Delivered on 6 October 2012
There is not time, nor is this the place or occasion, to capture the whole life of Walter LB. All those stories we carry with us will, and should, be told and retold in days and years to come. Instead, today, I am here to offer a few good words about my grandfather, whom I loved and shall remember, simply, as a good man.
As I turn to reflect on my fondest memories of him, the first, earliest, and most consistent one I find is his deep and abiding appreciation for an afternoon nap. It is neither a spectacular nor peculiar memory; I don’t have any insightful or especially humorous story that follows on this remembrance, but I begin here because the image of Pop-Pop “watching TV”—a feat he accomplished with his eyes closed, while snoring—evokes for me the sense of a man who found pleasure in the simple moments of life.
It is this same sense that arises in an associated memory: that of polishing shoes. This was no minor chore to be removed from one’s to-do list with a minimum of effort. On the contrary, in the manner of my grandfather one finds a careful, patient ritual to polishing shoes—and here too a pleasure, not merely in a job done well, but in the very doing of the job.
His favorite drink—of which he gave me my first taste, when I was perhaps too young too appreciate it, in the basement of the house on that mountain road—was an Old Fashioned. What I was able to appreciate was the care and pleasure he took in assembling the concoction. There is precious little to it—some whiskey, sugar, bitters, fruit, and ice—but this simple drink requires careful attention and patience if it is to turn out well.
In these memories I find what I want to say about Walter B. He was an Old Fashioned: composed of simple ingredients, made with a care of craftsmanship, and an appreciation for the gift of time spent. The analogy embraces both the man and the pleasures of his life. Whether enjoying a holiday roast with family, a weekend omelette, a well-crafted sandwich, or reclining on a deck overlooking the ocean, just enjoying the breeze and the simple wonders of creation, his joys were simple, careful, and patient.
His religious convictions may have been held with certainty, but his was not a blind or unreflective belief. He would engage questions and challenges thoughtfully, though with a careful attention to the bounds of his own reason and knowledge. In the end, as expressed through both his conversation and conduct, it seemed as though his faith rest in a simple acceptance of God. Truly, I cannot speak to this space of his heart — that can only be between him and God — but what I saw and will remember was a man who lived his faith quietly, humbly, and without pretension. In this, I hold him as an example.
None of which is meant to paint him as perfect. He could be stubborn. He could rumble. He could be a frustrating challenge even (perhaps most frequently) to those who loved him. And these, perhaps more difficult stories will, and should, also be told as we keep his memory whole in us. Yes, let us keep all of him, and remember that the whole is not found in the fragments, but in the so much more complex, yet infinitely simple truth that he was a man.
And for a man, failure is as certain as success; the measure is in the trying. My grandfather was a man who tried. He tried to act according to the conscience of his heart, and so I remember him as a man of good heart; he was a man who tried to live with a will of caring and charity towards his family and neighbors, and so I remember him as a man of good will. Walter B was a man who tried to be good, and so I remember him simply as a good man, as a man who enjoyed the simple, careful pleasures that the time of this world offers, and as a man of faith.