Columbus, Ohio USA
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In Memory of Grandpa Garn
Published in TWIC (This Week in Columbus, 1956)
By Tom Thomson
January/February 2016 Issue
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Tom's daughter Janet Campbell (all grown up) mentioned in this essay about her great grandfather.
My wife’s grandfather died the day after Easter. He was almost 94 years old. Death came quietly in the dark, stilled early hours of morning.
One afternoon, two months before, I had been visiting my in-laws’ farm near Fremont, Ohio, and Grandpa Garn was present for Sunday dinner.
Sunday dinner in the country is something very special, especially if you’ve lived, like I have, in the city all your life. The meal itself is a big production with a variety of vegetables, potatoes, gravy and salads in addition to maybe two entrees, and then, a choice of desserts and finally, coffee to warm up your innards and complete the feeling of being stuffed and lazy.
The dining room had a big window overlooking lawn, garden, and beyond, a collection of things common to most any farm, relics of old farm implements, the out-house, now seldom used but by its mere presence reassuring, winter trees, fences enclosing the fat porkers and an ample number of English Sparrows and creaking, whistling Starlings.
The farm itself, although remodeled and modernized, is very old and the hardwood flooring in the dining room is mute evidence to this fact since it has a decided and singular slope to it that defies being corrected without the expenditure of a small fortune.
Perhaps the farm and the farmer is, as has been claimed, a passing way of life. If this is true, it’s lamentable for a number of reasons, one of the most important being that folks who live in the country maintain a much closer family relationship than the rest of us who lead our smug, supposedly independent, lives in the city.
This maxim is most obvious on Sunday at dinner time for it’s then that the family group is apt to be large, what with children and grandchildren, yes, and with grandfathers, all being present.
Thus is was that Sunday afternoon, two months ago now, and after the dinner was over and the big kitchen put into order again, I decided to exert myself and drive up to Castallia, Ohio, with my three-and-a-half year old daughter Jan to see the great gathering of wild ducks that frequents the stream that flows right through the middle of that village.
Grandpa Garn was to have gone with us. Either my wife, or her mother, had suggested that perhaps Grandpa might like to go along, and he was certainly willing to go, for even at his advanced age, he was still agile and alert. Then, at the last minute, we decided that he had better not go along. It was a ride of at least twenty miles each way and Jan is an incurable seat-climber and front-to-back-seat somersaulter and I was afraid that these carefree car calisthenics might prove too much for Grandpa, because sometimes they prove almost too much for me.
So Jan and I took our drive alone, stopping along the way for a box of crackers, to feed the ducks. The February day was bright, but with a raw wind blowing out of the northwest and the winter congregation of ducks was still at Castallia.
We parked near the stream, near some other cars, Jan already full of excitement, her window rolled down and yelling “hello” to all the ducks, far and near.
After we got out of the car, the ducks were so confiding that they came right up to the shore, some even waddling up on the land, to partake of our crackers. There were thousands of them: Mallards with their bright iridescent green heads and orange legs, lots of baldpates and graceful Pintails, neatly attired in shades of gray and brown and one lone Wood Duck, quite overdressed in his gaudy costume of red, green, purple and white.
It was a sight to see. Every now and then a group of ducks would come flying in, etching their flight across the sky and against the trees, dropping lower, and finally, with wings set and feet outstretched, settling into the clear water. Jan, of course, was busy throwing her crackers to the ducks, and I took several snapshots before we got back into the car. Sometime later our hegira had ended and we were headed back to the old homestead, the warmth of the freshly stoked fire and the cheer of an evening supper, and then, after children and grandfathers are safely tucked in bed, a few hands of pinochle.
Grandpa Garn would certainly have enjoyed that outing: I thought this as I was driving up into northern Ohio to attend his funeral. Now the long life that had started in 1863 was over.
Will Garn had been a schoolteacher for many years, and he had farmed. That was when the school year was divided into two terms, winter and summer.
Later in life he went into business, and still later he joined the Lutheran Church and became a great student of the Bible. He knew the Bible better than anyone I had ever known. And even in his last years his memory remained wonderfully clear. Ohio history was dear to him and he was familiar with most of the important events in the development of the Northwest Territory. And, of course, the history of northern Ohio, where he spent most of his years, was as familiar to him as the palm of his wrinkled hand.
Probably the thing I will always remember most about Grandpa Garn was his almost complete peace of mind and uncomplaining attitude toward life.
Although, I will confess, I think many of these mellowing characteristics come to all our loved ones when they reach the sunset years of their lives. At least I know that this is also true of my own grandmother, who, although retaining a considerable degree of her southern pride and prejudice, has sculptured her years both gracefully and with dignity.
Grandpa Garn’s funeral was well attended by family and friends, everyone present truly mournful yet I think all aware that he had spent a long, full life.
Ironically, the minister was a very young man with crew-cut hair and horn-rimmed glasses, but for all that he did a very credible job.
I hope that my daughter Jan and I will take many more trips together, and I equally hope that as she grows older I will be able to teach her some things that we are all too apt to forget. I hope she loves and respects her elders, talks to them, and more important, listens to them. Time is a very illusory thing and every day we are each one day older and I hope with humility one bit wiser. Perhaps in this way, Jan and I both will yet get to know Grandpa Garn better.
Jan’s email is email@example.com
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