If you’re close to me, you may know that my grandpa passed away last month (a month from yesterday, to be exact). He lived to be almost 87 years old and I was lucky enough to have him around for so much of my adult life. I had the honor of delivering part of the eulogy at his memorial service last weekend, and I wanted to share what I wrote in his memory.
Throughout my childhood and early adult life, my family and I would drive up to this small town of Talihina, Oklahoma to visit Oma and Opa. Our drives up usually coincided with the changing seasons when the leaves turned from summer green to the vibrant yellows and oranges of fall, much like today.
The last thirty minutes of the drive were always my favorite. My grandparents lived in a log cabin near the forest, and the only way to get there is to follow a long, winding road. We’d enter the property by driving through an iron gate, the gravel crunching beneath our tires. As we all piled out of the car, stretching our legs from the long drive, Oma and Opa would come out the front door and greet us with hugs. I’d always take a deep breath and take in the smells of the trees and feel the crisp, cool air on my cheeks.
My earliest memories of Opa are in this cabin. He designed it himself and even finished the interior carpentry by hand. The cabin always felt cozy and comforting, with its folksy decorations and hand-knitted blankets tossed gently over the furniture. But it wasn’t the cabin itself that was so cozy and comforting — it was Oma and Opa that made it that way.
The furnace warming the whole cabin, the smell of Oma’s famous chicken noodle soup simmering in the kitchen, and Opa sitting with us in the living room telling us stories about his heirloom tomatoes. I will always fondly remember these peaceful trips to the cabin.
I believe that my love for nature was strongly influenced by Opa. He loved being outside— from working in his garden or tending the forest behind the cabin. He’d take us on tours of his massive garden and pluck tomatoes right from the bushes for us to taste. He was so proud of whatever was growing that year.
Opa would also take the grandkids for nature hikes in the woods, helping us pick out large walking sticks to guide our path. He’d teach us about the different types of trees and point out animal tracks. Even in his later years, he was able to keep up with us on hikes that were miles long, winding through forests and state parks. It was impressive. He’d always be up for building something with us. We’d find logs in the woods and ask to build giant teepees and bonfires and he’d happily be on board. Several times, he even let us drive his old tractor.
I am very grateful that I was able to spend so much time with Opa, even in my early adult years. Not many are lucky enough to get to know their grandparents so well.
The best thing that Opa has left behind for us is his great appreciation of nature. Our deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation. Opa taught us that nature can give us a calm connection with all of life. Just as Opa passed down his love of nature to his children and grandchildren, I will pass down the same appreciation to my future children.
I wanted to finish with a quote from one of my favorite spiritual authors:
If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and grandparents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Opa, you will be greatly missed. Your wisdom and love will continue to guide us throughout our lives.