On Saturday, July 22nd, I will be participating in a huge family reunion. We’re all the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of one remarkable man. My mother compiled an archival family history and asked us all to contribute our memories about my great-grandfather Nafe.
I’m posting my memory here as well.* (No comments about how I’m too lazy to write anything original this morning. Consider this my clip show.)
It IS long, so I’m adding the jump tag. Relax…it’s not to trick you out of your RSS reader. ;-p
My mother promised to marry my father if he would allow her to travel, and by the time I was eight or nine, he began to fulfill that promise in earnest. Once every year or two they went to England, Germany, Switzerland, China—any number of places where I was afraid they would die and leave us orphans. I had several sad fantasies in my head of trying to explain to Aunt Betty and Uncle Jon (our presumptive guardians) why I didn’t eat green beans and why Tommy had to sleep with a teddy bear. Alas, mom and dad never did die in a fiery plane crash or in a London Tube bombing during the height of the Troubles, which in the end really simplified matters for all concerned.
Whenever they’d take their death-defying weeks away, my parents would leave us in the care of Grandma Eldonna and Grandpa Fred. I’d hear Grandma on the phone to one of her (numerous) sisters, always talking about Pop. When I was very little I just assumed they all really liked Coke and Pepsi a lot, seeing as how they were forever talking about what Pop needed and which sister would go see Pop that weekend. In our house during the late 70s and 80s, sodapop was a luxury item and it made perfect sense to me that grown women would be so invested in treating it with such special care.
Really, though, I wasn’t that stupid a child and was able to figure out pretty quickly that Pop was the same person my mom called “Grandpa Nafe” or Granddad. I knew he was my mother’s grandfather in the same way that Fred Graffis was my grandfather, and I became fascinated by him. Whenever we’d spend time with Grandma she’d drop glittering Grandpa Nafe tidbits, sayings and religious philosophies which captivated me wholeheartedly. In my mind it was like being distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson or some other eminently quotable figurehead. I knew, for instance, that for many years Pop had disliked the Radio because “the devil is the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:1-2) and since radio waves traveled through air they trod upon Satan’s province. I knew that he fervently believed that we were living in the end times, and that 1948 was the year that Earth’s game went into sudden death overtime. He swore that he would never need and undertaker, because he would have an uppertaker.
For years I admired Pop from afar. He took his Bible and his Lord quite seriously, and I was impressed. He was secretly one of my favourite people, and I hero-worshipped him quietly. Then, during yet another one of my parents’ trips, it came to pass that the Gaithers sent forth a decree that men should sing their “Allelulia”. Pop got a part singing “The Longer I Serve Him, The Sweeter He Grows.” The novelty, of course, is that the Gaithers planned for elderly gentlemen to sing this portion of their Alleluia program, because of course the older the singer the more impactful the song. And at this point Pop could be pretty impactful, seeing as he was like Eleventy-five or something. There was to be a performance of the Alleluia (or part of it) at Brookside Evangelical Mennonite Church (where we were members) and Pop was going to stay at our house! Our very house! I was so excited! I hid my clock radio—didn’t want to take any chances of offending him—and looked forward to the few days he would be staying with us. True enough, it was really like having Thomas Jefferson stay with us. I hung on his every word, and kept hoping he’d say something fascinating. It was all really cool, even though he’d often forget my name. He called me Joan (the right way: Jo-ANN) several times, and even occasionally Bonnie. (Sorry, ladies. Don’t mean to tar you with my brush.)
The night we went to see him in the Gaither Alleluia I wore a simple black and white sailor dress that I thought made me look serious and grown up. I was fourteen or so, and being Grown Up was terribly important to me. I’ll never forget the compliment he paid me that night.
“You are such a pretty girl. You look just like my Edna.”
Now, I realize that in 1984 most girls wouldn’t have relished a comparison to someone who was a young girl at the turn of the century. But it meant the world to me, because Pop had picked Edna and Pop had both taste and a wee bit of flamboyance. I felt really grown up, indeed.
I saw Pop only a few times after that, but he always loomed large in my heart and my concept of family. I was so happy that my husband was able to meet Pop before his death.
It saddened me a little that I had moved far away and was unable to make Pop’s funeral, but in a way I was glad. I didn’t want to have to see his body driven to the cemetery by the undertaker.