“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” – Matthew 4:19
My grandfather had died, quietly, in his sleep. I sat in a wooden pew, awaiting the beginning of his funeral. There was no organ, only the constant drone of the crowd. My family had arrived early. As I sat impatiently, my hands shaking with sadness, the crowd had filtered in behind me.
The constant drone of their speech rang in my ears as people shared their memories of my Grandpa Joe. He had been many things to many people. We all dealt with his death in our own way. I was introspective, like the lake, my calm surface denied a world busting below with biological activity.
Memories swam through my head in a constant blur. I would sometimes get a nibble, catching a memory for a moment before losing it again. Sometimes, I would set the hook and reel it in, embracing it fully.
I could describe the memories, but they would be meaningless to you. These were not world-shattering moments you brag about, but small memories of little things. It was the little things that my Grandpa Joe had done so well, the little things that added up to the sum-total of a great life.
This was the real funeral. Removed from the pageantry and procedure was the real coping mechanism, story and memory. So much of small town life is defined by storytelling. You can see it all around you, from gossip rising from a café table along with rich coffee steam, to two pick-up trucks parked side-by-side, shooting smiles, laughter and bullshit through rolled-down windows.
The funeral dirge of dialogue played on, lifting my grandfather’s soul to the afterlife, as his body lay in the casket before me. His shape was barely recognizable, stripped of the soulful smile that brought hundreds to this small church in the middle of a town of less than a hundred. They drove past the sign post designating Grandpa Joe’s station, a historic landmark of the people.
They arrived at the church, one of two he attended every Sunday, walking the half a block from one to the other for a second sermon. They walked up the ramp feeling the weight of the living, the survivor’s guilt of the masses, mournful for the time they would have to spend without a constant fixture of their lives.
The church was standing room only, the church basement, which had 130 chairs for overflow, was filled. People sat on the floor in between the rows. The funeral procession for family and dear friends, was miles long, stretching in each direction as far as you could see. Leading the procession was Grandpa Joe’s car, a beat-up white Dodge Shadow with a large fishing bobber mounted on the top, just as it had been for years.
He lay in the casket, wearing bib coveralls, a cross, pocket watch, and dreamcatcher lying on his chest, held to the coveralls by a gold chain. Beside him lay an ancient Native American medicine bag, his good luck charm, worn leather fastened by a bone button. The contents were in many ways a mystery. I knew only second hand of a fishing bobber and Native American figure held within. My guess is that they would be the simple items of a man who enjoyed the simplicities life offered.
We cried, oh how we cried, tears of shared sadness. We shared sobs with people who we did not know, who we had never seen, but had somehow been touched by Grandpa Joe’s life.
Person after person at the funeral spoke about how they had gone to comfort him in hospice, only to receive comfort from him instead. Now, we only had his memory to hold us the way his smile once had.
My tears were tears of missed opportunity. For several years, I had planned on taking a couple of weeks to spend with Grandpa Joe, to go fishing and hear about his life. I pictured it as the biography of the average man, and of what he can be capable of becoming. Thousands have benefited from inspirational books about thousands of people. Surely, they could learn something from the life of Joe Brammer.
Sadly, on Thanksgiving, I realized that opportunity had passed. His voice was a weak whisper, and even our short conversation, seemed to exhaust him. I feel ashamed I did not write that book, the book of a man who loved intensely, and died the same. I hope that in some way, these two blogs will atone for my procrastination.
It is the day after the funeral. I stand alone in my parent’s living room, looking out a large window. The house is silent save for my thoughts. The snow begins to fall, large angel feather flakes floating from heaven, the Iowa sky weeping gently
I hope wherever he is, there is still a calm lake, a line, and a bobber floating gently in the water. Jesus always had a fondness for fishermen. He took the best we had, but not before he captured us all with his heart.
Joe Creese Brammer – October 31st, 1925 to December 16th, 2011