I can't believe it, but it has been almost a year since my Grandpa died. I wrote this eulogy in his honor. He was quite a character. When I wrote this eulogy - a number of times I tried to write it as 'he did this' or 'he was that'. It wasn't working for me. Instead I wrote it to him.
Grandpa, I am on my way back to my family home. My return trip is to bury you my Grandpa, but more importantly to celebrate your life. You passed away on Sunday, February 6th, 2011 at the age of 98.
You were a feisty Hungarian who had a way with words, both to invoke hilarity as well as to provide wisdom. I got to be a part of your life for nearly 38 of those 98 years. Memories came flooding back when I heard your health was failing. When you were beginning that long yet brief journey from this life existence to the next my memories of you began to flourish.
As a young girl I enjoyed the times spent walking with you. I was forever trying to keep up with you and your dog Frisky. “Slow down, Grandpa,” I would plead. You’d make some snide comment and keep going. Basically it was get left behind in the woods or continue on.
The bacon roasts are by far and away the most vivid, most emotional memories of my entire childhood. Each of us trying and vying to be that grandchild who would have the distinct privilege to ‘spin the bacon.’ Ah to be the chosen one – it was the highest honor in my young life. Bacon spinner status was only rivaled by sharing that crispy piece you would cut from the slab. Carefully you’d cut the section which would no longer produce grease and share it with not only the bacon spinner, but also a select group of others.
There were moments where your mischievous nature would come through. For instance when you would be sitting behind all of us when we watched TV. Randomly you smacked one of us upside the head – for no reason at all other than to get us charged up and whine “Grandpaaaaa…” You looked around and laughed, “hee hee” you’d say. I swear you ended nearly every sentence with hee hee. That impish behavior would come through when you were laughing, giggling, eyes always twinkling. I now know where I get it from and where Bridget gets it from. That twinkle in our eyes… it’s a genetic trait.
Perhaps the most curious of hobbies you had was the organ you owned and played. While the record like discs would play a background music, you sat hunched over the organ trying to bring forth a song or melody. The sheer number of kids and grandkids always provided a vast audience when you played. Yet, when you played you always seemed to be transported to a different world. It was as if you were playing Carnegie Hall instead of looking out at the neighbor’s house with a bunch of squirming children behind you.
Laboriously you wrote in your daily journal. Your mind amazed me and your sense of recall was second to none. Perhaps it was your journal that helped you keep your mind keen and sharp. I now keep a daily journal and understand why you did too. At the end of the day, sometimes that journal is your only friend. Someone safe to listen to you and to share with. The journal was someone who didn’t judge, who was a constant and consistent friend.
My memories of you as a coal miner are very brief and vague. But your loyalty to the trade was never-ending. You paced the floors in your house when the mines flooded or a small cave-in occurred. Worrying, fretting, praying for the miners and their families.
Every week you attended church. Never very flamboyant with your faith, yours was a quiet one. Your faith was in stark contrast to the rest of your loud and boisterous life. Maybe that’s the only way your faith survived as long as it did.
You could talk us all into exhaustion. Our fatigue was never from boredom. No! Never. It was the weariness of trying to process the subjects you were discussing. (Okay so mostly a monologue, but still.) You had a slew of witty sayings. Too many to mention. Then there is the ever famous Martin Szekeresh word –‘Eebizer!’ No one, none of us really knows how to spell it, but we sure know how to say it. More importantly we understand what that single word invokes and means. Joy! Joy in its purest and simplest form. Grandpa, you were always full of it – of joy that is. Even when your heart was breaking you still found joy.
You remembered birthdays, deaths, anniversaries. And I mean everyone’s. Growing up I watched brides (in-laws) getting pulled aside by you to hear the litany of the family birthdays. You could discuss them all. You kept that information on the kitchen calendar including the person’s age.
The wedding festivities were the highlight of all of us girls. We watched and knew. One day you would be the conduit to officially kick off the Bridal Dance. The girls in the family who were either direct or new in-laws, we all knew the tradition. This rite of passage was honored and revered. Each girl felt eternally and infinitely loved when you started that dance. In your younger days, you began the traditional polka dance by spinning that bride until she was dizzy and then leave, laughing of course.
Your pride in the mother country was always a delight to watch and participate in, especially the Harvest Dances. I went a few times with you and Grandma. The pride you took in your family was evident when you introduced us to the different people at the dance. You went on to explain how they were either related to us or knew the family.
I’ve heard stories that you were a tough, strict father. And while I can’t rightly comment on that, I can’t imagine that you weren’t. One doesn’t go into the coal mines every day and not become a little more like the product he handles. Tough, strong, difficult, unyielding but nurturing, supplying the basic needs for the family. The years in the mines made you into an eventual diamond in the rough. I suppose that is what it is. The pressure from coal produces a diamond. Your pressure from hauling coal did the same. I am one of the fortunate ones who knew the man who was the diamond.
You were a proud son, brother, husband, father, uncle. As a child I watched you walking along the rows of cinder blocks in my parents’ house. Carefully you touched the blocks – as if to invoke the spirit of your brothers. It was a time when you all worked together to lay a foundation. It was a moment that the Szekeresh brothers were one on this earth.
You had in Grandma a true life partner. 75 years of marriage. Many don’t live to be as old. And yet you were married for 75 years “and to the same woman” in your infinite wisdom. From that marriage you produced 13 children. Which in turn yielded so many of us - kids, grandkids, great grandkids, great-great grandkids. The family resemblance is the one thing I can never tire of nor grasp. I’ve liken the family get-togethers as a mirrored fun house. Everywhere we look, we all resemble each other. It’s a remarkable nod to the strength of family genes. When total strangers recognize you as “a Szekeresh aren’t you?” one can’t help but pause. It didn’t always mean that they knew I belonged to you. They just knew my clan. Our clan. Our pride. Who we are. What we represent. We are a hearty, strong, hard-working, mischievous bunch. I am and have always been proud to be your granddaughter. I am and have always been proud to belong to the Szekeresh clan. We all are.
“No matter how tall you grow, you will always look up to me.” Now Grandpa, I am. I’m looking up to heaven knowing that you’ve been reunited with Grandma and the rest of our clan. Teresa, Bert, Joe, Michael, Bryce. All who died well before they ever should. But you. You held on to life and lived it for every single moment of your 98 years.
I am so very fortunate to have had you in my life for almost 38 years. Some people don’t even get to know their grandparents and with me being the first born of your youngest child, the odds were even further stacked against me. But I knew you and you knew me. My children even knew you. My cousin’s children knew you. Their kids knew you. Longevity is a true gift. My plane is near to landing in the snowy Mecca that you always called your home. I am near to reuniting with my family, with the funhouse. I love you Grandpa. You will forever be in my heart, influencing, guiding and making me laugh when my daughter sleeps with her blanket over her head. Rest in peace. Grandpa, See you in the funny papers.