From the foundations of this country as a mainly Protestant country, there has always been an underlying current that wants to separate holiness from happiness. From our study of American History, we learn about the Puritans who banished dancing and all seeming enjoyment. The Quakers were ‘quietists’ who sought to eliminate any type of emotionalism to have a ‘pure’ religious experience. These two factors, plus many others, eventually lead to Prohibition, the outlawing of all alcohol outside of religious use in this country; absolutely horrifying for someone of German descent!
It is something that still exists today in Pop Culture, as those who are presented as ‘holy’ are usually also presented as ‘dour.’ They have no fun, they are always serious, there is never enjoyment to be found, rather they spend all of their time on the knees in reparation for sins.
It does not take long for anyone who has known my Grandfather, even for the shortest amount of time, to recognize that this is not who he was. Over the last few days, after Grandpa passed on, the one comment that always comes to the fore about Grandpa: “He was quick with a joke.” Seemingly, he never met a joke he didn’t like, and he was always on the lookout for an unsuspecting new acquaintance on whom he could pull out the old stand-bys, in addition to the latest he heard from where ever. For his grandchildren, this was always a nerve-wracking position as we introduced an unsuspecting girlfriend or boyfriend for the first time at a family gathering. Grandpa would get this sly little look on his face, slowly slide over by the neophyte, and unleash a torrent of his recent favorites. The appropriate grandchild would dutifully role his or her eyes and want to climb into a hole somewhere, embarrassed.
But, grandpa’s love for jokes was not self serving; he never did it to bring attention to himself, but used this great love for humor to make others feel welcome and at home. He could take a tense and anxious situation and bring a relaxing calm to all present. What a wonderful gift that is to be able to share with so many, friends and family alike. And what a wonderful way to acknowledge the Love that God has for each one of us through the mystery and gift of laughter. As Fr. Pat led us through the discussion about Grandpa the other day, this was the idea that Jim, Larry, Mom, Diane, Mark and Lora all kept coming back to: Grandpa used the jokes to break down barriers, to establish friendships, and make people feel at ease.
While this love of humor was certainly one Grandpa’s most public aspects, it was not the deepest aspect of who he was. Being a farmer, something which never leaves the blood, is a great lesson in the trusting in the deep providence of God in all things. The family was reminiscing how during planting time, Grandpa was always testy, anxious for the coming year and how the crops would turn out. This deep reliance on the providence of God, though, was expressed in many ways. I remember learning to serve at morning Masses here at Immaculate Conception, and Grandma and Grandpa were always sitting in the same pew, praying the rosary, saying their prayers after Mass. Just as prayer marked the rhythm of life in a monastery, prayer was what marked the rhythm of life for grandma and grandpa, and very little would stand in his way. In fact, so important was Sunday Mass, that at one point the farm was snowed in. Even though he felt it was too dangerous for the children to come into town for Mass, he walked both ways so that he would not miss his Sunday obligation. (Either that, or he was tired of being cooped up with Jim and Larry, and decided a walk through several feet of snow was a good thing!)
As it is for so many who work the land and rely on the Providence of God to survive, prayer was something real, something personal, something powerful, and any opportunity to steal a moment in prayer was taken advantage of. Grandma related on Thursday that he would often pray a rosary while either planting or plowing, bragging often: I got two full rosaries in today! (As an aside, this is much better than Uncle Larry’s option of falling asleep at the wheel of the tractor!)
One final aspect that cannot be skipped over is his devotion to his family. While his was not a love that was worn on the sleeve, the love and concern that he had for his family was something that was always present, guiding how he treated his children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. Family was always important and he was generous in his own way. While for many years, all you would receive is a hearty handshake and a firm ‘yep!’, his devotion to grandma, especially in their years of retirement, is an example to us, his friends and descendents.
The legacy that he passes on to us continues these three themes: humor as a way of inviting others into relationship, faith, and family. Through all of this, his dedication and hard work provide the blue-print to a success that is not measured in dollars, but is measured in friends. Last night, as we were leaving the funeral home after the visitation, I thought of the funerals I have had for those in their 90’s. The crowds tend to be small, a few friends who are remaining, family scattered about. Grandpa, as he did with so many things, greatly exceeded expectations. So many friends, so many family members (many of whom I did not even know!), came to pay respects for a man who was deeply loved and respected, who enjoyed his life, but also had a deep and profound faith.
And the common consensus was: where are we going to get our jokes now?