Dear Lexi Lou,
You are such a sweet and wonderful girl. In fact, your strawberry blonde locks make me feel like we share a special bond that only us 1% of the population with red hair understand. Despite the distance between us, and the relative little time we have spent together as second cousins, I now feel an even greater connection to you.
You see, when I was a little younger than you, my Old Grandpa died.
I remember being taken out of school. I remember strange jello salads. I remember crawling under the pews in the church. And I remember terribly loud guns being fired at the funeral.
But I don’t remember very much about my Old Grandpa.
In the coming days, you will make many memories about your great grandfather’s funeral. Some of your memories won’t make any sense. Some will be surprising. Others might just be silly. But what I hope you never forget is the man you called “Old Grandpa.”
You see, because right now, perhaps he just seems like a very old man. But he was a very extraordinary man. Extraordinary in his life choices, that to most people, seem so simple and regular. But I am here to tell you, that he did not lead a simple life. His life was full of so many paths. And it was his steadiness in maintaining a straight path that makes him so great.
Lexi Lou, I know this because I understand where he came from. I think it’s important you understand where he came from as well. How else will you ever know what kind of a person he was? How will you ever know how special it is that you shared a relationship with this man? So, if you don’t mind, let me tell you a story. A story about your Old Grandpa. A story about an extraordinary man who lived an ordinary life.
Old Grandpa was born in 1929. Yes, this was a very long time ago. Almost a hundred years ago. It’s true that Old Grandpa was quite old. But his story is even older than that! To understand what a great man he was, we have to travel back in time.
In 1856 a man named Henry Hardy (he would be a really really really really really really really really Old Grandpa to you) and his wife Rebecca traveled from Pennsylvania to Iowa with their seven children in a wagon. Like many other Americans at the time, they were heading west to make a better life for themselves. They had a very difficult life, as life was quite difficult back then. They had three boys and five girls. One of the boys died when he was just a baby. So the oldest son, James, was in charge of the family. James had big dreams, but the Civil War got in the way of his plans. After the war ended, he married a woman named Mary. But it didn’t work out with Mary. He divorced her. He soon left Iowa, but took their son, Louis John, with him as he continued to follow his father’s plans and move farther west.
James and his son Louis settled in the Dakota Territory in 1883. Louis took care of his father, because he was quite elderly. But when James died, Louis finally went out on his own and got married to a woman named Jennie. Jennie and Louis had a son named Marion Clyde on Christmas Day in 1907. But like his father, Louis divorced Jennie. Louis John remarried another woman, Josephine, for a little while, but later they also divorced.
Louis never left the Dakota Territory, but the Dakota Territory was now called South Dakota. This is where Marion grew up. Marion lived a pretty carefree life. But when he was 22, Marion married a woman named Hannah because she was pregnant. They were married just before their son, Marvin, was born. People were having a hard time finding jobs back then. They call this time period the Great Depression. So Marion went out the Black Hills to find some work. And after some very tough times, Marion thought it would be better to move west, just like the other men in family did. He went all the way to California. Well, that didn’t work very well for Hannah, so they also were divorced.
Have you figured it out yet? Marvin is Old Grandpa! Do you know now why Old Grandpa is so special? He’s so special because he met a lady named Opal. And do you know how long Marvin and Opal were married? They were married for 64 years! In fact, when Old Grandpa died, guess who was right there with him? That’s right, Old Grandma.
You see, Lexi Lou, Old Grandpa is a very special man because he loved Old Grandma so very much. He was the first Hardy man in four generations to stay married to one woman for his entire life. This makes him very special and very unique.
I wanted to tell you this story, Lexi Lou, because I want you to know how important love is. Old Grandpa loved you very much and was so blessed to get to know such a lovely young lady like yourself. And even if you have trouble remembering everything about him as you get older, all you really need to know if how much he loved. How he loved Old Grandma, how he loved your Papa, your mom and you very much. It’s very special to be so loved and connected to your family.
The good thing about love is that, even when somebody dies and goes to Heaven, you can always feel their love.
Most of the time, we like to feel their love by sharing stories about the people in our lives that have died. I just shared one big one about Old Grandpa’s family, but let me share with you two more.
Once, when I was in high school, Old Grandpa and I were talking about big band music. We both loved swing music. And then, because Old Grandpa knew I was learning the piano, he asked me to learn a song for him. The song was called, “Moonlight Serenade” by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I didn’t know the song, but once I heard it I wanted to learn it because it was so beautiful and because Old Grandpa liked it. I practiced really hard, but the song was just too hard for me. At Christmas, I played him the first part I was able to learn. He was so proud. He even let me borrow some of his favorite swing albums and we never tired of talking about Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet and Count Basie. So today, to remind me of Old Grandpa’s love, I learned that song on the vibraphone. I think he would’ve liked to know that I was finally able to learn the whole song for him.
The other story is a funny story. You see, Old Grandpa had a secret. Your papa and my dad and aunt Jill and aunt Pam and even Old Grandma all think Old Grandpa had a really hard time hearing. But do you want to know the truth? Old Grandpa had “selective hearing-loss.” He just pretended he didn’t hear my dad your papa or anyone else when they were bothering him! I sometimes wonder if only Tyler (my husband) and I were privy to this information. So, shhhh….don’t tell anyone! We wouldn’t want to ruin the ruse!
So remember Lexi Lou, Old Grandpa loved you very much. And all you have to do is talk about him or listen to stories about him to feel his love again. He was a very special man and we are both very lucky to have known him.
Your favorite second cousin,