Eulogy for My Grandfather
On a warm, sunny day just like today, we boys would wait impatiently in the house—and then eventually just have to go outside. With our eyes out on our country road, we’d finally, suddenly see his big blue truck, with big red boat in tow, slow and then turn into our driveway.
Grandpa’s truck would crawl to a stop at our house. Then he’d get out and mosey on up to us, and in his gentle, swaying voice would simply offer up a “Mornin’.”
We boys would all smile—not just because we were beginning another day of fishing in northern Minnesota—but because Grandpa Ferdig was here.
Some grandpas might be grumpy. Some might be preachy. Some perhaps the life of the party.
My Grandpa Rich was mild-mannered (but not boring), humorous (but not outspoken), and gentle (but also firm in his convictions).
That's how I remember him as a child.
In my adult years, and he in his later ones, I tried to soak in his wisdom and experience.
Grandpa was from an older generation of handymen, jacks-of-all-trades. He would ride horse and bale hay on one day, install a septic tank on the next, do some work on his restored Studebaker on Day 3, and then for fun tap some maple trees for syrup (or maybe take us fishing).
I would often stop by his house and listen to him share about his life. Perhaps his best story was from hunting caribou in Alaska.
One morning he spotted two on a distant hill. He got them both. But then a grizzly and her two cubs got to them first. With the grizzlies at one caribou, he and his son-in-law approached the other just 50 yards away. And with the momma grizzly grunting and looking over, these two grabbed the caribou’s legs and drug it away.
Working a toothpick in mouth, Grandpa said in that mild, understanding way of his, “I figure she had as much right to them as we did.”
A gentle man even when confronting a grizzly in the wild.
Thanks to the nudging of my brothers, I captured that story just a few years ago and made a video for my YouTube channel. Over 3800 people have now watched his story:
Some have commented:
“I always love listening to these elders reasoning. It's like they are a living university. They teach you without even knowing it.”
“Amazing story. Your grandpa is a special American. He has a great history inside him.”
I agree with this second comment. It’s Grandpa’s distant history that left bigger impressions on me: his childhood pumping water out of a well, farming with a horse, and calling someone on a community-shared phone line. Some stories opened up a history I hadn’t even known, such as when he was a boy and his family went up to the Red Lake Indian Reservation for the 4th of July. There, the community hosted a match of tug-of-war between the whites and Natives Americans. He said the Natives won and cheered loudly.
We’re not cheering today, but I do have so much gratitude because I have so much to thank Grandpa for. Countless cherished memories and experiences: fishing in Canada and having some monster muskies following my lure to the boat like alligators; watching him play bass guitar for classic country and gospel songs.
And there was that silly, dry sense of humor of his.
A childhood neighbor down our country road had a stickman-shaped mailbox. Often as we drove past in Grandpa’s truck, he’d say, “There's the mailbox man trying to get across the road before we run him over.”
Him saying it so casually. As a boy, it would just warm my funny bone. Still does.
Me and Grandpa a few Christmases ago
That’s what I cherish most: that aura of gentleness and positivity. Each time Grandpa arrived, my mood lifted. His presence added joy. If there’s an aim one wishes for in life, I'm not sure there is a better one than that.
The morning of Grandpa’s death, I got a call from my family. Soon after, I got a text from a friend commenting on the storm that passed through Minneapolis that night.
“Did you hear the thunder? Something’s happening in the heavens.”
I replied, “Maybe it was my grandfather going to Heaven.”
Then with fitting humor, my friend Nathan responded, “Would you tell him to chill after 3am?”
Grandpa Ferdig wasn't one to of make a lot of noise, though. He wouldn’t enter a room—let alone the gates of Heaven—and declare his presence. “Here I am!”
No, Grandpa sauntered and moseyed on up there Tuesday morning. Now he’s free of the restraints of an old body, free to be his gentle, warm self. Meanwhile, myself and all who knew Grandpa Rich can do our best to keep his legacy alive here on Earth—by making those around us happier just by being there.
I miss you, Grandpa. I'm sad you're gone.
I'm so grateful to have received all that you gave to me.
Grandpa and his wife Leona (and their doggie)