A week ago on Saturday morning my mother called to inform me that grandpa (my dad’s father) had passed away. This was no great shock, he was 93, he hadn’t been in the best of health for years (though few people don’t have some health problems by 93).
Initially I was not sure what I would do, would I go to the funeral or not? Its a two day drive to Wisconsin and I didn’t have the money for a plane ticket. I had barely started to hem and haw when Jess basically said we’re going. I’m not sure what her exact words were anymore but she was decisive when I needed it. Quickly we started packing the Jeep so that the three of us could make the trip back. I think my parents were a little shocked to hear that the three of us were going to join them in the drive back, forming a tiny caravan. I got the call at 7:30 and by noon we were on the highway. I think that’s pretty good considering we still had to drop off the dog at her parents’ house, go to the bank and get some other supplies before hitting the road.
The drive itself went pretty good, I was shocked how well it went. We convinced the four year old we were on an adventure and that kept him interested enough that he didn’t get too bored. We also had a DVD player (a godsend), some games and plenty of snacks. On the way home later in the week this combination would start to lose its magic but initially it was a success.
The funeral was a little odd in that it did not seem that sad. I don’t remember hearing anyone getting too emotional. It was harder for everyone at the cemetery but at the funeral home it did not seem, from where I was sitting, that there was any intense crying. But that is somewhat to be expected because grandpa was 93. This was not a huge shock so everyone had previously had their time to come to grips with it happening someday in the future, that someday turned out to be now. My dad had flown out to Wisconsin the week before to see his father, not knowing if he had two more years or two more months.
We debated what to tell our son. He had never been to a funeral before, the few we’ve attended together previously we’ve left him with a babysitter. Eventually we decided on telling him grandpa was sleeping (if the casket hadn’t been open it would have been easier to discuss, I think). So far he hasn’t had any sort of adverse reaction to going to sleep. I thought he might after he watched us put my grandfather in the ground. Maybe he didn’t see enough to realize what was happening, we sat near the back and at the cemetery he was also at the rear of the crowd.
I was a pallbearer, I wished I had the time to pack some better clothes instead of dark jeans and a black sweater. I could have packed my sportcoat and some actual black dress pants. I don’t feel too bad though as very few of my relatives were exactly dressed to the nines, I didn’t stand out for my lack of wardrobe and I think most people realized that we had packed quickly and hit the road so we did not have the perfect clothes.
It was good to see all my cousins and to introduce my family to my future wife and son. They got to meet my 21 first and second cousins, plus my aunts and uncles. In all I think they met about 30 relatives of mine. After the funeral we went to a sports bar and had a family dinner.
The next two days we went through grandpa’s house. The real treasure were the boxes of very old pictures that we did not know that he had. My cousin Daniel does genealogy and we both had a strong suspicion that there was some stuff in the attic but we were amazed by the riches. Daniel set up his printer as a copier and made a ton of copies for the various relatives that wanted them.
In our searching of the house we also found some old lace doilies that my grandmother made. We all took some, I think Jess and I ended up getting 4. We also got some old china, I believe mom said that it was my great grandmother’s but I don’t remember the specifics anymore, I’ll have to ask. I also took his old nightstand and its now next to my bed. I got some old books too, basically some Wisconsin Blue Books and a biography of George Washington. I also got his old wool coat, it fit me well and no one else wanted it so I took it for practical and sentimental reasons. The main haul was the family photos, if that’s all I would have gotten I would have been quite happy. I was also glad to get these few other pieces as they have a family history behind them. Lace doilies are nice but having ones your grandmother made is even better. Hopefully they’ll stay in pretty good condition and can maybe be passed on to the next generation. If that doesn’t happen its not a big deal but it would kinda be nice if it did happen.
One of the more interesting finds in the family papers was I found (and was allowed to keep the original after the copies were made) of promotion certificates for one of my uncles making him a corporal and a sergeant. I don’t have the originals in front of me (when I do I’ll probably scan them and post them here because they are kinda neat) so my memory is a bit sketchy but the one for corporal was in the 2nd Wisconsin (for the Spanish American War) and then the one for sergeant was for the 137th US Infantry (or it might be the 127th, the memory is hazy on the number right now)
I'm glad I went. I went more to support dad than anything else. I'm glad Jess was decisive and that all three of us went. That really meant the world to me.
One of my favorite photos of my grandpa is this one from a hunting trip. I believe that the story behind the photo is that he got his deer on Saturday, was home on Sunday for church and while still in his church clothes a friend stopped by to take the picture. So my grandfather is in his Sunday best with a deer. But at first glance it might appear that my grandfather was the gentleman hunter and did his hunting in a coat and tie with shined shoes. Ironically the wool coat he’s wearing is the same one I took out of his closet. The hat was there too but did not fit me otherwise I would have probably taken that too.
Walter John Kurtz
1 December 1914 – 15 March 2008