Late on Friday March 11th, my grandfather passed away.
His name was Lawrence Owen Wiebers and Owen is named after him.
He had been pretty sick for most of the last year; he couldn't walk because of his broken hip and had suffered several debilitating strokes.
I flew home late Tuesday night to attend the memorial service and took Stewart with me.
We arrived around 1 AM on Wednesday about the same time as my Aunt Jennifer. My mom picked us both up at Midway and we sped home to try to get a few hour's sleep before the service.
My mom got a speeding ticket near La Grange- the cop told her that 51 in a 35 was "extremely excessive", especially with "these children in the car." Other than Stewart, the only other passengers were Aunt Jen and myself, so I'm assuming that I was the other "child" he was talking about. Gold.
There was a brief church memorial followed by a graveside service.
I have to admit, it was the graveside service that really got to me. During the memorial, I was almost too busy trying to keep Stewart quiet to really say good-bye. I gave the kid a sucker to shut him up, but he just exuberantly yelled "SUCKER!" through the church. Then he gave a little princess wave and exclaimed "Hi!" over and over again. Then he saw the stairs down to the church basement and shouted "Up! Up!" Then he started mocking me, saying "SSHHHHHHH" and laughing. It would have been hilarious if I hadn't really wanted to hear the service.
At the cemetery, my dad watched Stew for me and I approached my grandpa's headstone and all these memories just came flooding in.
I remember him as a woodcarver- he spent his retirement in his workshop making ducks, birds, fish and all kinds of beautiful pieces of what you'd call "folk" art.
I remember him as a naturalist- in addition to recreating details of various birds and animals from memory, his workshop was filled with snakes and fish of all kinds. He would trap mice and other rodents to feed to them. He enjoyed hunting and just seemed generally fascinated with the workings of nature.
I remember him as a card player- I spent many happy hours at his kitchen table playing rummy or hearts with him and Grandma.
I remember that he hated the sound of ice crunching (I learned that the hard way), and that he liked to smoke cigars.
I remember watching "Wheel of Fortune" with him and trying to solve the puzzles.
I remember the clever and original toys he made for us- the little duck that you could push to make its feet slap the ground, the cute china cabinets he made for us girls to put our play dishes in, and the very clever changeable maze he made for me to run mice through for a sixth grade science experiment. Oh, and how could I forget the super sized "Charlotte" spider and web? He knew that Charlotte's Web was one of our favorite movies. He even wrote "SOME PIG" in the web with fishing line, which I can tell you was probably no easy task.
I remember staying with him and Grandma the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college so I could work at a playhouse near Lanark. He let me use his old Cadillac all summer to drive back and forth- it was a car he was sentimental about because it was his first luxury car. Of course, I could do nothing but complain about the horrifying country-lite album that was stuck in the tape deck and the fact that it had terrible acceleration.
I kept trying to tell him there was something wrong with it, because I would FLOOR the gas pedal and never get above 40, but he took me out for a drive during which he managed to get that old thing well above 90. "So," he asked me triumphantly. "Does it have enough power for you?"
This is how I remember my grandpa. Gruff, quiet, funny, smart, interested in life and therefore interesting.
I'm glad I was able to be there for his memorial- to say good-bye and to sythensize these memories and keep them safe.
After the graveside service, we went to my Grandma's for lunch. Stewart was a little angel- he walked around, ate cookies and amused himself. He looked at all of Grandpa's birds and ducks and shouted "DUCKY!" at all of them and quacked.
My cousin Anna taught him to say "Tweet tweet" for the birds.
I met Raj, the live-in Mongolian, and I have to say that he is nothing like what I expected. He looks like a run-of-the-mill Asian- and not a seven foot fur-clad barbarian so that was disappointing. Stewart ran into his room and yelled "Hi! Hi!" and he didn't eat him or anything. Blah.
My grandma looked pretty distant and tired, but I suppose that's to be expected. His death will be harder on no one than her- they were together over sixty years. I wish I could have stayed longer to visit with her but hopefully I will see her more this summer.
The next day, my mom and I went to the mall to buy happiness and we found much of it on the $7.99 rack at Bergner's. The best part is that Stewart slept in his stroller through it all.
My friend Katie came over later that day and we got to visit.
Friday morning, my dad drove me back to Midway for the long flight back to L.A. It was, of course, delayed.
Before we left, we went down to the basement to print out my boarding pass. Stewart disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared yelling "ducky! ducky!" He had somehow found the duck toy my Grandpa had made when I was little. I pushed it back and forth for him and showed him how the duck's feet slapped the ground. He laughed.
I chased him around with it and yelled "Quack! Quack!" for a good long while and he ran and giggled. I couldn't help but feel that somehow my life had come full circle and that Grandpa was part of it all.
Here are some pictures of the memorial and following days.