enjoyed coming to the kids parties, but he was no longer the life of the party.  When we were in the hospital this past spring with him and refused to eat, I sat there and treated like my youngest.  "That's fine, but first take a bite of your grilled cheese."  He was no longer there. I got him to eat his sandwich, but that was not the man I will remember. I watched his mother waste away into near oblivion. For years.  And I am so very thankful that he did not have to endure this as long as she did.  
I will remember the man who was passing out various drinks with Baileys in it at Christmas. Asking me to bring my violin to play for everyone.   Taking my 3 year-old in before school and after school.  Letting her walk with him to get the mail and talk to the ladies downstairs. Complaining that Marv had no idea how to oil the lanes.  Telling me that it often helped if it actually put my fingers in the ball when I got lazy on lanes.  
I am not going to mourn his passing.  He is not gone.  Energy does not cease to exist, it merely changes form.  Instead, I will embrace those lessons and stories and pass them on. This is a celebration of a life, well lived, in the most ordinary fashion possible. 
He is no longer with us, but still among us.  He will be an important part our lives forever. We miss you already, Grandpa.
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