Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You Can Go Home Again

This delightful story by Rick Hummell, the editor of 'Your Family Magazine' (published by Unified Newspaper Group) illustrates many of the functions of funerals, and how good funerals can help us to reconnect, remember and move forward in a positive way. Enjoy...

You can go home again
I said goodbye to one of my best friends a few weeks back. How sad and ironic, but also a reflection of the selfless individual he was, that in dying my friend Tubby Grenon would help me reconnect to an important part of the past that had drifted away, as well as afford me a measure of redemption.
One of my prized possessions is a photo taken in the summer of 1980 of myself and the six buddies I hung around with back then in my native Canada, a motley assortment of characters who provided with me with the kinds of deep friendships I’ve never known since and never will know again. Seated in front left to right are Tubby, Jakes, Gary and Frank; behind them are Murray, Dan and myself. The photo was taken at one of the summer pig roasts hosted annually by Murray’s parents at their cottage, not far from our hometown. Through my high school and college years and the next few years that followed, the seven of us were as tight as could be. After college, the Group of Seven stayed close as we started or looked for jobs, stood up for each other when one or another got married, started families and forged new lives. My life-changing first "break" from the group occurred in 1981 when I had an opportunity to take an extended vacation in Texas. I asked Tubby, who, like myself, was unemployed, if he’d like to take a few weeks to kick back in Texas – certainly a new and exciting adventure for two young lads from the forested and lake-pocked mining country of Northern Ontario. Purely by luck, I was offered a job at a newspaper in Texas within a couple weeks of arriving there and I took it, not really expecting or intending to live in the United States from that day forth. Like myself, Tubby had grown quite fond of Texas, but shortly after I started working he received a phone call from Canada, a job offer as a telephone repairman back in the hometown. I stayed, and although reluctant at the time, Tubby went home. Knowing of the kind of husband and father he became, I’m glad he did. My mother still lived back home, so for many years I would return to Canada for annual vacations, which usually included a whirlwind series of visits with the old gang. Everything started to change, however, when my mother died in the winter of 1996. Yes, I did return a couple times over the next few years after her death, even bringing my son, born in 1993, to introduce him to everyone. I always "planned" to return more often, but, as the saying goes, life happens while you’re making plans. As the years went by, my return visits grew more infrequent, the last time in 1999 or 2000. After that last visit, I simply fell out of touch with everybody. No phone calls, no visits, nothing. "Why" I did so is a mystery. There was no reason. I know it has something to do with I got busy. A poor excuse. How strange it is then that after a few years of not contacting anybody, the guilt you feel over not contacting them should impede you from contacting them anew.

When I arrived home from work on a Thursday evening a few weeks ago, there was a message on my answering machine saying I needed to call Canada. I knew instantly one of the guys in the photo was gone. I didn’t know
which one. There was a time when I assumed I’d be the first to go. Phone calls were made and I learned Tubby had died two days before. Apparently, he’d fallen from a telephone pole that was rotted at the base and had started to topple over. I was told it was not the fall that killed him, but he’d suffered a heart attack and died while en route to the hospital. Dead at 51. Within a couple of hours, my fiancee Bonita and I had packed the car and were on the road for the long drive to Northern Ontario.
The showing of the body was on a Friday, with the funeral Saturday morning. After driving nearly 650 miles, Bonita and I arrived at the funeral home with only about an hour to spare. As we drove into the parking lot I didn’t know what to expect. I felt like the prodigal son returning home. I wanted Bonita to stay close to me. My fears were quickly put to rest, however, when walking across the parking lot were about a half-dozen guys out from the funeral home for a cigarette break, including one of my best old friends, one of Tubby’s brothers, and several of his in-laws and friends. Basically they were overjoyed to see me and I them, and in a matter of seconds the years melted away. The same thing happened as we stepped into the funeral home, which was literally packed wall to wall with people there to pay their respects to a great man and his family. There were literally enough flowers surrounding Tubby to fill a greenhouse.
Over the next hour or so – the funeral home stayed open late because there were so many present – I was able to reconnect with dozens of long lost friends, most of whom treated me like I’d never been gone. After a short while I finally found Tubby’s widow, Rachel, in the crowd, and she honored me more than my words can ever say by asking me to be a pallbearer.
As Bonita and I eventually made our way to the back of the funeral home, there on one of the photo tribute boards was a blown-up reproduction of the photo of long ago of the seven dudes. I knew it would be there. After the funeral the next day, scores of family and friends gathered for the wake. The libations flowed freely and there were a lot of shared memories and laughs. Kind of like old times, and I had the honor of introducing my fiancee to the whole group. Many of my old friends now have children who are teenagers themselves and it was bittersweet to see a whole new generation of the gang coming into their own. At one point they even grabbed one
of the young lads and tossed him fully-clothed into the swimming pool. Yes, just like old times.
The most touching moments for me occurred when several of Rachel’s brothers approached me one after the other and tearfully told me I had no idea how much it meant to Rachel that I was able to be present. If they only knew, how humbled I was to be in the comfort of that circle again. Later in the afternoon, a few cameras appeared and people started to take pictures. Then someone had the brilliant idea of recreating the fabled photo of the Group of Seven, minus Tubby. So, chairs were arranged and the remaining six of us got together in the same positions as the original photo. Like a sort of Missing Man formation, we left an empty chair for Tubby. Then we persuaded Rachel to sit in Tubby’s empty chair. More photos were taken and there was not a dry eye anywhere.

As I’ve said many times over the years to many people, Francis "Tubby" Grenon was truly one of the finest people I’ve ever met. He was a big guy – hello, he wasn’t called Tubby for nothing – but he truly was a teddy bear. He was shy, sincere, honest, and most of all, well-meaning. He also had a tendency to walk around the house in his underwear, no matter who was present. And while I saw him in his underwear plenty of times, I never really saw him get mad. After returning home from Texas, Tubby did in fact have a long career with the telephone company. After marrying Rachel, the Grenons built a beautiful house on the shores of Rock Lake, the same lake where many of our old friends have cottages. And although they did not have children of their own, Tubby and Rachel took in foster children and later adopted three young girls when the girls were toddlers. They’re all fine young ladies now, all the better for having Tubby and Rachel as role models and parents. At the reception following the funeral, Tubby’s future son-in-law Lance told a story that sums up Tubby. One winter day, Tubby and Lance were out on the ice hitting golf balls at Tubby’s lakeside home, when, as they were returning, Tubby started hitting balls toward the yard. As they got closer, Tubby hit a golf ball that got away from him, with the golf ball sailing right toward and through an upstairs window and into the house. As they approached the house, Rachel was waiting, hands on her hips and with a few choice words to say about the broken window. Tubby skirted past her with the golf club in his hand and headed down a hallway where the golf ball lay on the floor. Rachel was right behind him, repeating a few choice words. Tubby turned around and stood over the ball and put
his hand up like a policeman stopping traffic, and said, "Sshhh. I’m putting."
Rest you well, buddy. ●

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This story is so lovely - we all have a "Tubby" in our lives. The kind of man who is good hearted and loving. Thank you for putting it to words.

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