On Monday, my grandfather passed away. Tonight, we’ll have a simple service, in keeping with his wishes, to celebrate his life and the family he created. My mother asked me to say a few words.
One of the most daunting things about writing a eulogy – along with the tears that keep erupting as you try to write – is trying to determine how to encapsulate a whole lifetime in a few remarks. I worried about all the things I don’t know about him. I don’t know what kind of son he was or what it was like to be his friend. I never saw him at work or experienced him as a young father and husband.
So, I decided to go with what I know, and talk about him as only I can. I am, after all, his only granddaughter.
I’ve sifted through countless stories and memories trying to decide what to say. Many of these stories were shared tonight and more will be told in the days and weeks to come, but this is what I’ll remember most about him.
He was a child of his generation. Having known want and limited resources as a child, he was careful and frugal as an adult. Nothing was junk to him. He always managed to find new uses for things and his interest in inventing things fascinated me as a child. He saw the value in things – especially things that others had cast aside. Everything that came into his life, be it a broken motor, a piece of junk mail or a plastic milk jug, was scrutinized for its potential use. He recycled long before recycling was cool.
He was a lifetime, platinum-level member of the clean plate club. While that may be partly because of the way he was raised, it was probably helped a great deal by the fact that he married a woman who was a wonderful cook and baker. You couldn’t get a word out of him when he was eating. I was never sure if that was because he liked the food so much or he was just completely unable to multitask. He loved corn flakes and mashed potatoes and banana cream pie to name just a few. While all of us have had many a laugh over how and what (and how much) he ate, I don’t think any of us have been as satisfied with something as simple as a piece of bread and jam as he was.
He was a connector. He knew everybody, or so it seemed to me growing up. Once he told me that he liked everyone in school as a child because, in his words, “we were all the same.” While I’m sure there were people he didn’t much care for, he generally approached each person he met with an open heart, and a curious and friendly welcome. It was more than the fact that he could talk to anybody – but boy could he ever – it was that he remembered everybody and found them all to be interesting and worth getting to know.
Despite his love for people, in the end, he just wanted his family close by. But maybe that’s the way he always wanted it. He cherished his wife, his family, his home and the friends he’d known his whole life. While he was interested in meeting others, he always came back to his house on the corner.
The final story I’d like to tell took place about 6 years ago. He was laid up with an injury and was worried about getting his vegetable garden planted, so I volunteered to help. As he showed me what he wanted planted and where to sow the seeds, I marveled at the rich, dark earth of his garden. The rest of the lot is made up of sandy soil, but the garden was completely different. I asked him how this came to be and he shrugged and said that for years he worked his grass clippings and compost into this soil and over time, it became this amazing medium for growing things.
Maybe there is no better metaphor for his life. He wasn’t flashy or famous, but his consistency, his hard work, his willingness to see the value in all things created a wonderful place for things to grow – things like his kids, his grandkids, his great-grandkids. Things like me.
I love you Grandpa. Rest in peace.
Harlon Eugene Thompson
May 26, 1920 – June 4, 2012