Friday, November 14, 2008

In Remembrance

A year ago today my Poppop died. I don't think I will ever forget that morning. It's amazing how a completely ordinary day turns into a totally unexpected one. I had just made my way down to my office at the group home I was working then working at. I was about to check tickets, you'd have to had worked at Way Station to understand, and was calling Lindsay about something probably not work related on my work phone when my mom's picture shows up on my other phone and that annoying Uummmbeeeeeerrrrreella sound was ringing loudly. I answered, holding both phones up to my ear and was unsure as to what to do because I had Lindsay's line ringing still and I had Mom, sounded frantic and like I was breaking up on the other, and I was in shock already. In the mean time Lindsay answered and I had Lindsay saying "Hello???" in one ear and Mom saying "Dan? Dan? Dan?" in another. I could tell by the tone of my mom's voice that she was desperate about something. I quickly got off the phone with Lindsay and listened to my mom tell me about how Frederick Memorial Hospital had just called her and said she needed to get there immediately. Knowing how the ER works at FMH through experience with other members I knew this wasn't good.

And I guess in some ways I knew or should have. But on that less than 5 minute car ride to the hospital I was just praying I was wrong. Maybe it was something else. Maybe I still had a chance to say goodbye. But maybe I am right.

I rushed to the ER where I found one of my favorite great Aunts and a really kind social worker who let me know my Poppop had passed away and that my Grandmother was in the room with him now with a neighbor.

I walk in to find my Namaw's super sweet neighbor and my Namaw with tears pouring and hankerchief in hand. She keeps saying over and over again, "What are we going to do, what am I going to do, how I am going to get along with out him?" Which of course, makes me cry for two reasons: 1) my poppop who I had so many awesome memories with is gone and 2) I loathe seeing my Namaw upset about anything.

After that it was a whirlwind of emotions. Family came and went. FMH was actually wonderful, they let us have that room for so long, even as the faint smell took over, which I tried to ignore but now it is hard to walk into a hospital without smelling death when it is around. (I associate a lot with smells. Side Story: I came home from school once in middle school and asked my mom when Namaw came by today because I could still smell the lingering scent of her perfume). They took care of my Namaw, who hours later was flown to Washington Hospital Center for almost a week while she recovered from what I believe was a broken heart.

I'm happy to say that my Namaw has done wonderfully this past year. She has said in the past that the one good thing that came out of all of this mess is the relationship that her and I have formed. I have visited her almost weekly, sometimes more and sometimes less and I love it and am happy to do it.

Anyway, I know this is posted on my old myspace blog but I though I would post my favorite story in honor of my Poppop today. It's "Fall of Freddie the Leaf." Love you, Poppop!

Spring had passed and so had summer…

Freddie the leaf had grown large. His mid-section was wide and strong and his five extensions were firm and pointed.

He had first appeared in spring as a small sprout on a rather large branch near the top of a tall tree.

Freddie was surrounded by hundreds of other leaves just like himself, or so it seemed. Soon he discovered that no two leaves were alike, even though they were on the same tree. Alfred was the leaf next to him. Ben was the leaf on his right side, and Clare was the lovely leaf overhead.

They had all grown up together. They had learned to dance in the spring breezes, bask lazily in the summer sun and wash off in the cooling rains.

But it was Daniel who was Freddie's best friend. He was the largest leaf on the limb and seemed to have been there before anyone else. It appeared to Freddie that Daniel was also the wisest among them. It was Daniel who told them that they were part of a tree. It was Daniel who explained that they were growing in a public park. It was Daniel who told him that the tree had strong roots, which were hidden in the ground below. He explained about the birds who came to sit on their branch and sing morning songs. He explained about the sun, the moon, the stars and the seasons. Freddie loved being a leaf. He loved his branch, his light leafy friends, his place high in the sky, the wind that jostled him about, the sun rays that warmed him, the moon that covered him with soft, white shadows.

Summer had been especially nice. The long hot days felt good and the warm nights were peaceful and dreamy.

There were many people in the park that summer. They often came and sat under Freddie's tree. Daniel told him that giving shade was part of his purpose.

"What's a purpose?" Freddie had asked. "A reason for being" Daniel had answered. "To make things more pleasant for others is a reason for being. To make shade for old people who come to escape the heat of their homes is a reason for being. To provide a cool place for children to come and play. To fan with our leaves, the picnickers who come to eat on checkered tablecloths. These are all reasons for being."

Freddie especially liked the old people. They sat so quietly on the cool grass and hardly ever moved. They talked in whispers of times past. The children were fun too, even though they sometimes tore holes in the bark of the tree, or carved their names into it. Still, it was fun to watch them move so fast and to laugh so much.

But Freddie's summer soon passed. It vanished on an October night. He had never felt it so cold. All the leaves shivered with the cold. They were coated with a thin layer of white, which quickly melted and left them dew drenched and sparkling in the morning sun.

Again it was Daniel who explained that they had experienced their first frost. The sign that it was fall and that winter would soon come.

Almost at once, the whole tree, in fact the whole park was transformed into a blaze of color. There was hardly a green leaf left. Alfred had turned a deep yellow. Ben had become a bright orange. Claire had become a blazing red, Daniel a deep purple, and Freddie was red and gold and blue. How beautiful they all looked. Freddie and his friends had made their tree a rainbow.

"Why did we turn different colors," Freddie asked, "When we are all on the same tree?" "Each of us is different. We have had different experiences. We have faced the sun differently. We have cast shade differently. Why should we not have different colors?" Daniel said matter-of-factly. Daniel told Freddie that this wonderful season was called fall.

One day, a very strange thing happened. The same breezes that in the past had made them dance began to push and pull at their stems, almost as if they were angry. This caused some of the leaves to be torn from their branches and swept up in the wind, tossed about, and dropped softly to the ground.

All the leaves became frightened. "What's happening?" they asked each other in whispers. "It's what happens in fall," Daniel told them. "It's the times for leaves to change their home. Some people call it 'to die.'" "Will we all die," Freddie asked? "Yes," Daniel answered. "Everything dies. No matter how big or small, how weak or strong. We first do our job. We experience the sun and the moon, the wind and the rain. We learn to dance and to laugh. Then we die."

"I won't die!" Freddie said, with determination. "Will you Daniel?" "Yes," answered Daniel, "When it's my time." "When is that?" Asked Freddie. "No one knows for sure." Daniel responded.

Freddie noticed that the other leaves continued to fall. He thought it must be their time. He saw that some of the leaves lashed back at the wind before they fell, others simply let go and dropped quietly. Soon the tree was almost bare.

"I'm afraid to die." Freddie told Daniel. "I don't know what's down there." "We all fear what we don't know, Freddie, it's natural." Daniel reassured him. "Yet you were not afraid when spring became summer. You were not afraid when summer became fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?" "Does the tree die too?" Freddie asked. "Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is life. That lasts forever, and we're all a part of life." "Where will we go when we die?" "No one knows for sure, that's the great mystery!" "Will we return in the spring?" "We may not, but life will." "Then, what has been the reason for all this?" Freddie continued to question. "Why were we here at all if we are only to fall and die?" Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, "It's been about the sun and the moon. It's been about happy times together. It's been about the shade, and the old people, and the children. It's been about colors in the fall. It's been about seasons. Isn't that enough?"

That afternoon, in the golden light of dusk, Daniel let go. He fell effortlessly. He seemed to smile peacefully as he fell. "Goodbye for now, Freddie." He said.

Then Freddie was alone. The only leaf left on his branch.

The first snow fell the following morning. It was soft, white, and gentle; but it was bitter cold. There was hardly any sun that day, and the day was very short. Freddie found himself losing his color, becoming brittle. It was constantly cold, and the snow weighed heavily upon him.

At dawn, the wind came that took Freddie from his branch. It didn't hurt at all. He felt himself float quietly, gently, and softly downward.

As he fell, he saw the whole tree for the first time. How strong and firm it was! He was sure that it would live for a long time, and he knew that he had been a part of its life, and it made him proud.

Freddie landed on a clump of snow. It somehow felt soft, and even warm. In this new position he was more comfortable than he had ever been. He closed his eyes and fell asleep. He did not know that spring would follow winter, and that the snow would melt into water. He did not know that what appeared to be his useless dried self would join with the water and serve to make the tree stronger. Most of all he did not know that there, asleep in the tree and the ground were already plans for new leaves in the spring.

…The Beginning

And perhaps the Eulogy I wrote too.

Some of my favorite memories of Pop-pop have all happened at the lake house. I remember my first fishing pole, which I believe is still up there. It doesn’t go more than 5 feet when you cast it, but none the less, the last time I went up there, I used it. Pop-pop taught me how to fish. One of the first things that I had to get over if I wanted to fish with my Pop-pop was that I had to put the worm on myself. That meant digging my finger into the nasty, wet feeling dirt that came in that small Styrofoam container we got from the country store from the guy that only had one eye. Pop-pop explained that is what happened to people who didn’t know how to cast properly, you take someone’s eye out. I remember because there were so many of us kids, I only had a limited number of worms and it always seemed like my worm was always getting eaten without the ball going down to let me know that a fish was nibbling. Pop-pop would always give me another chance and give me an extra worm. I knew I could count on him for that, being then, the only grand daughter.

I remember the fireworks every 4th of July. Pop-pop would always make us sit in our lawn chairs at least 50 feet from where they were going to fire from. He was safe that way. I remember his smile when he lit the one he had to nail to a tree that spun around in circles and made incredibly obnoxious noises.

I remember the swing that my parents and my grandparents pushed me on that was near the drive way of the lake house. It went so high and over a tiny section of the lake. I knew nothing bad would ever happen though because my Pop-pop was there.

I remember back to school shopping at Apple Blossom Mall. Pop-pop and Namaw would take us all day to get 4 new pairs of jeans, 4 new shirts, shoes and a book bag. We would always eat in the food court. He was always really proud of all of his grand kids for anything we did academically and was happy to send us to school looking just as snazzy as he looked all the time.

I remember him on my brother, Brett’s, 16th birthday. Brett had gotten a car, a car that he still has and Pop-pop got him a complete car care safety set. One of the gifts was in a box in a very familiar shape. Brett opened it, Pop-pop was laughing hysterically. It was a wrench in case he ever had a flat tire. Unsure how to wrap it, as it was a large, 4 sided wrench, clever Pop-pop went up to James Gang and got a pizza box. My whole family was laughing because Pop-pop thought it was just hysterical and was in tears from laughing so hard.

My latest memory of Pop-pop was me coming over just a few months ago to show him my new camera. As I was sitting there explaining to him all the different buttons and gadgets he had a painful expression on his face. When asked what was wrong, Pop-pop responded that he could not get the volume on his hearing aid turned down and my normal talking voice sounded like I was shouting incredibly loudly. I whispered for the rest of the visit. I imagined poor Namaw having to sit really close to the TV to hear her programs while Pop-pop could sit a normal distance away and still hear perfectly fine.

Pop-pop has taught me in the last few days to never save anything for the perfect day. I have learned that silverware tarnishes when it isn’t used, perfume turns to alcohol and never smells as sweet as when it was used, candles melt in the attic over the summer, plastic left on lamp shades makes them wrinkle and stories that are left unsaid become dated and sometimes it is too late. If I had one more day to spend with Pop-pop I would tell him so much. That I love him, that he raised the best family, and that he did everything just right. I would listen to his stories and maybe even let him teach me Morris code, which he could tell I had no interest in from the beginning.

I imagine that Pop-pop used everything he could with his life. I imagine him being asked to give an accounting of his life at the higher court. I dream that it would go much like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were left unfilled? Any unused talents that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?” And Pop-pop’s answer would be “I’ve nothing to return. I spent everything you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”

And Pop-pop would have it no other way.

It is definitely true that those we laughed with, learned from, leaned on and loved the most leave us the best memories. I will miss you Pop-pop.

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