Last weekend, during our trip to Cedar Point to celebrate the end of summer with my in-laws and two boys, my wife and I got the sad news that Grandma Guigar was in the hospital and things were looking bad.
By Sunday, we got the news that she had passed, and by Monday, I was in Michigan to be with my family.
Sitting in a standing-room-only funeral home during the calling hours, my thoughts were whisked back about twenty years to a story that I'd like to share here.
It was the night before my twentieth birthday, and I was playing in a five-piece wedding band (believe it). As I arrived for set-up, the guys announced that I would have to do a whiskey shot with the band.
Now, I was a proud resident of Huron County. Even though I wouldn't reach the age to drink legally for another year, I could handle a whiskey shot.
Turns out they meant "a shot with every member of
By the end of the night, I had done a shot with every member of the band, one with each of their girlfriends and wives, the father-of-the-bride, and the guy who came in to stack up the tables at the end of the night.
After which, they stacked me into the back seat of my 1977 Pontiac Ventura and drove me home, tucking me into bed, and locking up my parents' house as they left.
The next morning, way too early, my always-chipper mom sprang into my room. And the usually-amazing smells of a Thanksgiving-tyle feast wafted in behind her.
She had prepared an amazing meal -- roast turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, corn, dinner rolls.... the whole nine yards -- to celebrate my birthday. And all of my grandparents were sitting upstairs waiting for the Guest of Honor.
I groggily made my way to the dining room and took a wobbly seat at the table.
As everyone began to eat, I nursed an ice water.
My dad glared at me, "It looks like someone had a little too-much-fun last night."
The room fell quiet.
I weighed my options, but none seemed very viable.
And then Grandma Guigar started to laugh that signature laugh of hers. For those of you who have remarked about mine, you should know that I learned it from the Very Best.
As her giggling subsided, my father looked at her and said, "What."
"I seem to remember another young man going out to have a 'little fun,' only the car didn't come back in very good shape at all. And it was a brand-new car!"
Dad's mouth shut with an audible pop.
And then the entire room burst into laughter.
My dad fought back, but the more he did, the more Grandma Guigar laughed and told more of the story.
"What did you do
to dad?" I asked, seeing my opening.
"Nothing," she rejoined on cue, "He was safe and sound. It could have been so much worse."
Now my mom jumped in, "Still... that was an unnecessary risk, and your father and I are very angry at you because --"
That's when Grandma and Grandpa S chimed in with a story.
And mom, too, fell silent for a moment.
And, as the entire house
shook with laughter, I stole a glance at Grandma Guigar, who was still snickering (tongue-between-teeth, shoulders bobbing... the heart of a six-year-old shining through an older visage).
I'm a comics guy. I read 'em, I create 'em, and I live 'em.
If you'd forgive me a small indulgence, I'd say that, to a twenty-year-old dealing with his first real
hangover, this woman had a super power.
She had the power to take a bad moment and make it better. She had the power to laugh -- with the clear understanding between laughing at
and laughing with.
She had the power of perspective. And understanding. And acceptance.
That's what bothered me as I drove up I-75 for her funeral this week.
How can that much power just... disappear?
And as I drove, I thought about that.
I had been visiting three weeks earlier for a combined celebration of my mom and dad's 70th birthdays. Grandma Guigar and much of the Guigar clan were assembled for the occassion (and with Grandma's eight kids, 41 grandkids, 55 great-grandkids and 4 great-great grandkids... that's a lot of clan).
And as I walked around the spacious yard of my brother and his wife (who hosted the event), I remember hearing that Laugh come out of the mouths of my cousins. I remember seeing my uncles with their strong arms around their own grandkids. I heard jokes. And playful teases (with the laughing-with
And it hit me. Like a sunbeam.
All that power that she had... it's not gone. She passed it on to an incredible family, and she showed them day-by-day how to use it properly. How to use it quietly and gracefully.
That's a legacy worth building, folks.
And it's one that I'm very proud to be part of.