Departures

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I’ve tried to keep this space as a depository for scattered thoughts on cinema, but I recently had the honor of being asked to write my grandfather’s eulogy. I thought I would share it. 

Dear Grandpa:

The rest of the family asked me to speak this morning. I’m so honored. I’m also a little intimidated. The past 25 years have been a humbling experience for me. After all, I am named after you. I’ve found a connection to you through that, but it’s been a daunting task to walk in your shadow, let alone to summarize the life you lead.

Thankfully, I’ve collected a few memories from everyone, memories that were politely, but firmly suggested in that special Klein family way.

Mary recalled the night Grandma threw you a surprise birthday party. How Grandma convinced you to pick up Mary and Tom for a night of bowling. Back at the house, partygoers had arrived in secret. When you returned, Grandma needed a reason for everyone to come back inside, so she told you the furnace was broken, the same furnace you’d just fixed. So back into the house you came, huffing and cursing before a hushed audience of friends and family, all hiding in the other room.

You taught my father David, also named after you, how to throw a baseball. You taught him how to plant a garden. You’d let him stay up late on Saturday nights as a kid. Sometimes you’d watch Gunsmoke. Sometimes, you’d even let him light your cigarette. We didn’t repeat that tradition. You didn’t have a fancy education or a cozy office job, but if one were to look up “good father” in the dictionary, you’d find neither of those listed under the definition. At least that’s how my father described you, as only he can with his dry sense of humor. He says you gave him that, too.

Janet insisted I include, well, just about everything. She remembered how you brought the kids into the adult world in your own special way. You’d sit them on your lap while backing out of the driveway or let them pick out one sugary cereal in the breakfast aisle. After Sunday’s morning masses had ended, you and Janet totaled up the contents of the collection baskets together.

Michael talked about fishing. Lots of fishing. You bought a 6 horsepower motor and took the kids pan fishing. And then there was the ice fishing. Michael would listen as you and Bozo would talk about the good ‘ole days. Everybody would sit, and everybody would fish. He and Janette would take you out to the casino, and Grandma would stay up worrying over how much midnight oil you’d burn and how much money you’d lose. Did I mention the fishing?

Grandma only requested that I include a little humor. But your 63 years of marriage is an astonishing accomplishment. Not that you would boast about it – or boast about anything, really. You were a family man. You understood that dedication wasn’t limited to fighting for your country. Dedication meant standing by the ones you loved. You weren’t afraid to help change diapers or put supper on the stove when it was needed, to take the kids grocery shopping on Friday nights. You were a pillar of solidarity, of firm principles, faith in God, and hard work. You took pride in self-sufficiency, in preaching the value of a hard-earned buck. And you passed these values on to your children, who did their best to pass them on to their own. Trust me on that last part.

The rest of the family asked me to speak this morning, to share fond memories. But truthfully, a lot of these memories aren’t mine. I remember going fishing with you as a kid — or at least catching the goldfish-sized object that was at the end of my line. And I never got too excited over gambling, but I loved the focused look on your face as you went to town on your scratch-offs.

I remember the exact spot in our driveway where you would park the Buick for birthday parties. It’s the same spot in that great picture of you craning out the driver’s side window to give my sister a kiss. You’re making one of those goofy pouty kisses, too, the kind a toddler makes when she’s too young to know what she’s doing and too innocent to care. It’s a great picture.

I remember sitting and watching the Twins games with you. If a call at first base were crummy enough, maybe you’d grumble a “dammit” under your breath. You were the most loyal fan I’d ever met. You’d watch them day or night, win or lose — and boy, did they know how to lose.

I remember marveling at your intelligence, at how you could conjure names and dates out of thin air. In later grades, I remember questioning whether my public education would’ve been better spent with you and a pile of crossword puzzles. Attempts to finish the remaining clues in the Friday edition of The New York Times put an end to that. 14-Across: Latin phrase “to be in over one’s head.”

I remember playing Cootie and building houses of cards on the carpet of your porch, where you’d sit in your chair and put on a selection from one of your dozens of classical albums. You even let me take some home. I was so excited. I still have the Best of Edvard Grieg lying around somewhere. Those CDs shaped my own musical tastes, until you and Grandma helped pay for several of my own instruments. Your generosity toward your grandchildren truly knew no bounds. I know, because they don’t print coupons for saxophones in the Sunday paper. You gave me the gift of music, and your only request for reimbursement came in bringing some of your hard-nosed dedication to my own practicing – and perhaps bringing you a living room recital here and there. You’d nod your head in silent approval, sit back, and if I was doing an okay job, you’d crack a smile. That was you.

The rest of the family asked me to speak this morning, but I’d like end with someone else’s words. They’re a few lines from Louis L’amour, one of your old standbys. I chose them, not because it’s expected in these kinds of things, but because I admire their humility, their simplicity – and because, at some point, you probably read these exact same words.

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished; that will be the beginning.”

With love,

David

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