This has been an unexpected week. Monday began with a life celebration of a daily fixture of twenty plus years in our neighborhood, John, who our family affectionately called Papa John, was everyone’s grandpa and lived with his son and his family. For a few years when the kids were in elementary school, he had volunteered to drive his grandson, my youngest and another neighborhood boy who were all in the same grade, to school every morning. He would often tell us that if the future was based on the character of these three boys, then America would be okay. This country was important to him. He served as a Navy fighter pilot during the WWII, a fact he was very proud of. The plates on his bright blue muscle car read, “Navy V5”. His eyes were as bright and blue as his car and his hair - white and plentiful as a plane’s contrail. After the war, he drove up to Alaska on unpaved roads and became a bush pilot in unexplored territory. Extraordinary.
Why is it we tend to find out the extraordinary only at a service?
We spent years with him parked on the Little League bleachers. At his service, his son said, he estimated his own boys must have played 500 games between them and his father never missed a game, not once. With our bleachers days over for quite some time now, I mostly saw John as I went to the mail box, ours being in line to their home up on the other street. He was a putterer. Always working on something in the driveway. I would look forward to him being out front to exchange our neighborly waves. It was comforting. I never contemplated him not being there.
After the service back at their home, Cheryl, his daughter-in-law, brought out a framed photo that I had forgotten I had taken. It was of the three carpool boys. It took me hours to recall it was taken on the last day of 5th grade before the boys were headed to middle school in the fall. It was decided with his son and daughter-in-law, that perhaps his carpooling days should end with the completion of elementary school.
As Cheryl held the photo for us to see, she told us the photo had been by his bedside since my youngest had given it to him as a thank you, eleven years ago. A nod and a look upwards to quell a quivering lip was all I could muster in acknowledgement.
John was “ninety and a half”. Extraordinary.