Saturday, March 18, 2006

For my Grandpa

Edited and co-written by me. This will be Grandpa's eulogy at Mass on Monday.

Each person here knows Grandpa Norb in a different way. I'm here to share some of our family's memories in tribute to the man we all knew and loved.

Grandpa Norb was born on a farm in Hessen Cassel, south of Fort Wayne. He grew up reading by kerosene lamps, plowing fields behind horses, and eating bread baked in a wood-fired stove. When he took up farming his parents' 80 acres, Grandpa's formal education ended at 8th grade. Yet he could out-cipher folks with adding machines, and regularly corrected our grammar. He urged and expected his children and grand children to do their best in school and in every job. Because of his and Grandma’s thrift and foresight, all five of their children earned bachelors degrees, and we seven grandchildren got help with college. Now, two of us have master's degrees and three are pursuing doctorates.

He and Grandma met when his cousin married her cousin. This October would have marked their 60th wedding anniversary. Anxious to provide for his family, Grandpa pursued his sheet metal apprenticeship—four years of classes two nights a week, working fulltime and studying while he and Grandma raised three small children. My mom, Kathy, Aunt Jody and Uncle John remember being warned away from his drafting tools and the dangerous snips, soldering irons, fire pot and muriatic acid that were tools of his trade.

Work was more than a four-letter word to Grandpa. He once reflected that he never really learned to play, because, on the farm, there was no play until the work was done, and, on the farm, the work was never done. At work in the fields, in the barn, or on the construction site, he could carry heavier loads and work longer hours than men half his age. His refrain: "If you're paid for 40 hours, by God, you work for 40 hours."

Though we grandkids knew him more in retirement than during employment, we know Grandpa Norb honored his obligation to work, in sweltering hot or penetrating cold, in sickness and in health. So there was little room to complain about a boss we didn't like, a course that was difficult. Working full-time and going to school? He'd been there and done all that. So you could, too.

Grandpa was proud of his 50 year membership in the Sheet Metal Workers union. He never missed Sunday Mass or Monday night union meetings. As an officer for many years, he pressed for paid time off, medical insurance and retirement provisions: Benefits which most of us take for granted today.

Many weeks, his working hours hit 80 or even 96; he traveled out of town when that's where the work was. He taught younger men to use their heads to save their muscles. Contractors sought for Grandpa for foreman, knowing they could count on his honesty and hard work. The back of the program lists just some of the buildings completed with Grandpa's work.

Together, Grandma and Grandpa weathered scarce work, tight finances, the death of two children and the passing of their own parents and siblings. As Father John told us, Faith in God and the love of family and friends sustained them.

Grandma and Grandpa's house remained equally and constantly open to both expected and unexpected guests, who were always welcomed with hot food and cold beer. Grandpa dispensed hospitality both from behind the grill and behind the bar he'd built in the basement rec room of the Rumsey house.

And while he may have never learned to play, somewhere along the line, he learned to play cards. Our first euchre lessons were received on his lap while holding his cards. When he taught us to play, he didn't "dumb down". He believed we should meet the world as it is, and accept outcomes with grace, win or lose. His advice was freely given, usually with a story to illustrate it. He believed in learning, he learned from his experience, and his kids, we grandchildren, nieces and nephews and friends of all generations sought and received his wisdom.

Grandpa Norb gently teased everyone. He loved a good joke. He wiggled his ears, which got him in trouble both at school and at the dinner table. His continued dinner table antics included explanation of work projects involving salt shakers, silverware and other available implements for illustration. All of mom's generation can read blueprints.

He kept his family connected with the natural world. My mother, aunts and uncles are among the few "city kids" who can correctly classify livestock, field crops and road kill from the back seat at 60 miles per hour. Grandpa took his kids to the woods to find morel mushrooms and hickory nuts. They understood where milk, eggs, hamburger and Thanksgiving turkeys really came from, because they saw cows on the hoof and poultry with its plumage.

Grandpa raised his children with an egalitarian philosophy well ahead of his time. Both boys and girls learned to cook and carry out garbage, to change, feed and bathe babies, to drive a car, check the oil and change a flat. He equipped his kids for the real world.

Grandpa Norb loved his "back 40"—the garden at 1803 Rumsey. He cultivated roses of every color but raised only red tomatoes. Grandpa's happiest moments came digging in the soil and fishing on the water. He passed many a quiet moment in the company of his sons, sons-in-law and grandchildren with a rod in his hand and a worm on his hook. And a beer in his hand.

He loved holding babies. He lived to see the photos of his first great-grandchild, Nadia born ten days ago. The pink rose on Grandpa's jacket represents her, and the continuation of his line.

And everything you've just heard proves one truth: Norbert Henry Herber is not finished. He's not done guiding our lives or shaping this world. We are all here today because in some way, large or small, Grandpa Norb touched our lives and, in doing so, shaped who we are. And as we have not completed our journeys, and as Grandpa is a part of us all, while he is in some ways gone, he is in many ways still very much with us.