For the Departed

This is Kansas.

variations on a tree 2

But so is this.

molly and g listening

And this.

bluebird bloodmobile

This.

weed flag

And this.

papa sue and me

G and I just returned from our 2000 mile trek there and back. My grandfather, Papa George (that’s him above), died a week ago Wednesday. Saturday after came the funeral. Where I read this, upon finishing its writing the night before at Grandma Lita’s house in Indiana whilst G did naked flips off the side of her chair.

Papa Fills the Room

Papa knows how to fill up a room.
My mother tells me
how he put the-fear-of-god
in her, but I only know how
singularly 
important I was when

he’d order me a Shirley
Temple in the clubhouse
after golf. Cherry intoxicating
fizz, the room warm
with drink and friendly faces.

He was the gleam
in his parents’ eyes, their
only one and only.
Even the faded monochrome
on my mantle—Papa in the middle
with his arms slung around Big Grandpa
and Grandma—comes alive
with him in it. Wholly
untroubled, he looks out at
the world laughing. He can fill
a room, Papa can, with his brand
of mischief and goodwill.

Jenny, remember
how I used to give you tastes of beer?
I didn’t, being hardly

two. He’d chuckle as he
sunk into his overstuffed
chair, his rack of pipes there
on the wall just
within (and maddeningly
out of) reach. Pipes
that always smelled of smoke
but I didn’t know how because
we never saw
him smoke one once.

It pleased him, that
he’d somehow slipped one past
my parents giving me
the beer, pleased him
more that I smacked my lips,
wanting more.

With delight, with desire was how.
With food and drink. With hunger for
the living. With teasing laughter.
His mama’s face agape
with mock horror as he let loose a string
of Serbian obscenities GEORGE!
She shook her head, giggled
like a young girl.

As he laughed the room got bigger
and I never felt small. There was always enough
room even when Papa filled the room.

The Marines played taps, with full honors. Watching the two Marines unfold the flag then fold it up again, I was fascinated, having never seen it. One Marine was older, the other looked to be just out of high school. I could tell he was nervous; I wondered if it was his first time. I imagined my grandpa telling him a joke to get him to relax a little, but then I was glad he was nervous. He wanted to do this right. And even if his motivation was just not-to-mess-up, that intention had honor in it. I palpably felt their intention to honor my grandfather, and I finally understood a little better the military code so elusive to me and mine (contentious objection runs deep in this Mennonite blood): Honor, Courage, Commitment.

So I cried, and I was glad. And I knew him a little better. Baptized an Orthodox Christian in the Serbian church, I felt a connection to him, but the Marine code of honor, courage and commitment better defines the way he lived.

O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who hast trampled down death and overthrown the Devil, and given life to Thy world, do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the souls of Thy departed servants in a place of brightness, a place of refreshment, a place of repose, where all sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away. Pardon every transgression which he has committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For Thou art a good God and lovest mankind; because there is no man who lives yet does not sin, for Thou only art without sin, Thy righteousness is to all eternity, and Thy word is truth.

For Thou are the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servant George who has fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

And okay. A few more pictures from Kansas.

g and isaiah

g with cello

g in the loft

g kissing mary

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