Sweet Tweets

Monday, June 01, 2009

Capturing the Memories

We celebrated Papa last week in a sweet memorial service in Lewisville, TX, followed by a burial out in Iowa Park, TX, his home town. All of his children were there and many of his nieces, nephews and all but one grandchild traveled out to remember a life well-lived. It was wonderful to have a family reunion of sorts, and I'm always happy to be in Texas, and I am glad that Papa was released from the prison that Alzheimer's is.

It was heartbreaking to see him in his coffin, so like him, but no longer containing his vibrant spirit. While I know he is in heaven, having left his body behind, it was still hard to see his hands folded gently over each other. His fingers were long and tapered and I have a multitude of memories of them working over his endless projects. They were unchanged even though his body was just a shadow of the robust, tall man that he used to be. They were what made me cry and miss him, even though I know I will see him again. Some days I'm more homesick for heaven than others. That day was one of them.

Papa's fraternal twin was there, reminding us of Papa in his looks and raspy, gentle voice. I found myself drawn to him and wanting to hug Uncle Dean more and more as the day went on. I loved hearing him talk about boyhood adventures when we were all out in their hometown of Iowa Park, listening to how he and Papa (while they went by Dean and Gene, their full names were Wilburn Dean and Milburn Gene) would get into trouble carrying around bags of rattle snakes or jump off the garage roof pretending to be a carnival stunt man. It was wonderful.

I was the only family member that spoke, and while it was not the easiest thing I've done, I wanted very much to share my many wonderful memories of my Papa. Here is what I shared:

Good morning, I’m Melissa Merkel. I want to share today what it was like to have Gene Jackson as a grandfather, or Papa, as the 8 of us grandchildren knew him.

My first memories of Papa are forever linked to the sweet, musky smell of his pipe. I love that smell and anytime I catch a hint of pipe tobacco it brings him to my mind. It makes me recall getting hugs from Papa and catching a whiff off of his shirt, or watching him clench it between his teeth on the side of his mouth as he was concentrating on some task in front of him. He gave up that pipe for his health, and switched to the lemon drops that were always at the ready in his pockets, but he told me that if he lived to 85, he was planning on taking it back up at that point, no matter what grandmommy said.

My memories are also full of his soft whistling. The seven dwarfs didn't have anything on Papa, he constantly whistled to himself while he worked. Whether it was threading a worm on a hook, measuring a piece of wood, ironing the perfect crease in a pair of pants, or drawing a sketch, he had a tune flowing from his lips. His whistling was a sign of intense concentration - but also of the happiness he gained from always having his hands busy, from learning something new, from putting the finishing touches on his never-ending creations and projects.

Papa was a grandchild’s dream. He was always willing to join in on my adventures. He would climb trees with me, build sand castles and anatomically-correct mermaids at the beach (complete with shell necklaces), would instruct me yet again how to cast a fishing line, would find an unusually-shaped rock while on an evening walk and after showing me how it had been smoothed out by years of wear to look just like a heart or how it was an unusual shade of pink, he would give it to me to keep for my very own. He happily participated as I dressed-up as a princess, even putting on old clip-on earrings of his mother-in-law’s because I wanted someone else to wear the jewelry from Mamaw’s “treasure” box. There was always a new joke ready for him to tell me, always time to twirl me around the room and show me what “real” swing dancing looked like, always a chance to jump in and help me brainstorm the perfect project for the science fair. He took an entire evening to teach me how to parallel park and then shook the trooper's hand and proclaimed to everyone at the DMV that I had just passed my driver’s test and gotten my license! He asked for a copy of my resume when I was newly out of college – only to take it to his Sunday school class and brag on my accomplishments. He was an incredible cheerleader, teacher, and adventurer, who constantly enjoyed the world around him and wanted to share that joy with others. His creativity and endless enthusiasm couldn’t have made a better combination for a grandfather.

I never lived in the same city, or even the same state, as Grandmommy and Papa, but at the age of four I started traveling by myself once a year to visit them for a week. I continued this through college, visiting over spring break, and then well into adulthood. My relationship with them shaped so many memories of my childhood, giving my life a richness that wouldn't have been there without them.

One trip out to Cleveland, I was outraged to discover, at the age of 7, that there were plans to leave me with a babysitter so Papa and Grandmommy could go out for an evening of a dinner and a show (A Chorus Line). I took my melodramatic outrage to Papa and informed him that it was rude to leave his company at home. He gladly gave up his ticket to let me be Grandmommy’s date. I never found out if he was secretly glad that he escaped from having to see a Broadway show about chorus singers and their struggles, but he was always a gentleman, and he treated women as precious treasures to respect and serve, even if it was a demanding, drama queen of a 7 year-old. It’s no wonder that I remember resolutely telling my mom during a car ride that I planned to marry Papa when I grew up. I had not reasoned out how he could be married to both grandmommy and me, but I knew he was special and staked my claim very early (but not before Grandmommy!).

While my plans to marry Papa never panned out, he certainly shaped my definition of a good man and he challenged me to live a life marked by integrity and kindness. He was consistent: you always knew and trusted his reactions and responses, and, even more importantly, you knew where you stood with him. He was quick to laugh and to want you to laugh with him. He was a man of character that valued marriage and family, working many years to provide a life for them that was better than he had experienced growing up. He had an ability to fix just about anything, and he loved learning how to fix the rest. He seemed to possess endless patience and his loving kindness showed through his constant acts of service. The characteristics that defined Papa’s life truly exemplified a life lived by the Holy Spirit. As Paul said in Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” To me, Papa was a wonderful example of what it looks like to live and love by the power of the Holy Spirit.

More than all these things, though, Papa was a man of solid faith. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ and in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross as THE cornerstone to life. He trusted that Christ’s death was sufficient to save him and he knew that even as good a man as he was, even he couldn’t be “good enough” or do enough good things to earn his way to Heaven. Rather, he trusted in the gospel of Jesus Christ from an early age and never waivered from that. He knew God’s Word, and he knew Jesus personally. I have no doubt that Papa is rejoicing in heaven right now, worshiping his Lord and Savior, and waiting for the rest of us to join him. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” We can rejoice because Papa finished “the race” - and he finished well. He kept his eyes on Jesus and he finally crossed the finish line. And I can just picture him cheering on everyone that he loves to finish well, just like he did.

Thank you.

Many thanks to Hunt for staying up late the night before to proof-read my eulogy and make what I shared that much better and smoother. An interesting note: Jack Talley was Papa's Sunday school teacher and gave the official eulogy. The two verses that he shared where the exact same that I used to represent the kind of Christian man that Papa was. Funny how that happens...

Listening to: Coldplay - Life In Technicolor
via FoxyTunes

2 Remarks:

katealtmix said...

stumbled across your blog via facebook and am now sitting here with tears in my eyes. what a sweet eulogy, says so much about what an amazing papa you grew up with. i'm sure he's happy & revealed to be home!

katealtmix said...

*relieved. ;)