Grandfathers are put into our lives in order to make better sense of the universe. And my Grandfather certainly shaped the universe for myself and the rest of our family. Astronomer Dr. Michelle Thaller explains our position in the universe with the eloquent, yet literal sentiment — “We are dead stars, looking back up at the sky.” Grandpa now having returned to the sky.
My Grandfather, like all of us, was a complex person. He was someone many people would describe as gruff and serious. He didn’t always make the best first, second, or third impression, but his heart was always in the right place, whether he was ushering here at St. Mark or helping me clean rabbit cages or my cousins with their Boy Scout projects. But today, I want to talk about the Grandpa that I knew.
My Grandpa was the one who smiled for my photos — which he never did for Grandma —; he always made sure to hop on the phone and say “I love you”; and he liked to joke that I was his favorite. (But let me pause here and draw back the curtain to spoil you for Grandpa’s hand. He said this to all his grandchildren. Sorry, brothers and cousins, if this takes away the magic.)
My Grandpa found his joy with his grandchildren, and it’s something that almost wasn’t. I’m the oldest grandchild. When I was born over 30 years ago, my mother told him he wasn’t allowed to smoke or drink around me. My Grandfather in all his infamous stubbornness took a “5 Day Plan to Stop Smoking” class from the Seventh Day Adventists and quit cold turkey. Grandma recently gave me the certificate from the program, and I laughed a lot. Of course, Grandpa made something lots of people sincerely struggle with look like a day in the park with his granddaughter. Everyone now knows no single addiction can be curbed in five days. But Grandpa stopped a 40-year-old habit because of his love for his grandchildren.
My Grandpa showed his love through actions. He built two of the homes I’ve lived in, showing me how to hammer nails. Grandpa attended graduations, plays, birthday parties, 4-H fairs, piano recitals, and much more. He’d always help out where needed, whether buckling on my patent leather shoes or the time he disastrously attempted to brush my hair. Grandpa’s “get-it-done” attitude didn’t always mix with the delicate nature of grooming a 5-year-old. But his attitude did get a lot things right: like my need for a drill, after I moved away from home, or when he built little wooden hidey-holes for my rabbits.
Many of the happiest times during my childhood were the weekends spent at my Grandparents’ home. I’d sit in the passenger’s seat of my Grandpa’s pickup truck going from Bend to Eugene, chatting or singing his ear off with whatever was on my mind. Like my Grandpa, I’ve been full of opinions since day one. Opinions that my Grandpa and I were always honest and upfront with each other about. I’m pretty sure he was the first one to truthfully point out that I do not have the singing voice of an angel.
It’s an incredibly rare gift in life to find someone who you’re not afraid to talk to, because you know that they’ll always unconditionally love you and honestly root for your happiness as you shape it. This was my Grandpa. We didn’t agree on everything, and yes, sometimes I got his gruff too. But those were just moments, not lifetimes. My Grandpa understood that. While everyone else flipped out when I shaved my head at 16, my Grandpa took it all in stride. He instead patted my head and told me that the texture reminded him of his childhood dog Fred. After all, my hair was a) already gone and b) would grow back. Even in his disapproval, he was practical and loving.
While I’m sure my Grandpa would enjoy all this bragging about how much I love and miss him, he was never someone who appreciated the overly sentimental. He would much rather see everyone together and enjoying themselves. Grandpa would like us to be doing something. So please join us, after this service concludes, at the Parish Center for food and fellowship.
This was written for my Grandfather’s memorial service in May. Donald Caffee passed away this April. Today, we put Grandpa’s ashes in the Willamette National Cemetery.