Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Have His Middle Name

My Grandpa had this silly habit of punching or pinching your arm. Just awkward affection and a way of trying to connect, he would jab you good-naturedly on the arm and say "Want another one, just like that other one?" And us grandkids would all roll our eyes and say "Grandpaaaaaaaa," a little embarrassed for him.

My Grandfather passed away while we were overseas in New Zealand. I knew it was coming and we had decided ahead of time, because we would be so far away, that we weren't going to be able to come back with our family for the funeral.

My folks came to us three days after we got home and brought the video of the funeral for us to watch together. We did what you do - we talked stories, looked at pictures, marveled at death and all its attenuations and made PBJs and took care of children. It was bittersweet and so precious.

On Friday afternoon, as we all gathered around in our living room, I found myself watching the funeral and secretly reflecting: I think I may be a little bit like my Grandpa. And then realizing, of course I do! Here we are bragging on what we love about him, who wouldn't want to think there was a little bit of him in them?

He had been married - faithfully - to my Grandma for 65 years.  He raised three children to all give their lives in service to others. From the first story his sister told of when he was seventeen, to the last stories we've heard - he always prayed, and prayed fervently, for others.

He had pastored for 53 years. Three of his churches asked him to come back and pastor them again. He was one of six brothers who went to war in their youth. And one of only two families in the US who had all six boys come home alive. When my kids would call him on Veteran's Day he never failed to be embarrassed. Telling us that his sacrifices were minor, just too small to be mentioned in light of so many others.

For so many years I just had no clue. When I was a teenager I made the (fashionably dubious) mistake of wearing overalls in front of my Grandpa. And he cried.

He explained to me how he had picked apples and cotton and anything they could find in the Great Depression, just to keep him and his siblings fed. They had slept under bridges and all traveled across the US packed into one car, searching for work. He told me how most of them wore overalls, and how shaming it was to them, and how he never dreamt his family would ever have to do that again.

When I asked more questions he told me someday I should read Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. That that was his story, too. Completely unplanned, we just happen to be reading that in our book club in a couple months. I've always been nervous to read it. And now I finally will.

But most recently I had watched my Grandfather change. And I thought a lot about that last week. My Grandpa had softened in his last years when I talked to him. He apologized more, he told me more about mistakes he made. He had always been tender, but I saw a whole new side to him that challenges me to this day.

He didn't just get older, he got more vulnerable. He said things to me I never thought I would ever hear him say. He did things I am only just now understanding how significant they were. How intentional and kind it was. As I watched person after person talk about my Grandpa at his funeral and say things that brought me to tears and I wondered what folks would say when I die.

I thought about my Grandpa coming to see me in my brokenness, just having given birth and crushed by things happening in my life that had all become too much. My Grandfather - aged and weak himself - came to me and sat at my table and loved on me. He pursued me and told me beautiful things he saw in me.

I kept thinking of my sassy, teenage self and him punching my arm and trying to connect with me and saying "Want another one, just like that other one?"

And I kept thinking watching his coffin carried out of his own church: Yes.

Yes, Grandpa, I do want another one. I want to be another one just like you. To never stop humbling myself and being thankful, to never stop loving people and praying prayers of faith. To never stop reaching out and connecting, seeing beauty in others and being soft when I am weak. I want - as funny as it sounds - to be just like my Grandpa.

And I hope, with all my heart, that he knows that.


Hannah said...

Oh, Misha. This is so beautiful. I wonder whether your Grandpa can somehow read it, because if so I'm sure he's moved to tears again. What a tribute!

65 years! That's amazing.

I was just thinking the other day that I'd like to try reading the Grapes of Wrath again. I started it many years ago and couldn't get into it, but it seems like one of those that might reward perseverance. Maybe I'll suggest it to MY bookclub? :-) I imagine a few of us in the group may have ancestors who relate, like your grandfather.

Jim said...

Crying. Again. A lot. Thank you. xo

Judy said...

Last comment from Judy (though Jim has cried several times, too.)

deb colarossi said...


Your grandfather 's story is phenomenal. Truly.
I am so touched hearing just what you 've shared here.

So sorry for your loss.

Misha Leigh. said...

Thank you, Hannah and Deb.

Andi Mae said...

Oh, Misha. Been praying for you so much these past few weeks, knowing how hard it must be to have lost your Grandpa. He sounds like such an amazing man! And wow- 65 years! That is so so beautiful! What a legacy! Really really love you, dear friend!

P.S. I have been wanting to read Grapes of Wrath too! Oh, how I miss the old book club! :)

hanna said...

hi there
you dont know me, im miranda heathcotes little sister and i found your blog through hers. i hope you dont mind me reading it and commenting but i just wanted to say, this is beautiful. open, honest and so precious. thank you for being brave and vulnerable enough to share your heart.