It's October 3, 2008. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Susie and I are on our way to her father's funeral at the catholic church where we will attend her nieces' weddings two years later. The connection of death and marriage.
We park her mother's car and walk towards the church. Susie's cell phone rings. "Hi, K.C. [our eldest son, then living in Brooklyn with his wife, Devon], how ya' doin' hon'?" She listens with great concentration and suddenly shouts for joy, "Bob, it's a boy. They had a little boy. And he's healthy."
We'd been waiting for this moment ever since we learned that Devon was pregnant back in late January. K.C. and Devon were engaged but not yet married, legally married, that is. In God's eyes, they got married the day they moved in with each other some years before the conception of Liam, our first grandson and, like K.C. before him, "The World's Most Perfect Baby." WMPB. That was my mom's name for K.C. when he was little. If you have any doubt about Liam's WMPB credentials, take a look at the photo at the top of Bob's blog. Look at his miraculous blue eyes, his long lashes, his blonde hair, his Mona Lisa-like smile.
K.C. and Devon married each other, essentially, in a Quaker-style ceremony in an idyllic country setting in the Catskills in April of 2008. Devon was "showing" big time as her father, Jeff, proudly walked her from the open area near the farmhouse to the circle of friends and loved ones waiting to witness the spiritual consummation of K.C. and Devon's deep love for each other. The growing fetus inside Devon was destined to become the beloved first grandchild on either side of Susie and my families, just as K.C. broke that same ground before Liam.
More importantly, Liam would serve a more important purpose. He would transmute the young love of K.C. and Devon for each other into an enduring love for all the rest of time. Once God began to knit Liam together in his mother's womb, the strong and deep attraction my son and Devon felt for one another became a permanent cement. This heavenly glue would forever seal our extended families into an indivisible unity which no passing disagreement, stupid slight, subtle or not-so-subtle put down, political difference, sibling rivalry, or other ephemeral emotion could ever put asunder.
"Bob, we have a grandson now. We are so blessed. So richly blessed." I hugged Susie and wiped, sort of, at the tears running down my cheeks. "Honey, we've got to get into the church before your Dad's funeral begins. Let's hurry up a bit." How ironic. I, who like my mother and mother-in-law, am always late, was telling my always-on-time wife to hurry up so we wouldn't miss a single moment of the upcoming tribute to the father-in-law who gave me a kind of fathering my biological father was incapable of, as good a father as he was.
Susie quickly let her three sisters, Maryglen, Linda, and Jeannie, and her mother, Maribeth, know the Good News about Liam's birth. My mother-in-law, from whom my wife, son Tim, and grandson Liam get their beautiful sky-blue eyes, informed the priest, so he was fully aware of just how powerfully God was blowing his life-giving, and life-taking, breath across the face of the deep this miraculous day, at what had now been turned into a celebration of the death of one soul, Glenn Leo Price, and the birth of another, Liam Corbet Dutcher.
The Big Eulogy was delivered by my brother-in-law, Rob Kieckhefer. He knew Glenn Price better than most in the church. Rob worked at The Price Erecting Company for many years under Glenn, before leaving to switch careers and become a very successful financial planner and stockbroker for high income individuals and businesses. Rob spent many happy hours deer and duck hunting at my father-in-law's hunting lodge in northwest Wisconsin, so he knew sides of Glenn which people who don't spend time in the back woods with other hunters just never see. I suspect Rob saw a much more relaxed version of Glenn Price than people who only knew Glenn in business never saw. I saw that side of my father-in-law when we hung around together at his place in Arizona, when he took me to the hunting lodge one weekend many years ago, and on the Price family vacation trip to Italy, where my father-in-law finally got down to some serious R&R time when he sat around the big pool next to the farmhouse he rented for all his grandchildren and daughters and their families in the Umbrian countryside. I can still see Glenn sitting in his undershirt, khaki pants, held up by suspenders, sunning his psorias-afflicted skin, and soaking in the unbridled laughter, youthful energy, and pacific relationships of his many grandchildren as they played in the cool country waters.
When it came time for the priest to speak about Glenn, he seemed as excited as a little kid on Christmas day when he announced to the assembled family and friends of the Price family, "I want to tell you some very Good News which God has given us on this sad day of Glenn's funeral celebration. On this very day, Glenn's first great-grandson was born, just minutes ago, in a lowly tub of water in a living room in a small basement apartment in Brooklyn. So, brothers and sisters in Christ, I am here to bring you glad tidings of great joy. God has taken our brother, Glenn, back into His loving arms and, at the same time, yielded up a new life, the life of Glenn's great-grandson. All of you who knew Glenn know that he, like his father, was not a man of many words when it came to matters of the emotions, but you also know that there were occasions, such as funerals, when the Ave Maria would simply move this Tough Man to tears. And today, I have it on good authority that Glenn is sitting up in Heaven, looking down on this gathering of all his family and most of his friends, smiling at the sight of this wonderful party celebrating his life, and crying with joy at the exchange which God has made, right now, this morning, before our very eyes: the great cycle of life turning one death into the new life of a new baby."
Now I can't swear to you that that's exactly what the priest said, but it's how I remember it, how it struck me.
That night, Susie and I spent a delightful evening with my mother-in-law back at her condominium overlooking Lake Michigan. Also there were Susie's third sister, Linda, and Linda's husband, Henry Harnischfeger, and their daughters, Marci and Molly. Marci and Molly were in their 20's, both working and living independently. Both of them are very intelligent, talented, pretty young women. And they treated us by telling us wonderful tales of their adventures and mis-adventures traveling around the world with their friends, on business and just for fun.
And I was pondering this question. What do I want my new grandson to call me? Susie had already decided that she'd be Mamo. My kids called my dad Grandad, my father-in-law Papa Glenn, my mother Gramma (Grandma), and my mother-in-law GraMe. Grandad or Grandpa or Gramps would be fine for me if Liam and I were doing something standard like hanging out with Mamo, but those names just didn't seem to cut it when I imagined camping, or biking, or skiing, or body-surfing or surf-kayaking, or doing other cool stuff with my grandson. I already had it staked out in my mind that we'd be spending lots of hang-time together. Little did I know that Liam would be moving to Boulder, Colorado the very next summer, for three years, maybe forever. "Thy will be done, Lord, not mine," I've got to remind myself when I feel sad I don't get to see Liam more than a couple times a year. C'est la vie. And I'm happiest when my son and daughter-in-law are happiest, because only then will Liam be happy, in all probability.
The national presidential election campaign of 2008 was in full swing. The voting would take place a month from the day of Glenn's funeral. While I voted for Obama, I couldn't help but be infatuated with Sarah Palin as a celebrity, and I loved her husband's moniker, "The First Dude." I think I had recently seen "The Big Lebowski" and had that unforgettable image of The Dude in my mind's eye as well. So it finally occurred to me that a good name to suggest my first grandson call me would be a combination of Grandad and The Dude,
namely, Grandude. And so I took my own voting poll and got a not unfavorable reaction from the Harnischfegers and my mother-in-law, and from Susie. Until I really got used to it, it did seem a bit odd, although everyone whom I canvassed seemed to like the idea. So, Grandude it would be.
Now, fastforwarding to last fall and this year, Liam sometimes just calls me "Dude." As in "Daddy, call Dude." My mother-in-law immortalized a slight variation in the name. She bought Liam and me each a gray tee-shirt. Mine says "Big Dude." Liam's "Little Dude". On my Facebook Profile page, I have uploaded a picture of the two of us, sitting side-by-side with our tee-shirts on, both smiling. "Friend" me and I'll Friend you back so you can see that photo and all my other FB photos.
Well, that's it for now. I'm kind of exhausted from writing all this and will return to the connection between all seven of the people in the title of this blog, all but one of whom is non-fictional. I'll have more to say about that in a future blog. And I can also promise you, there will be pictures and/or video of all of the 6 characters mentioned in the title of this Bob's blog post.
Until later, The Dude Abides.