Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Tribute

I recently had to do something I never wanted to do! Give a tribute at a funeral. Public speaking combined with mourning never seemed very appealing to me however, I keep learning that the difficult things in life are often gifts in disguise. In this case I was forced to stop and remember and consider all that my 99-year-old Grandpa French meant to my sisters and me. Forced to put it into words and really think through the impact he made on our lives. This was the gift, lots of great memories and experiences, which I may not have thought of otherwise. If you knew Herbert Alfred French but were unable to attend the funeral, or you are just interested in reading more about a man who lived life well and to it’s fullest, here are my notes from my tribute.

I consider it a great honor and privilege to stand before you today on behalf of my sisters, Tracy and Krista, and myself to pay tribute to a man who has had such a huge impact on so many people including us. When I think about what he has seen in his lifetime and how many people knew, loved, and respected him I am truly humbled to be here. Thank you.
We called him Grandpa French before he was “officially” our Grandpa. We knew him and his first wife Elizabeth from church and loved going to their cottage. Elizabeth, was also Krista’s PAL in the PAL program, which partnered children with senior adults. Krista got to know her well and just loved her sense of humor. After Elizabeth passed and our Grandpa Lavender passed, Grandma marrying Grandpa French just made sense. We didn’t have to get to know some new person; this man who was already kind and generous to us was now becoming part of our family. And we were already calling him Grandpa anyway so it all made perfect sense to my 12 year old brain. Krista remembers their very hot wedding day in July of ’88. She teared up as Grandma walked down the aisle. She just loved seeing her so happy again. Grandpa French was a real gift for Grandma and our whole family, which we will forever be grateful for. I was also happy the cottage could become a more regular part of our lives! And that it did.  
We became very familiar with the short “dip” in the cold pool Grandpa French would always come in for. A jump off the diving board, a swim to the other side and out! A dip is right. We learned how to navigate around the goose grease that Grandpa French was always battling to get to the water and take out the canoe. As much as the geese must have annoyed him I always heard him talk about it as a problem to solve and not something that was infringing on his rights. He had a love and respect for God’s creation, which I’m sure has influenced me to this day. Occasionally Grandpa French would even take us out in the motorboat for a very very slow ride.  
Now that Grandma and Grandpa French were married and living at the cottage, we were going to the cottage in the winter too and getting to enjoy the wood burning stove and skating the frozen lake. That stove mesmerized me. I’m sure that particular stove is why I’m always trying to find a way to get one into whatever house we live in. We’d come in after a cold afternoon of trying to skate on snow covered bumpy ice, feet aching, and warm up by the fire. Grandpa French would always remind us how burning wood would warm you up three times! Once when you cut the wood, once carrying it in, and then of course when you burn it. He was green long before it was cool.  
As a teenage boy I always loved spending time in Grandpa French’s shop. It seemed like such a cool little getaway spot to get work done. The tools were organized on the walls, each one had its place and there was always a distinct smell in there. Varnish, or paint thinner or something that communicated to me experienced craftsman at work. Speaking of green, he did a great job repurposing the frame of an old waterbed. Dad bought a new stereo and I got to have the old one in my bedroom but I wanted to put the speakers up in the corners and didn’t know how to do it. Well, I explained this to Grandpa French and he took that frame to his shop and made a couple of corner shelves for me to put those speakers on in my bedroom, as well as a TV stand for Mom and Dad and eventually a CD case for my wife Sherri and I.  
Eventually it made more sense for Grandma and Grandpa French to move out of the cottage and in with Mom and Dad. If it wasn’t clear before, Grandpa French’s sweet tooth became quite evident to us all now. Tracy reminded me how he used to always say “apple pie without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze” and we used to enjoy date squares which he liked to call “matrimonial cake”, since it was “two things brought together by dates.” This is also where he perfected his apple pie made in a toaster oven recipe! We will definitely miss his apple pies.  
We can’t imagine the loss Grandpa French had to deal with in his life, being widowed twice and outliving pretty much all of his contemporaries. He was a man of strength, routine, discipline, commitment, love and generosity. He always greeted everyone with a warm smile and a twinkle in his eye. He ate oatmeal on odd days and cereal with milk on even days or maybe it was the other way round. He did his stretches every morning and was always sure to get his nap in! In the last few years he would leave Mom and Dad’s after Sunday dinner saying, “That’s my cue to go for a rest.”  
He gave of himself. He truly loved us and adopted us as his own which has helped us all to know and experience what unconditional love is. I’m sure his ability to show this love stemmed directly from his relationship with Jesus, the author of love. He so clearly lived a life influenced by Jesus, so full of love and joy.  
Grandpa French has left a wonderful legacy for all of us. We have been challenged these last few days and will continue to be as we remember how he lived and how much it has affected our lives. Tracy, Krista and I hope that remembering Grandpa French today will also inspire you and challenge you to follow his example in how you live and how you love each other.


Marcia,  10/19/2014 9:23 PM  

That is a beautiful tribute. He reminds me of my dad who ate oatmeal and did stretches and pushups until the day he died. So glad you could go up and do this. Thanks for sharing your memories


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