“People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say, “It’s only $20 per person.” They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces….This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Field of Dreams
This unfinished basement should feel cold.
The floors and walls, grey cement. The ceiling, unfinished beams with exposed wiring.
It should not be inviting.
My Favorite and I walk the perimeter of his parents’ cellar. We examine stacks of well-used board games, including an unopened Trump- The Board Game. Bless. There are decks of cards, baby toys, and puzzles. I have the same feeling I had in my grandmother’s attic, surrounded by stacks of Reader’s Digest magazines, my grandfather’s postal office uniform shirts and Lincoln Logs.
Plastic bins and cardboard boxes full of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and St. Paddy’s day decorations- probably Arbor day, too- all lovingly stowed. This is a family that knows how to celebrate. This is a family that marks the occasion.
The utilitarian bits and pieces of life, the tools and maintenance stuff that keeps a well-run household tidy and efficient nestled alongside the sentimental, nostalgic treasures. The belongings of a practical Iowan with the joyful, mischievous heart of a kid.
My Favorite opens the dark stained chest that contains a turntable and 8-track cassette player. He puts on an old Christmas album and the familiar chords of White Christmas start up. What is it about the vaguely tinny, scratchy sound of vinyl that cracks me wide open, I wonder? We try the 8-Track but can’t get it to work. It’s a shame- there were a few that I was looking forward to hearing.
We walk around the cellar, Favorite pointing out the twin bed that lived in his boyhood room, the beautiful antique school desk. Picture books, photo albums and dated furniture. “Who thought THAT chair was a good idea?” we wonder.
This basement is the refuge of the six grandchildren who were so deeply loved by the owners of this house. These kids played here, conspired here, escaped from adults here and slept here. The rules down here were few. Don’t hurt each other. Actually, that might have been about it.
This basement stores the memories of the three children born to the people who lived in this house. It contains the flotsam and jetsam of their childhood. The VHS recordings of high school Super Bowls and basketball championships. The Mother of the Bride dress worn at a daughter’s wedding. High chairs and umbrella strollers for when these beloved children brought their kids to visit.
These are the remnants of a well-lived life.
His mom left this earth four years ago, and far too soon. I first met her when I was seventeen. She gave me a stern talking-to. I really liked her. She was no-nonsense but really kind. She knew how to connect. I see that in my Favorite.
His dad died a week ago, very suddenly. I type those words and I find them to be ridiculous. There is a huge Chuck-sized hole in the world. You know how in the movie Elf they had that little meter that measured Christmas spirit? I feel as though there should be some joy-o-meter, and that the needle just ticked violently downward. How can someone so vibrant, alive and funny just be gone? It makes no sense.
I sat down the other day and wrote an obituary for him. The obituary for the newspaper is good, and it does what obits do- it paints a picture of a life- it states the facts for the record. Here is what I wrote to give to my love:
He was an accomplished man.
He had a great career, the specifics of which do not matter at all right now.
He did his job well, he believed in excellence, he provided for his family.
You can see his professional legacy borne out in the ambition, work ethic and purpose of his children, for whom he modeled that success and integrity can go hand in hand.
He was the first person to laugh at himself. Well, that’s not true, strictly speaking. His family loved to poke fun at him, and he was always game for joining in on the laughter that surrounded his antics- which were many, and hilarious, and so incredibly HIM.
We all do an impression of him. His beloved daughter-in-law’s was the best.
He moved through the world with energy and vigor. He was quick to seize upon opportunities for joy. He seemed determined to be entertained and engaged, and so he always was. In this life we find what we look for, generally.
He adored his wife. Perhaps the best testament to their love was his continued enjoyment of life after losing her too soon. People who are loved well are generally more open to being loved again. People who have lived joyfully are quicker to return to joy.
I would argue there has never been a grandfather more in love with his grandchildren. He absolutely delighted in them. He was known for hopping in his convertible and driving long distances to attend a single game or match or meet and return in the same evening. Nearly every surface of his house was covered in photos of them. He lit up like a candle when he talked about them. Not many children experience that kind of devotion.
Those children will move through the world differently having been loved like that. Guaranteed.
He showed up for his family. Every day. Sometimes imperfectly, but he ALWAYS showed up. As a result, he raised three children who do the same- who give of themselves and are passionate about their own families. Sometimes imperfectly, but they ALWAYS show up.
We are put here to love and be loved. Period. By that measure, there has never been a more successful man than Chuck.
We miss you already.
This weekend we will mourn him. I talked to my sister about it yesterday. We talked about how people get confused about grief. They talk about it as though it is a feeling, and it’s not. It’s not sorrow. It’s a process. It is the process of mourning and healing. This weekend we’ll cry, but I bet we will also laugh. We’ll honor the life of a man of deep integrity, and profound joyfulness. A man who loved his family immensely. A man who was perpetually ready to be delighted. A man who left too soon, but did not just live the length of his life- he lived the width and breadth and depth of it, too.
The kids will play in the basement, and perhaps some vinyl will be spun. I hope so. I hope we dance in that basement.
He would have loved that.