Poem for my grandfather’s memorial service
I read this today.
Richard Cole, 1929-2013
Grandma told me not to write anything too sad,
So let’s start with a laugh.
One time, Grandpa was sent to get pizza for the family,
And carried it home sideways under his arm,
So it all slid down and became this mishappen amazing lump
Of melted-together bread and sauce and cheese.
Grandma was stunned, wailing, “Richard! How could you!”
And mom said, “That’s the absent-minded professor gene.”
It causes me endless trouble that I have inherited this gene,
But have no doctorate to excuse my failings.
It’s a carelessness, perhaps, that comes from having your mind on higher things,
Or so we say, to the more organized members of the family,
Who remain scandalized by our misdoings.
But let’s talk awhile about these higher things, shall we?
The thoughtfulness which made him a philosopher
Is visible in the way his grandson Josh writes books,
Their imaginations like fireworks cracking on and on,
Lighting up new landscapes with red and blue stars.
Grandpa’s keen appreciation of beauty took him to the opera
And on ten-mile walks through the wilderness with his faithful dog.
Today his granddaughter Hannah’s eye for the beautiful and strange,
Allows her to draw amazing illustrations which pull on the heart.
His grandson Peter thanked him on the acknowledgements page
Of the ivy-league anthropology honors thesis he finished this year.
Thanked him, for “teaching me to be curious.” That eager curiosity grew
And flourished in every mind Grandpa touched.
A joyous sense of adventure made him dashing and debonair,
A charming rogue, a gentleman and a scholar, pushing new frontiers.
His grandson Sam attacks the new frontiers of the tech industry,
With that same roguish good humor and adventurous grace.
Grandpa’s joy in marching to the beat of his own drummer,
Is echoed in his grandson Ben’s angry internet postings
About “Standing up to the man!” This upright pride
In being different takes us through the rough patches in our lives.
His namesake, Richard the Younger, shares his talent for diffusing
Tense situations and soothing high-strung people,
A quality of mellow humor and laid-back cool,
Which never ceases to amazing me, wound-up control freak that I am.
Grandpa would pull puns out of his brain, like a magician pulling rabbits out of hats.
We always groaned and rolled our eyes, secretly amused.
Today his son Mark does not pun per se, but creates unlikely schemes
And absurd proposals, all the while chortling with that same inward glee.
Grandpa adventured ever onward, in search of knowledge,
Sailing his boat towards the dazzling but unreachable daybreak of Truth.
Today, his daughter Wendy delves into the mysteries of life,
Unraveling the genome, unpuzzling mathematical secrets.
His gentle kindness and caring for his family,
Shone like the heat of summer as he told his children stories,
Stories of friendly monsters in the basement and attic,
And now his daughter Aletha, tells the same kind of stories to her little one.
They say the dead live on in our memories.
They say the dead live on in us.
Neither of these truisms seem quite strong enough.
The dead ARE us.
Grandpa’s soul is in the creation of this family,
And now his grandchildren stand poised on the brink of creating their own families.
(Sam and Katie have already started.)
If I can create a family half as good as the one he made,
I’ll consider my life well lived.