Tuesday, June 21, 2011

David E. Mondt

My Grandfather, David E. Mondt, died almost two weeks ago. He was 89 years old. He was crotchety and tough as an old fence post; he was my Grampie. Here is his obituary. Here's another one from the VFW detailing his years of service.

I was asked to say something at the service.

That was a hard thing to decide to do. I wasn't sure how to even start. I wasn't sure if I could and I kind of put it off for a few days, thinking, before I finally jotted some stuff down on the Thursday before. Then I let it sit and soak a bit and late Friday night I cracked my little book and I poked at what I had written and on Saturday morning I got up at the service and said my piece. It went alright, I think, and in the time since some people have asked for a transcript, so I thought I'd post it here for all and sundry to read and maybe remember him a little. Now, admittedly, there was a certain amount of winging it involved once I got up there to talk, but what follows is as close as I can recall.

"Deciding what to say today, or even to say anything at all, was difficult. There is this whole unwieldy mass of emotions to get through. How do you say what needs to be said? How do you choose to best illustrate the way the shadow of one person's life falls across your own? How do you properly explain the value and the loss? How do you say what we all already know?

Growing up a latchkey kid in a family of mostly women in a generation of broken homes, Grampie was the rock in my center. He was the man to emulate. He had flown through German flak on D Day. He had stood in the sands of the African desert and he had landed planes in English fog so thick they had to burn ditches of oil to light his way. The stories loomed as large as the man.

I think I may have flummoxed him a bit, as a child. I can still remember driving down to Little Rock in the big yellow Chrysler with him and the look on his face when the waitress asked me if I wanted bacon or sausage with my breakfast and I said: "yes". But flummoxed or not, I never doubted his love. I spoke to Zoey today and we talked about the time building the tree house, about hunting the yard for fallen buckeyes, about the never-ending chore of picking up sticks and how he'd catch squirrels and release them in McHose park. We talked about how Santa always gave him coal.

There's too many memories.

With things like this, I always try to put them in context through quotes, to understand them, to frame and define them for myself through the words of others. On Death, I found some Dickens (he had a lot): "It is a far. far better thing that I do, then I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to, then I have ever known." I found a Harry Truman quote from the end of his Presidency, referencing both his time in office and a famous tombstone in Tombstone, Arizona: "Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest." I even found some W. C. Fields: "On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

But the thing that I kept coming back to was something entirely different. It was something unrelated to Grampie, a movie he probably never saw called Blade Runner. In the simplest summary, it is the story of robots whose lives have a clock and that clock is winding down and all they want to do is live one more day. In the end, one character talks about all the amazing things he has seen and done and he wonders: What happens to those memories and experiences when he's gone? Where do they go?

Recently, I've found myself at a crossroads with my work, questioning its worth and what to do with it. As such, as I considered and perused, I discovered something. Grampie is in my book. He has a very large part actually, theme-wise, motivation-wise, perhaps unsurprisingly, he acts as the voice of the hero's conscience. And of course, he's featured prominently in the dramatic retelling of the time he fixed the pogo stick and it knocked me out in the driveway.

All of this made me realize something:

Grampie is a large part of my book, because he's a large part of me and he always will be. And that reminded me of another quote I know, it's a Jewish Proverb and it says: "The only truly dead are those that have been forgotten." I know I will always remember my Grandfather, in his doghead chair or out at the kitchen table, his stories, his coveralls, his cigarettes and his grumpy pronouncements. His scratchy cheeks and his mischievous smile. I love him and I will never forget him, so he will never truly be gone, but I will always miss him."

Bye, Grampie.