Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Remembrance of My Dad

My father, Ernest George Keltz, died December 15, 2011, at the age of 90.  This is what I read at his funeral:

Philosophers have long tried to determine what qualities make the measure of a man.  I think all they need do is gather at a celebration of his life, like this one, to know the answer.  Look at the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have received his gifts, who have learned from him, and who have been loved by him.  This room is full of family who are connected by this one strand of humanity, a thread now sewn by the most tender of loving hands, binding us one to another, each one holding his or her memories fast to the heart—and posted on Facebook.  Such wonderful posts by grandchildren JC, Courtney, Kathy, Sean and more to come, I’m sure.

As my daughter Kathy wrote, Dad was a quiet man who taught by demonstration.  He was so shy as a teenager that he fainted the first time he tried to give a speech.  Yet with persistence he went on to achieve honors in FFA speaking.  He wanted a farm of his own and with Mom’s help, he achieved that goal.  All of us connected to Dad have watched and learned that quality and use it in our own attainments, whether it is to further our educations, or combat our demons, or follow our dreams.

Another quality our father demonstrated was that of sharing the gifts and talents you have with those who have a need, that sense of community that says we share with those we love and those who are unloved, in order to make this world a better place.  I remember sacks of garden produce for those who had no garden and Christmas boxes for those who had no extended family.  I note that is a legacy he has left to us who follow.  Many of us work in careers that focus on service to others—teachers, nurses, community managers, mentors—or we serve our communities in our retirement, and many more of us are presently studying to hold positions of service to others. 

Our father loved a good joke, whether he was playing it on someone or recounting a particularly naughty one he heard from a friend or family member.  Once, when I told him I was studying French, he said, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi?” which was something he had learned to say during the war.  He thought I’d forget it but I didn’t and when I learned what that meant, I told him.  His face turned the shade of a ripe tomato.  He was famous for passing the butter and then pushing it just enough so your thumb got covered.  How many of you when you were younger got asked to pull his finger?  You tried to NOT make that mistake twice!

If we can laugh, we can handle anything, and we Keltz people love to laugh and laugh to live.  When last I saw Dad, he told me I was looking good.  Since he could barely see, just out the upper corner of his left eye, I asked him if he could even see me.  Parts, he said.  Well, I hope they are the good parts, I said.  He laughed and I laughed and it was the best thing to do just then.

Dad was full of stories and I could hardly wait to hear him tell and re-tell my favorites.  How he would hide under the washing bench outside their cabin when the Indians came to visit; how the horse he and Virginia were riding on to school got spooked and took off running and she threw her arm around his neck and nearly choked him to death before he could get the horse stopped; how he and his dad laughed when their friend Jack Starr said he could handle bees and he took off running when the swarm came after him, losing his black hat with the silver spangles; how his dad sneaked whiskey into the pumpkin pie sauce Grandma was making and she thought it was the best pumpkin pie sauce she’d ever made!  How as a young boy he got lost in the woods in a snowstorm overnight and used his brains to figure out how to find his way back.

I know you all are thinking of your favorite Dad and Grandpa stories and wanting to tell them again to each other.  I want to be there to hear them.  That’s one other thing we Keltz people have in common, the love of story.  There are many writers—poets, storytellers, songwriters—among us.  Eric and Susie have begun to compile some of those stories being recalled so far.

Dad loved music and we all share that connection as well.  We loved to hear him play the harmonica and asked to hear that for as long as he could play.  My favorite was “Red River Valley.” We loved to hear him yodel, even though sometimes we pretended we didn’t, and we asked to hear that for as long as he could yodel.  When I was little, he sang songs where he combined naughty jokes with music—She has freckles on her butt, she’s nice—or She talks with a giggle and she walks with a wiggle and she sure can roll her…eyes.  He’d start in on Barnacle Bill the Sailor but he never got too far before Mom would say, “ERNIE!”
When I was small, he sang me “Duke John was a mighty fine man, he had 10,000 men.  He marched them all up a hill and he marched them down again.  Want to hear the second verse?  Duke John was a mighty fine man…etc.” He also sang, “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”

One of the greatest gifts I received from my father was a surprise.  He was happy to hear that I was marrying and I teased him that now he could sing at my wedding, never imagining that my shy father would go before a group of people and sing.  That is exactly what he did, with my sister’s help, overcome his fears because he wanted to give a gift of love.  He sang at my sister Anita’s wedding as well.

Most of his descendents have gone on to share their musical gifts in one way or another with their communities because we’ve learned from Dad what a gift that is, both for the giver and the receiver.  A Keltz gathering is a musical gathering.

Several years ago when our father almost died, he went down the tunnel, saw the white light and he heard the music.  He couldn’t describe the music, he said, because it was beyond description, too lovely for our words and nothing like he’d ever heard before.  That was the thing he remembered most from his experience and I believe he looked forward to hearing that heavenly music again.  It does my heart good to believe that he is surrounded by that loving sound again and he is a part of the choir.  It does my heart good to know he is at peace, the story of his earthly existence all told and complete, with the sequels that are our lives still unfolding with him as a central character guiding us.  John Donne wrote, “When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language.”
     The man who sang at my wedding will sing no more on this earthly plane; neither will he cry.  He is at peace, a part of the universal music, his story complete.  But he remains with us, connected by that thread that binds, forever, in our memories and our hearts.

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