Sunday, December 29, 2013

Saying goodbye, and an unending thank you.

Hey y'all. I've been on blogging hiatus these last couple of weeks because my beloved grandfather passed away on December 18 due to complications from his November stroke. He was 86 and lived a great, great life, but it's been a time of deep shock and grief for all of us who knew and loved him. To get back into writing, here is the piece I read at his memorial service last weekend, with a couple of additions. These Advent and Christmas seasons have been far from joyous, but joy has come from celebrating his life, and from all of you who have been so loving and generous as we've mourned. Thank you.

Good morning. Thank you all so much for being here today. I'm Claire Asbury, and it is my honor to speak on behalf of Betty and Frank's 12 grandchildren, and their great-granddaughter.

In some ways, we are as varied a group as cousins can be. We were born over the course of 34 years. We are each at a different point in our journeys. But what we have in common will bind us always: We belong to this very special family of Mackays and Asburys. And we are blessed to be the ones who knew Frank as "Pop Pop." Since birth, we have felt the fierce and all-encompassing love of both of our grandparents. We have never doubted that they cherish each of us exactly as we are. What a gift for all of us to have, and a gift that we will pass on.

Words cannot fully do justice to the man we are celebrating today. We are blessed and thankful beyond measure to have had such a grandfather as Frank Asbury. Pop Pop's vibrancy and enthusiasm for life have impacted us forever. He was larger than life, yet simple and gentle. He loved holding court at a gathering, flourishing his wonderfully sharp wit. And I think he took even more joy in holding court with his grandchildren. He kept us laughing, and his famous dimpled grin - one might even call it "impish" - has lit up our days since we were children. He loved to play - games of peek-a-boo, sports in the backyard, anything - and for a growing grandchild, even for a grown one, there is nothing better. Really, it didn't matter what we were doing, as long as he was with us. Whenever I went to visit Nana and Pop Pop's house, which was often, Pop Pop would gladly drive me the 15 minutes home, and we always enjoyed those extra minutes together. And he often recalled a "tea party" he had had with me as a three-year-old, sipping out of empty cups, surrounded by my stuffed animal guests. We both took such happiness from that memory, and many more.

He was a handyman, and called on us to help with his projects. When I was four and my brother Mason two, we helped Pop Pop build a stone wall for Nana's garden. I still remember watching him mix the cement and assisting him in spreading it over the thin, flat layers of stone. Less than three months ago, when we were at his beloved mountain cabin for Labor Day, I held the ladder for him as he cleared leaves out of the gutter.

He was a great lover of sports of all kinds. The first place I ever witnessed the powerful hold that sports could have on a person - which may or may not have included yelling with frustration at the TV as if the players could hear you - was in the den with Pop Pop. (And I may or may not have inherited it.)

He loved music, loved to sing. When I was little, I would stand on his feet and he would dance me around the room singing "Under the Bamboo Tree" from Meet Me In St. Louis. And I always cherished sharing a hymnal with him in these pews, listening to him sing the bass harmonies with gusto, a wonderful way to express his deep faith.

 But the word that truly defines Frank Asbury, our Pop Pop, is generosity. He was abundantly generous - with his time, his money, his stories, his help, his laughter, and of course, his love. We have been so richly blessed by his giving heart and spirit. He was always eager to know what we were up to, and treated whatever it was with importance and excitement. He came to our basketball games and tennis matches, musicals and choir concerts. On our birthdays, everyone in the family knew to expect a check totaling the amount of our new age. He kept Hershey's Kisses on the shelves in his wardrobe, pulling some out as a treat every time we came over. When I moved away to go to college and then to work, I would often find in my mailbox a wonderful note or limerick written in his scrawling hand. His love was strong, unfailing, overflowing.

Christmas Day in particular was always Pop Pop's day. Every year he sat on his green stool in front of the Christmas tree and delivered one present at a time, reading out the "to" and "from" with care as 15+ of us sat, watching and waiting (some of us impatiently). He always made sure each person had that special chance to open a gift with all eyes on them, and he never picked his own presents to open until everyone else had been satisfactorily gifted. We often quipped, "What do you get the man who has everything?" But it was clear that he had all he wanted: his family gathered around him, talking, joking, laughing, all things he did so well.

Pop Pop wasn't only generous to those close to him. He spread his kindness to countless people during his great life. He found something to love and appreciate in everyone he met. One story in particular sticks in my mind. Most of you know that Pop Pop was a regular at Evans Fine Foods - or "Yvonne's," as he called it. Every Christmas, he would bring generous tips to all the wait staff. There was one woman who bussed tables and never smiled. She was always stone-faced as she cleaned. I ate there with Pop Pop a few years ago on the day he gave her the envelope with her holiday tip. She opened it and, without hesitation, without a word, bent down and gave Pop Pop a swift kiss on the cheek. Then she returned to bussing tables, and Pop Pop smiled and kept eating. I will never forget that moment. A simple act of generosity, and a simple act of thanks in return. No words needed. Mutual gratitude and appreciation. And it's clear that moments like that didn't go unnoticed in the local diner; the staff at Evans sent beautiful flowers to the funeral home in Pop Pop's honor.

Pop Pop has given us, his grandchildren, more than we can ever truly explain or perhaps even realize now. He has taught us how to care for a chaotic world. He has taught us to love deeply and love well, to trust in God, to build up and cherish our relationships, to give back to our communities, to recognize and appreciate the humanity and dignity of every person, to laugh and sing and joke, to savor the simple joys of life. And Pop Pop, I couldn't put it more simply or joyfully when I say:

We will love you forever, and we are grateful.


Ann K said...

Beautiful, Claire.

Janet said...

Oh, Claire, there aren't words in my vocabulary to express my response to your words and pictures. My heart is crying,but the tears haven't yet reached my eyes. I think I am still trying not to believe it
I love you all.