Us grandkids called him Papa.
It’s sort of absurd how many eulogies I’ve had to write recently, and there’s something obscene about how thoughts from one period of loss might be relevant to another. Your gut tells you that you shouldn’t compare, that every experience with life should be unique and pristine. But having reflected on death, love, and family so often as of late, I’ve found some repeating patterns.
The first I’ll mention is that: grief is rarely the predictable, black-veiled, tear-soaked thing seen in movies. In actual practice, it’s more piecemeal and circumstantial. One moment you’re laughing with friends and family, reminiscing and soldiering on. Then the next moment, a fragment of a memory floors you and there’s nothing to hold on to. (That thought of Papa singing hymns to Barbara from his hospital bed comes to mind.) Another moment later and you’re thinking about whether there’s milk in the fridge, and a moment after that you’re feeling guilty for thinking about something so trivial, worried and despairing because you’re not sad enough. And then the whole thing repeats, in different proportions and orders. So grief is like life: it’s chaotic. Maybe this is a wisdom that the more mature among us have always known, but it’s still news to me, and so I think it’s a sentiment worth sharing.
Another thing I’ve learned is that there’s rarely an ideal authority to reference for these remembrances. How’s some snot-nosed kid like me supposed to summarize the life of a great man, a man who was married longer than I’ve been alive? It feels inappropriate. There’s so much we weren’t there for, so much we can’t have known. But then again… a friend would lack the family experience, a wife would lack the time spent at work and war, a son or daughter would lack the time before they were born. In every case, there’s a tradeoff – something missing, something offered – and so all we can do is share what we know, and let others fill in the blanks.
The memory of Bob Jones will not be perfect, but it will persist.
So what do I remember?
I remember a principled man who did what was right without having to think about it. I remember a man who was somehow simultaneously known, lovingly, for his temper and lack of patience, yet who was also uncompromisingly methodical, and effortlessly warm and receiving. When you saw him, you’d get these half-moon eyes and a tilted head, always interested in what you had to say, always leaning in to listen to what he could’ve all too easily tuned out. You’d always get a Hello and a curious question from him.
“Hello, Mr. Adam. How’s business in Colorado?”
Papa wasn’t burdened by his ambitions like other more confused men might’ve been; and that’s because Papa’s ambition was his family, and his family was a job well done.
One part of the Jones legacy that I’m most proud of is our ability to communicate, to be flesh-and-blood humans in a world that feels increasingly robotic. Everytime we sit down at a table together, there’s never a lull, there’s never that awkward quiet moment of knives scratching plates, stale tension broken only by some forced ridiculous question, usually concerning the weather or traffic. We don’t do that. Instead, for better or worse, no one in this family ever shuts up. But the conversation is always interesting, and it’s always something I’ve looked forward to. Over the years, a lot of those conversations built up to shape who I’ve become, those seven layer and crumb cakes developing into a set of principles that laid the foundation for my personality. And when I think back further, the most iconic landmark for this subtle tradition was my grandma Annie’s kitchen table in Rockville Centre. That’s where I first learned the practice of looking people in the eye and speaking the truth. How right is it, then, that Papa built that table? A natural metaphor and actual example of his life’s contribution, or at least part of it.
Other, smaller things I’ve been thinking about:
Going to my upstate house to hunt, my dad pointing Papa to a bedroom for him sleep in. The next morning, when everyone woke up I noticed Papa had put his sleeping bag over the bedding, leaving the blankets and pillows neat and made.
Me asking him if he’d like a beer those times he came over for lunch or dinner. And then when he accepted, asking him what type of beer he liked, us having a few varieties, and him saying, “Cold and wet.”
The few times you’d get him with a racy joke and he’d transition from this high eyebrowed respectable listener, to a coy smile and raspy laugh. And you knew you were seeing the guy underneath the grandpa. I liked those moments.
The little singsong pet names he had for his children.
The way he used to say “At any rate…” to tie his thoughts together. Or when he’d say “Time to run away…” when he was done with a party or dinner.
The way he and and Annie used to blink the porch lights as us grandkids would leave the house to go to our own homes. Or the time I fell on the sidewalk, and he pointed to a crack in the concrete and told me I broke the thing, and that made me feel better.
I remember him trying to teach me how to dive off his homemade deck into the above ground pool in his backyard, and then another time him having me help put a patch on a hole in the vinyl, me proud I could hold my breath long enough to be useful.
Putting those little tree seeds we’d call polynoses on our noses in his backyard.
Him taking me to the attic of his garage, with its musty smell and greasy windows. And him letting me bang nails into scrap wood in his basement woodshop.
Small things, but here I am however many years later, and I remember them.
Those moments meant something to me, and so did he.
I loved him and I’ll miss him.
Here’s to Papa.