My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
|My Dad passed away on 9/6/09. He missed my Mom greatly. They are together again, now. Below is the eulogy I delivered at his service.
A little more than six months ago I stood here and spoke to most of you about my mom. I thought that would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do… I was wrong.
I called my dad, Pop. It’s what he called his father. For a time, when I was younger, I tried referring to him as “the old man”. My nieces were horrified, and they kept pestering me to stop until I finally gave in. Apparently, women develop these arts of persuasion at an early age… and, I might add, they hone them finely over the years.
Many of you knew Pop as Joe. Around our house he was known as Big Joe and I, of course, was Little Joe. This caused some confusion amongst my college friends. When they would call, they would ask for Big Joe, and since Pop and I sounded alike on the phone, they would end up talking to Pop. I missed several good parties because I never found out about them until the following day…from Pop.
Some of you might have referred to Pop as Mr. Umholtz. As I got older I found people referring to me as Mr. Umholtz. It made me uncomfortable and I would simply tell them Mr. Umholtz lives in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. I’m just “Joe”.
In truth, Pop had many names. He was Pappy to his grandchildren. He was Uncle Joe to his nephews and niece. He was Joe. He was Mr. Umholtz. He was Dad, and he was Pop. Thanks to my nieces, he will never be “the old man.”
If you wanted to know who Pop was, all you needed to do was look at his hands. You could see his whole life there. They were the hands of a poor rural farm boy. They were the hands of a soldier who slogged across Western Europe building runways for Allied planes…behind the enemy lines. They were the hands that reached out to gently lift his children, grandchildren and great-grandson onto his lap. They were the hands that could make subtle adjustments to an electric motor, sewing machine or engine that often made the difference between its running or not.
When I was about twelve, while Pop was mowing the lawn, he caught his right hand in the moving blade of the mower. The doctor taped his fingers in place and sent him home with instructions to come to the hospital the following day for surgery. At home, he started the lawnmower and holding his bandaged hand above his head, finished the mowing. Each time I tried to get him to let me take over he chased me away… They were the hands of a stubborn Dutchman.
They were the hands of a gentle, kind soul, a dignified soul, a quiet soul. They were strong battered hands that had lived life, not merely observed it. They could coax a melody from a worn clarinet and hold a choir hymnal on a Sunday morning. Those hands placed my wife’s wedding ring in mine at our marriage. He was and always will be, my best man. They were the hands that lovingly held my Mom’s as together they looked back on a life well lived.
But to me, in my heart, they will always be the hands I would watch on a cool early autumn morning, while he stood in the Delaware River, in a mixture of swirling fog and new-day sunlight, one hand gently cradling a fishing rod while the other let the line glide over his fingers; Leaning forward, his arms outstretched, feeling the tug of an explosive smallmouth bass about to meet its match. A love and passion for fishing and hunting is something we shared all our lives. The fishing lure on Pop’s suit was made by his Dad, my Pappy. For close to 100 years it has served us well. You don’t have to look far to see where Pop got his hands.
Pop had that Dutchman’s twinkle in his bright blue eyes that told you he was not above a bit of mischief from time to time. In fact, it’s a wonder my sister and I are even here today. Not long after my parents were married, Pop and a friend devised a plan for removing a particularly large boulder from beneath our house. To make a long story short, the plan included, dynamite, old wooden doors, some fuse, and a Packard station wagon. The resulting explosion shook the entire house. When the smoke and dust settled, the boulder was still there, the wooden doors were turned into large toothpicks, several of which were protruding from the Packard Station Wagon. Pop and his friend had taken shelter behind the car. I’m not sure when they remembered Mom was still in the house, but I’m fairly certain they were reminded of it when she burst through the back door looking for them. I wouldn’t know this story if Pop hadn’t come home from work one day to find me busily attempting to dig the boulder out of the garden behind the house. I was tired of hitting it with the plow every spring. He made me cover it back up before Mom saw it. If you’re wondering how the boulder made it from the basement to the backyard…well… it’s good to have a little wonderment in your life.
That story, I suspect, is also the source of one of the many sayings Pop shared with us down through the years. When something we were doing would run askew or slightly a-kilter, he’d look at me with that Dutchman’s twinkle and say, “Well boy, there’s no sense in being stupid if you don’t show it.”
Linda recently commented to me that everyone loved Pop. I hadn’t really thought about it much until then, but I believe she’s right. In all my years I don’t ever recall anyone ever uttering a bad word about him. If they did, at least, they were smart enough to never say it in front of me. I do know, confidently, that everyone that met Pop learned something from him. I was lucky enough to have learned quite a few things. But even with that, after all these years, I often wish I could be just half as smart as he was. I wish I had his knowledge, his patience, his dignity, his humility, his common sense and the many other attributes that made him… Pop.
Years ago I heard a song by Vince Gill, and from the moment I first heard it I thought of Pop. I won’t even attempt to sing it. But for Pop, I will recite the lyrics.
I know your life
On earth was troubled
And only you could know the pain
You weren’t afraid to face the devil
You were no stranger to the rain
Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We’ll gather round your grave to grieve
I wish I could see the angel’s faces
When they hear your sweet voice sing.
Go rest high on that mountain
Your work on earth is done
Go to Heaven a-shouting
Love for the father and the son.
For all of you here today, please take your special memories of Pop and hold them close in your hearts. Remember that sweet voice, loving heart, Dutchman’s twinkle and Cheshire grin. It will be a very long, long time before someone as special as Pop comes our way again.
I’m still not ready to be Mr. Umholtz. What do I do now?