August 09, 2006

Home

Home. Yes, home. When I mentioned a couple days ago that I was taking a 36-hour road trip, I wasn't kidding. We left on Monday morning around 8:00 and returned about 8:00 last night. At least 12 of those 36 hours were spent in a car and I suppose a few were used trying to get some sleep. It's no wonder I'm more than a little exhausted.

We breezed into Tiny Midwestern Town on Monday afternoon, quickly changed clothes and headed to the funeral home. I wasn't looking forward to seeing my grandfather, for a lot of reasons I'm sure I'll go into later. More than anything else, the idea of hanging out with a dead person doesn't rub me the right way. It wasn't nearly as creepy as I'd expected it to be. Odd, but not creepy. He looked good, much better than he had while alive over the last couple of years. And I think it was important to my grandmother to seem him one last time.

The funeral, yesterday morning, was nice. None of the kids or grandkids felt they could adequately deliver a eulogy without losing it, so my mom did the honors. And, despite the fact that I'm not sure she and my grandfather saw eye to eye on much, she did a beautiful job. Afterwards, we adjourned to the church hall where everyone in town had seemingly baked or cooked something. It was an amazing show of support.

At the viewing on Monday night and the funeral on Tuesday, I'm not sure I shook hands with anyone less than double my age. They shared stories, told me things about my grandfather I didn't know, and, more fun, told me things about my parents growing up that I'd never heard. Their hometown is a small town. There are still only 25,000 people who live there. A couple of the old neighborhoods my dad and I drove through yesterday morning look exactly as they did when he lived there 50 years before. Of course, Maple Street, which used to be the main drag - a two lane road lined with maple trees - is a four lane through-way lined with fast food joints instead of trees. All but a few of the maples are gone. But everywhere we went, my parents knew someone, be it the owner of the pizza place we picked up dinner from on Monday (because my parents and their friends helped keep that same pizza place in business when they were in high school 45 years ago) or the brothers that ran the funeral home. I met my mother's high school drama teacher, Vic Damone's mother-in-law, several of my father's partners in crime from his junior high school days, not to mention several cousins and aunts and uncles I never knew existed.

The town's Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) unit came out and performed their 21 gun salute for my grandfather, a cook who was handed a rifle and told to help invade Guadalcanal. They handed the American flag to my grandmother and we later discovered they'd given her the shells for the bullets fired during the salute. Most of his church's congregation came to pay their respects. After all, he'd been a member of the church for 65 years. He helped raise most of the money when the new church was built in the early 70s. Former Sunday school students from years past came to pay their respects.

While I wasn't looking forward to doing this, to making this long trip to pay my respects to a man I never fully knew and wasn't at all close to, I'm glad I went. I spent time with my family, reconnected, learned things about them and myself that I might not otherwise have recognized and saw a small-town approach to life that I very much enjoyed. And perhaps, now, I understand my grandfather better than I ever did before. I guess you could see it as tragic, but we're closer now in death than we ever were while he was alive. I think I needed that. Maybe he did too.

When I hugged my grandmother yesterday, before getting into the car and driving back home, she said, "thanks for coming home." Home. I'd never thought of that small town as home. I'd never spent more than a week straight in it. But seeing how deeply involved my family has been there, seeing those roots and how deep they go, maybe she's right. Home.

Posted by Chris at August 9, 2006 07:54 AM
Comments

Funerals, while sad in and of themselves, often serve a greater purpose. While honoring the lives of a loved one we've lost, we're often given the chance to reconnect with family and friends. To be together with people we may rarely or never see otherwise, but should.

I'm glad you had a nice visit, even if the reason for visiting was sad.

Posted by: Alissa at August 9, 2006 08:08 AM

It was a good thing that you went. Many people don't realize how important funerals are. Especially to the elderly. Good of your Mom to do the eulogy. Those are so hard to do. I just gave one for my Aunt in January and both nerves and emotion were hard to control.
Glad you are back, safe and sound.

Posted by: Maribeth at August 9, 2006 08:34 AM

My grandfather, that I was very close to, died Christmas Eve this past year. He had parkinson's disease and so it was a long drawn out thing. Although I dreaded the funeral and all that goes with it, it was a good, healing thing for me and for my family. It's a weird ritual to think about when you don't actually have to do it. But, it serves a purpose.

I'm glad that you felt good about it, all considering.

Posted by: Sharri at August 9, 2006 09:31 AM

Yeah, it's interesting the things we do as a matter of tradition... and only later in life do we realize why we've done them all these years.

Posted by: Brad at August 9, 2006 09:58 AM

I can't really add anything to the three previous (excellent) comments.

Posted by: Alison at August 9, 2006 09:58 AM

We missed you, but it sounds like you were where you needed to be, even if it wasn't apparent going in.

Posted by: Karen at August 9, 2006 10:00 AM

I'm glad you had a good time (well, you know what I mean). When the real essence of a person has been gone as long as your grandfather's was, it really is a relief.

I come from a *much* smaller town than your parents, and know what you mean about never going anywhere without knowing somebody.

Posted by: Kate the Shrew at August 9, 2006 10:08 AM

I think the key phrase in all this is
"learned things about them and myself that I might not otherwise have recognized"

Posted by: Bill at August 9, 2006 10:09 AM

I only lived a few years in WV as a teen. When I think of home, that's what I think of, though for most of my life I've only been there a week or so at a time. But it's where my family is from. It's where my roots were.

Almost no lives there anymore, but in my mind it's still pretty home.

Glad you're home safe and sound.

Posted by: Autumn at August 9, 2006 10:18 AM

I'm gld you're back safely. I've had to put my own feelings aside more than once for the sake of those I loved. It might not have been important to me; it was extremely important to them.

I remember the small town thing too.

Posted by: ann adams at August 9, 2006 10:38 AM

What a wonderful reconnection to your family and its history in your parents' hometown...

Posted by: Jenn at August 9, 2006 10:51 AM

I know exactly what you mean. Even though my parents don't live in the same town where I grew up, most of my family has relocated to the same area where my parents live now as well. My in-laws even live there too. So when we go visit - I still say "I'm going home for the weekend".

Posted by: Sue at August 9, 2006 11:30 AM

So, here's the obvious question... did you look around and wonder what would be said at YOUR funeral?

(a la 9th grade english)

I bet Mia will love the small town experience one day.

Posted by: Pammer at August 9, 2006 12:04 PM

Small towns are wonderful that way. My mom's family settled in the area where I grew up, so everyone knew us and it always freaked me out, as a very young child, when these seemingly ancient people would come up to me and talk about my grandparents and their families. In fact, one year around Thanksgiving or Christmas, my Brownie troop went around town taking little baskets of food and stuff to the elderly folks and at one house, this woman pulled me out of our small group and began talking to me about my grandpa. She disappeared into the hosue and came back a few minutes later with an envelope that contained a lock of his hair. I grew up thinking that everyone knew my grandpa. heh

Glad you're home :)

Posted by: Sparkle Pants at August 9, 2006 12:22 PM

glad you had a good experience from a sad occasion. :)

Posted by: suze at August 9, 2006 12:22 PM

Im glad you got what you needed and Im glad you are back.

Hugs!!!

Posted by: That Girl at August 9, 2006 12:28 PM

Funny how funerals can do that to a person. Change ones life, point to a new perspective or sum up the value of the living and the dead.

Welcome back.

Posted by: chantel at August 9, 2006 12:49 PM

Funerals are often for the living, I think. While they are terrible and sad, it does give you a idea of all the people you make a difference too in your life.
I'm sorry for your loss.

Posted by: JJ at August 9, 2006 12:53 PM

There is no more important task to perform than taking part in the rites of saying goodbye, of showing our respect to the survivors, taking our place within our extended families. The need to honor the dead is an ancient one, and the rituals are important not only as public displays but also as personal journeys.

As both my parents were menopause babies, I've been doing this duty since I was 11. I've held the hands of three (Dad, Mom, Cousin Joe) as they made their crossing. And after probably no fewer than 40 services for various family members, friends and contemporaries (three in the last 10 months), I can honestly say I've done my duty.

All of this has made me understand my place in the world a whole lot better, and has helped shape the kind of person I am today. I want to be remembered kindly at my death, if there is anyone to remember at all. Yet it's far more important to be remembered kindly now.

Posted by: bhd at August 9, 2006 01:29 PM

Maybe I am just overly hormonal at the moment, but this post made me tear up....

As close as I was to my own grandfather, I never really KNEW him, if that makes any sense. I mean, I knew him as my Pop, but I didn't really know the MAN, and that saddens me. I learned a lot about him after his passing, things I wish I had known while he was alive.

I am sorry for your loss, but glad that you were able to gain what you did, while on your trip.

Posted by: jen at August 9, 2006 01:39 PM

I don't know what is it about funerals and weddings. Both bring about a family gathering. It seems people are more apt to share things about themselves and their lives during these occasions. Both happy and sad.

When my Dad died, I think my family laughed, sang, cried, danced and told stories more than we ever did when he was with us. But then, again, he WAS with us.

After all the energy and effort in a 36-hour road trip, sacrificing sleep and comforting your grandmother for her loss, you have grown to appreciate "home" and what it means to you.

Best always to Beth and Mia Bean.

Tootles,
Anni :-)

Posted by: Anni at August 9, 2006 01:56 PM

It sounds like it was as good as a funeral can be. I know one of the parts I liked the most about my grandmother's funeral was meeting people who remembered my mom as a small child and getting to feel those same connections, if only for a little while.

Posted by: bad penguin at August 9, 2006 02:00 PM

I think funerals are more for the living than the dead. This is the perfect example as to why. How amazing that you got to experiance all of these postive things because something so sad happened.

I loved hearing about the new things you learned over the last few days. It sounds like a very important trip that you just took.

(and I hope you guys can rest up from it.)

Posted by: Isabel at August 9, 2006 02:02 PM

I gave the eulegy for my grandfather's funeral. I think home is often where our ancestors are buried...
My mom asked me, when I moved away from my hometown, "Where will you be buried?"
Sort of bothered me then and that was 17 years ago.

Have you thought of where you'll be buried? (or where your ashes will go if you are cremated?).
In the south, they called funerals "homegoing" ceremonies.
Fodder to think about. Condolences.

Posted by: H.A. Page at August 9, 2006 02:24 PM

Travel can wear you out, especially 36 hours of it! So sorry to hear about your Grandpa, and I completely understand the range of emotions you went through...kind of like an awakening.

Posted by: MrsJoseGoldbloom at August 9, 2006 02:24 PM

Isn't it strange how something that is bad can bring so many people togeather? I am glad you were able to reconect with so many family members.

Posted by: Melissa at August 9, 2006 03:32 PM

Glad you found home and came home and feel at home and home is where the heart is...

You know, all that mushy stuff. We missed you.

Go take a nap.

Posted by: Elaine at August 9, 2006 03:33 PM

Reconnecting, for me that sometimes seems to be the most positive part of such a sad occasion. Perhaps that's why we gather, to honor the departed by reconnecting with home.

Posted by: Kelly at August 9, 2006 03:38 PM

Every person has a story and that little town with its Mayberry-esque sounding street names and friendly people is the setting for the story that can be told about your grandfather. Just the little you wrote sounds interesting.

Posted by: wordgirl at August 9, 2006 04:03 PM

"Home" can be a weighty word sometimes.

Posted by: Stephanie at August 9, 2006 04:41 PM

Glad you made it back safe. This was an absolutely beautiful post. I grew up in the same small town as my parents, so I've heard those stories my whole life. They're kind of nice.

Posted by: Beth in StL at August 9, 2006 08:04 PM

Oh, what a beautiful post. (Again!) I'm so glad that you had those experiences, made those connections and gained that insight into your family.

Posted by: Kristina at August 10, 2006 01:44 AM

I've always thought funerals were definitely more for the living, than for those who passed away...your post confirms that.

So sorry about the loss of your grandfather Chris, however, how you must love the feeling of home you found in that Tiny Midwestern Town :)

Posted by: DaFFy at August 10, 2006 02:04 AM

Well...I think that is why I live where I live...I was born and raised here...love it here...I am deeply connected.

Home and the feeling of home is important and I think you get that more once you have children of your own. Our kids can't walk down the street with out being seen by some one we know...and having them tell us what they were doing. It is good and bad all at once! giggle

I even love the corney parades we have. I can be a dork though. : )

Posted by: Gypsy at August 10, 2006 08:45 PM

Yeah, my experience has been that funerals are so much more about the family coming together and the resulting flood of memories and associations than anything else.

Posted by: Kristen at August 11, 2006 02:12 PM