Thursday, August 19, 2010

Call Your Grandparents

If my maternal grandfather were alive, he would be 94 years old today. He passed nearly four years ago, after living a life of 90 quality years. Today’s anniversary of his birth got me thinking about him, and more generally, grandparents and the influences that mine have had on me.

Although she died just before I reached the age of 12 in 1988, I can remember my mom’s mom, Susie, as if she were alive today. She spoiled me and my sister and cousins to no end. But that’s not the only way she showed her love. She was caring and sympathetic and never met a stranger. Some of her best friends might have been the sackers at the local grocery store. A lifelong Houstonian, she frequently hosted parties in her home. If not for her, my social skills would be weaker.

I heard Grandmom curse once, when I accidentally cut my wrist with a knife she bought me in the Galleria. Blood was all over the place. I deserved more than the “I shouldn’t have bought you that damn knife” that followed. She was a fine lady, and I miss her.

Two of my grandparents—my dad’s parents—are alive today, both of whom have enjoyed strong health throughout the years but are showing signs of slowing as they pass their mid-eighties.

I make a point to speak with my grandfather at least once per week. Most of the times we talk, my grandmother is by his side, listening—as she always has. We chew the fat, solve the world’s problems, and I come away with a refreshed perspective on life, thankful I made the call.

I can go on and on about the mark my dad’s dad has left on me over the course of our friendship, but will save that for another day. Raised without a father himself, he is a shining example of a Christian family man who leads by example. As modest as they come, Milton leads a simple yet productive life. He is well-read and has a memory clear enough to recall his childhood years in East Texas with swift precision.

Doris, his wife, has stumbled, physically, over the past year—but not in spite of her positive attitude. Even as her heart failed on her and she was set against the ropes of life early this year, she remained upbeat. Happy that she didn’t have to labor over meals anymore, she went on about how tasty the hospital food was… oh, and the variety!

Today, almost as if in step with each other, both of my grandparents spend their nights in an assisted living facility in West Houston. I visit them every so often, and they seem pleased to be there. I’m pleased they’re there, too—available for chats and reminders of what’s important in life.

Back to Bob—whose birthday it would be—I had the unique opportunity to speak at his funeral. Below, I have posted the text (italicized).

To this day, I’m grateful that he and I were friends. He and my other grandparents have each influenced me in their own ways. If they’re alive today, call your grandparents. You never know how something they say or do will influence you years from now.

October 10, 2006

Hello everyone, I’m Chad Covey, one of fifteen grandchildren present today.

On behalf of our family, many thanks to Monsignor Rossi for leading this service.

I’d also like to take a moment to acknowledge – and express our personal gratitude to – David Gautreaux, my grandfather’s longtime friend. His assistance to the last moments was above the call of duty, making the final few weeks better for all, especially Granddad.

Buddies like David are few and far between.

I’m honored to be here. I’m lucky to have had such a formative and memorable relationship with my grandfather. Many of my best and clearest memories come from being with him. Many of the most valuable and lasting lessons I’ve learned come from being around him. He was – and still is – a mentor to me.

Granddad was, by any measure, a successful man. A devout Catholic, he believed in the holy trinity. He had four daughters who meant everything to him. He was the Captain of their hearts.

He met my grandmother, Susie, following a heroic couple of years in the Pacific, where he piloted the notorious PBY Catalina. They met in Colorado Springs, and soon fell in love. They got married in Houston, where he applied his unparalleled work ethic to the oil & gas industry.

Granddad worked professionally until he reached his mid-seventies, but never let his day-job consume him. In modern-day terms, Granddad exemplified a positive work-life balance. His community involvements were various; he understood the importance of regular exercise, and in his Irish-blooded manner, could enjoy himself.

At the age of 60, when I came into the picture, he had lived a life rich enough to be complete, but he was long from done. He was always up to something proactive, rarely idle.

One of my first words was: “Bob.” I used to follow him around on the weekends, asking “what’s next, Bob?”

We’d putter around, fixing and building things and toying with his cars and other collectibles, including coins, stamps, prints, statues, and war memorabilia. We’d take a stab at the occasional task or adventure. One time, we made a kite. Another time, we woke up early to witness Haley’s Comet. We’d spend time in his home office, which was full of maps and interesting books.

He’d give me a sip of his cold Miller Lite, years before I should’ve had it. He’d usually reward me for a hard day’s work with something only he would own, like an uncut strip of $2 bills or a 25-pound, deactivated bomb. To wrap the day, we’d sit in his big, living room chair to watch television and share a half-gallon of Blue Bell ice cream – his favorite flavor was strawberry.

Part of the Greatest Generation, he was extremely patriotic and made it a morning ritual to raise the Stars & Stripes outside of his homes in Houston and on Lake Travis. His favorite animal was the Bald Eagle.

His political orientation was conservative. He was of the conviction that we realize our greatest potential with individual freedom.

He taught me to never turn down a profit and keep a diversified portfolio. Even in his final days, Granddad showed signs of saving that only those who were alive in the Depression-era would understand.

He was stern – and tough, but not without staying conscious of his purpose and confident of his reasoning. His attitude was upbeat – a trait that can serve us all.

One thing I most admired about the Man was his ability to talk with anyone.

He treated everyone he met with respect, showed them courtesy, and listened attentively to what they had to say. He was modest, but wouldn’t hesitate to relate a few stories and opinions of his own to keep conversations flowing. This innate ability was a contributing factor to why he had as many pals as he did – those friendships kept life full for him.

He had knowledge of a number of subjects, but did have some favorites….

He loved jokes, possessing a cheery sense of humor. He loved to travel, especially by airplane, seeing much of the world before taking off in a jet was commonly possible. When driving an automobile, he preferred back-road scenery to more traveled routes, leading my grandmother to once quip: “Bob, had Christopher Columbus not discovered the Americas, you would have.”

He also loved to teach….

He taught many of us to drive, no doubt before we had our licenses to do so. His girls and many of his grandchildren drive cars today, keenly aware of that voice: “Don’t accelerate toward that stoplight!” “Ease off the brake!” “Slow down!”

His competitiveness and focus never left him. He played great golf, with a lifetime low-score of 67 and a hole-in-one to prove it. Together, we’d play an old Navy game called Acey Deucy. We played at least a hundred times, and when I managed to snatch a victory from him every so often, more often than not, it was because he “let me win.”

His mind remained active and curious until he died. On any given day, you’d find him reading about his favorite sports teams, the weather, hand-picked stocks, and current events in the Houston Chronicle. He was on constant patrol for when his favorite WWII video was airing next on the Discovery channel… the television’s volume steadily increasing.

Thanks be to God that his days in pain were few. His death finally came in the presence of his beloved daughters.

While Granddad had previous brushes with death during his illustrious career in the service, there’s irony in his final passing. It was eerily similar to that of my dear grandmother, whose birthday was just yesterday.

A grand celebration for both of them… is in order!

In closing, I’d like to thank you for attending. In one form or another, my grandfather had a unique relationship with each of you.

The shape that he provided to my life is permanent and unforgettable.

May God bless you all and may peace be with my Friend, Bob.