Today is my first Sunday at church without my grandfather in the front row. You know, we often arrived late – about 10 minutes or so.
It was always the same routine. I’d pick Granddaddy up in the “Old Olds”, as he liked to call the old car he gave me. He’d roll down the window and take in the sunshine, commenting on how great it was to get some air. He’d ask me how my studies were going, perhaps quiz me on a couple economic terms. Thanks to him, I’ll never forget that GDP is the total value of all FINAL goods and services produced within a year, never intermediate. He’d then remind me that he wrote 12 books, and ask if my economics professors knew who he was, interrupting himself to complain when I stopped at stoplights, when he thought we could’ve made it.
Once arrived, I would always let Granddaddy hop out of the car in front, leaving him to run inside and reserve his favorite seat while I searched for parking. And every Sunday, he would give me the same instructions as we pulled up. “I always like to sit up front. On the left,” he’d say. “We’re late and the sermon’s supposed to be good so there will probably be a lot of people there. If you can join me, that’s great. If not, I guess I’ll see you later.”
Of course, how could I not join him, having blocked out my Sunday morning to do just that? And so I would. 15 minutes into the service, I would quietly squeeze past the ushers, tiptoeing in my heels, and as I attempted to not to block anyone’s view, would make my way right up to the front.
When I finally sat down next to him, the smile on his face always assured me he was glad I made it.
Sometimes, though, he was a little too glad. I think it took him about a year to stop standing up during “Joys and Sorrows”, and, between the announcements of deaths, marriages, adoptions and graduations, announce that today, his granddaughter, Alicia Maxine Kenworthy, was with him at church. And that she spoke French like a native. And that she was a student at Georgetown. And then he would ask me to stand up, stopping just short of requesting applause from the audience....
I know my Grandfather adored me, as he did my grandmother Maxine, all his three children and grandchildren. But I didn’t escape his criticism. He loved to tell me, that although I had beautiful legs, my shorts were a little too short - that it was nice I had tried to dye my hair brown but Gentlemen prefer blonds, or that my toenail polish was pretty, but it might be more becoming were it not chipped.
Those of you who knew him realize I wasn’t the only object of his critiques. I don’t know if you ever noticed, but when everyone would lights candles right here up front - it would always be the most embarrassing part of the service for me. He took amusement in people’s faults as they walked past us, letting me know with a shouting whisper who had recently come out of the closet, who had gained a few pounds, whose shirt was a little too ostentatious for his taste, and who should probably try to find a husband before her looks fade.
I should probably take this opportunity to apologize to all of you now!
Yet at the same time, I would hesitate to do just that. For, true to his Unitarian beliefs, I would argue that he saw the inherent worth and dignity of every individual more than anyone. Rather than politely ignoring elephants in the room, he said things as they were - never pretending he was perfect, either, but rather laughing at our collective shortcomings and appreciating them for the humor they provide.
And so, when my grandfather embodied that imperfection - showing up at fundraising dinners at the Ritz Carlton with a shower cap on his head, refusing to change his suit jacket because navy and black match just fine, or insisting on wearing his favorite tie, despite the five year old coffee stains - it was thanks to him that I learned to laugh and let live, as well.
************************I could go on for hours. I could tell you how I loved my grandfather so much as a little girl, that I forced myself to eat blue cheese with him while watching the news before dinner, just so I could be like him, and even snuck a sip of his beer one time while fetching it from the kitchen. Blue cheese is now the only strong cheese I’ll eat, by the way.
I could tell you about how he taught me my first song on the piano, and it’s still one of the only songs I know.
I could tell you how he danced with me in our living room on Waterway drive, joined me for canoe rides out on the lake, took me for hundreds of walks down to the beach 3, or, behind Grandmom’s back, gave me $10 rolls of quarters to play on the game machines while we were all shopping at Safeway.
I could tell you about growing up with him by my side, and his being there every step of the way. His meeting my first boyfriend and showing off his collection of mystery novels, warning him “you’d better watch out, because I love murder!” His watching me graduate from high school, then college - congratulating me, before commenting that I would make a lovely housewife.**********************
Aware that these last days we spent together were probably he last, I sought solace in his company. I clung to his hand, until he asked me to please stop rubbing his thumb! I opened the last novel he gave me - seeking words of comfort and wisdom, and instead finding the trashy erotic novel of a 45 yr. old cougar who whisks her deck repairman to Paris for a romantic tryst. I sought to know what he was thinking - and learned that the nurses are quite pretty. I cried, and he comforted me with his favorite French joke about Napoleon and Josephine.
I firmly believe, at the age of 92, that my grandfather died all too young. Somehow, I eternalized him, as if he would always be by my side, no matter what. My grandfather was simply too perfect to die.
And so now, all of a sudden, I’m faced with all of those existential questions. For those of you who attend this church, you may struggle as I do with questions of theology and the afterlife. I remember asking Granddaddy once about his definition of God. He said “God is the intellectual force of the universe.” So, lying in bed last night, I played a little theological logic game.
If God is the intellectual force of the universe, and Granddaddy was a renowned scholar, professor, and intellectual in his own right... he is not only with God right now, he IS God...Or at least, part of him.
And with him looking over my family and myself each night, I know we’ll somehow we'll be OK.