Friday, April 23, 2010

Eyelids Up

One of my greatest frustrations is finding time to read. But with working two jobs (roughly 60 hours a week), and trying to stitch a little each evening, it's nearly impossible to keep that stick-to-it-iveness that the big thick juicy historical novels I love require. I have recently, however, stumbled upon a couple that just may keep my eyelids in the up position: Dennis Lehane's The Given Day and Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn.

Be forwarned. I have, I suppose, pretty unique reading tastes for a 50-something single gal. No apologies here for loving gritty historical fiction, even gorey, bloody, wartime stuff.

You know Lehane from his many books made into film, Mystic River,
Gone Baby Gone, and, most recently, Shutter Island. The Given Day has all of promise of being another page turner, one of those two family sagas, set in Boston (my town!) at the end of the first world war. I read the Prologue on the plane back from Maine last week and I'm hooked, a vignette of Babe Ruth witnessing, and then participating in, a Negro League pick-up game. It is a narrative that rings so true with its racial tensions that you feel instantly vulnerable, like another layer has been pulled back.

I also recently read the NYT Book Review piece on Matterhorn, by Karl Marlantes, a novel of the Vietnam War. Apparently 30 years in the making, it is destined to be the classic fictional account of what the Vietnam War was like to fight, with telling parallels to our present quagmire. Let me just say that about a dozen pages into mud, fog, and leaches, and I am totally there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Husband, Father, Grandfather

Dad passed away on Easter morning. We are all still filled with sorrow and loss, but feel so fortunate to have the love of family and friends, which is such a comfort. I want to share the words spoken at his service by his only granddaughter, my daughter Stephanie. Reading them cannot convey the poise and grace with which she spoke, but her words, as well as the words of the two pastors, give you a true sense of the man my father was, and always will be, in our hearts.

"Everyone has their own definition of what the ‘perfect man’ should be. To me, what truly makes the perfect father, grandfather, husband, brother, son, etc., is a man who fulfills those roles without asking questions or second guessing himself. That was exactly how my grandfather looked at life. The other day our family sat down with our minister and he asked us questions about grandpa. He asked us if we thought there was anything my grandfather had wished he had done in his lifetime that he never got to. As I sat back and thought about this question, it occurred to me: Richard Seavey lived the dream. I honestly believe he never thought he would get from life what he did and therefore, he left this world with no regrets. I guess you could call it a blessing in disguise, but my grandfather was a bit na├»ve; a wife and family that loved him dearly was more than he ever could have dreamed of. He woke up every day with a smile on his face and a kiss for my grandmother…it was as simple as that. That’s what my grandfather was: a simple man.

As for me, I never really had a father. Not one that cared enough to stick around to figure out who I really was anyway. I watched my friends’ relationships with their fathers grow as I waited patiently for summer to arrive and I could see my grandfather. I don’t know if he ever knew how much seeing him meant to me. In his arms I was grandpa’s little girl and I felt invincible. On our summer trips to the ocean he would carry me on his shoulders out into the water, and although I couldn’t touch ground anymore, it didn’t matter. With grandpa I knew I was safe.

As I got older and the grandkids followed suit, I realized how special my grandfather was. In high school I brought friends with me on my vacations to Maine, with the added bonus of meeting my crazy grandpa. He would sit at the dinner table and tell and retell and retell again my favorite stories. Although we had heard these stories thousands of times before, sometimes I would sit back in my chair and think, ‘I’m gonna miss this when it’s gone’.

I am lucky enough to say that I know I was, and will always be, loved unconditionally by my grandfather and even though he is gone, I know he’ll always be looking down on me and have a hand on my shoulder. It hurts me to know he won’t be there to see his only granddaughter, grandpa’s little girl, graduate college in May. Although he never went to college, he was incredibly proud of all of my accomplishments and never hesitated to tell me how he felt. Whenever I came to my grandparents’ house for a weekend away from my hectic college life, I would walk in the door and he would immediately start chanting the Maine Stein Song. I have pushed myself to be the best person I could possibly be for the past 22 years of my life and it goes without saying that my grandfather was quite influential in that matter. In May, and for the rest of my life, I will walk with a smile on my face knowing I have made my grandfather proud.

I was asked by my cousins to speak on behalf of the grandchildren today and it’s a hard task to sum up how we all feel in a few words. What I do know is that we are lucky. We are the six luckiest children in the world to have grown up with a man like him to look up to and to share memories with. On a day like today it’s hard to think about anything but what we have lost, but I would like everyone to remember what we gained through this man. We learned values, gained insight, and most importantly, shared laughter with him. All of which can never ever be replaced. I am incredibly happy to know that my cousins, five very special boys and men, will have the memories of my grandfather to turn to when they have their own families. If they take even one attribute of my grandfather with them into their family lives, I’m sure they will be successful husbands, fathers, and grandfathers.

There’s no one in this world that could ever take the place of such a beloved man. Although he was many different things to many different people, and each grandchild loved him in their own special way, throughout his life, I know that being a father and grandfather were the roles that truly completed him.

Grandpa, thanks for being who I needed you to be, sometimes without even realizing it.

On behalf of your six grandchildren, we send our love to you and we want you to know that you will be dearly missed but remain forever in our hearts."

Stephanie Claire Schaffner, April 8th, 2010