Bumpa lived in and around the same village in rural Maine his entire life. He had nine siblings, all of whom died before him. He came from a family of farmers and was a farmer himself until he started his own general contracting business. Bumpa was an earth-mover.
Those are just some of the facts about Bumpa. He was a family man, he loved playing cards, he LOVED the Red Sox, he drank a four o’clock totty every day (ginger ale and whiskey), he told off-color jokes. He cursed like a sailor, played practical jokes and never did a load of laundry in his life. He wore a bib to eat lobster, a mask every Halloween, green bow ties and hats on St. Patrick’s Day, and suspenders always. Industrial slate green was his color of choice, the color of the work clothes he wore every day, even after he officially retired.
Bumpa and Nanny got married in 1947. They had four kids, twelve grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Plus their granddog, Gretel. Their lives were very much focused on their family. No sacrifice was a sacrifice if it was for family. My grandparents gave me $50 a semester while I was in college to pay for books. They did that for each of us, even if there were five of us in college at the same time. My grandfather put a grocery bag in his trash bag to fill up and discard, thus using the free bag and saving the one he had to buy for special occasions. There were a lot of semesters of $250 in checks, and every summer, he’d buy a couple dozen lobsters for our family Lobster Fest. When my aunt’s second husband ran off to Hawaii with his bit on the side, my grandfather paid the mortgage on her house. When my cousin wanted to build his house, my grandfather gave him the land. When my uncle needed new equipment for the business and the economy was tanking, my grandfather bought it. Re-use your trash bags, kids.
Some things I’ll always remember about my grandfather: his laugh, his easy smile, the smell of his aftershave, the way he’d swear at his cards, how he always cleaned his plate and fork in a hope for pie, the way he always tried to trick me into eating pickles, his running commentary as we drove through the village and surrounding lands (“That ditch there, got a tractor stuck there one spring, hell of a time getting it out.” “The Hastings driveway there, we paved that last summer and they still owe us money.” “There goes Little Ronnie Black on his bike, got his fingers stuck in the spokes a few years back and he just yelled and yelled, thought he must be deaf to yell so loud.”). Bumpa played ‘Happy Birthday’ on his hearing aids for us grandkids and sometimes attempted to sing (this is where I get my inability to carry a tune); Bumpa would take out his false teeth and tease us mercilessly with them; Bumpa had the biggest, strongest and gentlest hands I’ve ever felt.
We had warning that the end was near. A little over a month before he died, Bumpa went to the hospital, complaining about a pain in his back. He never went home again. The back pain was due to a broken bone, which then got infected, which then infected his bloodstream. I was lucky enough to get to visit with him a few weeks ago. He was lucid enough to be able to tell us stories about his time in the Service. He died in his sleep a couple weeks later, with my uncle standing vigil.
The funeral was really awesome. I can't think of any better word for it. My grandfather was such a great person. There's not a soul in his village that didn't know him or ask for his help at some point, and he always gave it. There was an open mic at the funeral, and anyone could give a tribute to Bumpa. My uncle wrote a great tribute and his three kids gave it at the funeral. His oldest son went first, and managed to get through it. Then his daughter, who Bumpa had always teased about talking so fast, said her bit and, in honor of my grandfather, she went wicked slow. Finally my cousin N had his turn, and the poor dear was crying through his whole part, sweetheart. There was not a dry eye in the church, or the gym (they set up an overflow room there). One of the things he said was about how frugal Bumpa was, so my mom and her siblings chose a nice coffin, but they didn't get the most expensive one because no way would Bumpa get in it. There were a lot of laughter through tears moments.
One lady stood up (I recognized her kids; their pics are up next to the grandkid pics at my grandparents' house) and said how my grandparents went to court with them so they could adopt their kids. When they got the first one, who's deaf, my grandfather brought over a truck full of sand to fill the sandbox and played with him in the sand, even though he was in his late 70s at the time.
My dad was really good. He has a lot more experience with funerals than the rest of us, as he's a lay minister and has officiated funerals and supported families at deathbeds before. First he gave a tribute and spoke about how he had to convert to the Red Sox when he was dating my mom, and how welcoming Bumpa was, and how Bumpa became his dad when my dad's dad died in 1983. He gave the closing prayer, too, and my aunts and uncles and my grandma all really liked it and took comfort from it. My grandfather was not a church-going man. His belief in spiritual things did not really come into play until his final weeks of life, as they do sometimes when we're faced with the reality of death and curiosity about the afterlife. Bumpa was nervous about where he was going to go, because he believed in heaven and hell and God and Jesus, but they were abstracts to him and would Jesus let him in after the one million plus times he'd taken his name in vain? My dad told him the proof was in how he had lived his life, and how he had raised his family, and he knew of no one else who had lived such a Christ-like life. Jesus knew.
I was continuously touched by the outpouring of support from the community. My family is from a tiny village in Maine. There is no stoplight. It's right next to a town, also no stoplight. Everyone came to the funeral, including people like my uncle's cousin (my uncle who married into the family), my cousin's father (divorced from my aunt before I was born), my mom's friend from college, my cousin's best friend who lives a few hours away, my cousin's aunt (sister of my aunt's first husband, who also divorced before I was born, and then died twenty years ago), my aunt's brother (my aunt who married into the family), and my parents' best friends, who drove three hours each way to come to the calling hours. It was so, so good to see them. It was so good to see everyone. I got at least 500 hugs these past three days. Every time I saw my cousin (technically, my mother's cousin's son, but my family is large and close, so we don't really pay attention to those designations), I made him give me a hug. Armful of 19-year-old West Point cadet – it's good for what ails you.
It was really weird seeing my grandfather in the open casket. My brother and I pinky-sweared to have closed caskets or cremations. My cousin D said the weirdest thing was that his hands were so pale from the makeup. Bumpa's hands were brown his whole life. He worked outside. When he was young, he got the nickname Ben, because there was a blacksmith in town named Ben and this guy was always dirty. As Bumpa was also always dirty, everyone called him Ben, too. For the record, that's nowhere close to his actual name. But that's how we give nicknames in Maine. My mom has one, so I don't introduce myself w/ her real name; I use her nickname or else no one's going to know who I mean.
My mom's been a trooper. She and her sisters have already sent out most of the thank you's for donations and to everyone who dropped off food. There was a ton of food, but also a ton of us so my grandmother now has a couple zucchini breads and then twenty or so single servings of casserole my mother froze up as food came in. Because that's how we roll.
It's going to be a tough adjustment for my family. Bumpa kind of permeated everything. We've always been a patriarchal family, but in the sense that Bumpa was charismatic and fun and organized, so everything revolved around him, and he took care of us all. He was the best grandfather a person could have. His passing made the front page of his village paper, and I know no one who would have appreciated that more than he would. Rest in peace, Bump.