My Grandfather passed away this week, just over a month after his wife of seventy years. (Obituary)
While my Grandfather was ninety-two, his passing was a bit more of a shock to me than my Grandmother’s. He seemed to be in good health and good spirits when I visited him for our usual Friday lunch, despite Grandmother’s recent passing. When I left, too soon, harried and hurried, thinking of my upcoming book release and a million other things, I simply said: see you next week Granddad. He nodded, grinned, and said he looked forward to it. It was not to be.
I miss him.
I was asked to speak at his funeral. My Grandfather was not as immediately outspoken as his wife. When I think of him the quote from Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss about how the anger of a gentle man is something to fear, leaps to mind. Grandfather was so resolute and constant that I can see why this is so.
Here is what I will say (work in progress):
My Grandfather was a giant of a man, broad and strong, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. He carried weights on his shoulders that would crush most men, and I never heard him complain. He survived depression, war, raising children in chaotic times, and many other challenges. He not only bore his responsibilities stoically, but he thrived under them. He was a true believer in democracy, working on the front lines to support the greatest expansion of civil rights and social programs in history, helping ensure that the depression that he grew up in was not repeated. Even as he grew older he often volunteered as poll clerk or elections official. It was a joy to talk about these things with him.
Part of his great strength came from a rich streak of optimism. He was not blind to the failings of men, but he chose to focus on the positive. Grandfather rarely complained, even as old age and pain crept up on him. He never grumbled about the way the world had changed, or how things were better in his youth. In all of our discussions he counselled me to stay away from anger and not let negative emotions influence my actions. That was the way he lived. He tried to find the positive way and follow it. always. It takes a strong man, truly strong, to quietly stick to his convictions no matter what the state of the worlds and never descend into cynicism. It takes strength to do the right thing; grandfather was not a selfish man.
My Grandfather was like a mighty oak, I’m telling you true. He grew deep roots, creating stability where he lived. I remember stepping into a restaurant with my Grandparents when I was younger. Grandfather had been retired for a few years, but people still recognized him from his days at the cooperators and came forth to greet him. He was a early member of many organizations, tireless in his volunteering, from Church, to politics, to charities of all sorts. Just as he was a strong believer in family, he was a strong believer in community. Granddad lived to help, always
Grandfather’s roots made it easy for people of all ages and creeds to approach him. He welcomed many of my friends into his home, sharing his table, listening intently to their tales and offering his insights freely. He might seem quiet at first, but Grandfather was a deep thinker and enjoyed conversing with anyone who was willing to sit and chat with him. He was always interested in everything his children and grandchildren did. How many young people can brag that their exploits as children have been written about? and yet Grand father wrote about us, his family and his friends in his memoirs and his Christmas letters. When I visited him I often heard the latest news or who had visited him recently and what they had talked about. Even when it became a struggle, a real struggle for him to write these letters he persevered, and when he couldn’t he used his voice, he did this because he believed in roots.
My Grandfather was a wise old master, like Yoda or Oogway from popular fiction, I’m not lying. He was always curious. Granddad never lost his interest in knowledge. He was never far from the Toronto star, the Guelph mercury, Consumer reports, or some a book on some new subject. I remember how excited he was to read about Nunavut and the history of the northern territories when my sister began to work there. It was the same with all of his grandchildren, he was always excited to listen to what they had learned. Despite the fact that he was not a big fiction reader and slowing down to boot, he still found time to read and comment on my first book. His love of knowledge made him insightful, and he often had good advice on a wide variety of subjects from the practical, like taxes and consumer good, to the odder fields like philosophy and scientific discovery. I loved his tales of working with the first computers, the machines his father built, and of course the beloved airplanes that were the cutting edge of his adult life.
Granddad was always willing to share his knowledge and share his time. If he had been born as a millennial he would have a popular blog on mechanics, or modern life and other useful subjects. Instead he clipped and shared newspaper clippings on a variety of subjects, keeping them for the people he thought would be interested. In my time with him I received articles on politics, game design, the environment, the economy, and writing. he was always willing to discuss these, to help me grow, and learn and become a better person. He listened, always listened and he shared his wisdom and his love of life and lore with anyone who would listen with him.
For those of us who had the pleasure of knowing Josepg Howard Harris well, he was truly a man of epic proportions, a quiet kind of hero. He was a member of Greatest Generation, a much deserved accolade in his case. He built communities. He was humble and stoic. He shared a great deal with everyone who gave him their time. Men like my grandfather are the foundation of good countries, good gatherings, and good families. I miss him.