They told me he was doing yard work, when he had the bad fall that sent him to the hospital with a punctured lung. And how appropriate, for him to go that way. One might ask, "What business did a 94-year-old man have doing yard work?" but Grandpa always loved the outdoors; he maintained a high standard and work ethic, and he believed if you wanted a job done right, you did it yourself. I can't think of a more fitting way for him to go (except perhaps to be whisked off by Christ during the Rapture, which is what he always hoped would happen!).
Grandpa served in WWII as an infantryman in the army, experiencing some of the roughest fighting in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines. He stayed actively involved with his local American Legion for the rest of his life, and never wavered in his patriotism or love for the country he fought for.
Portrait of my grandfather after the war, 1945.
A beautiful display of Grandpa's accolades and badges from the war
Grandpa was married to one woman, Joyce, the love of his life, for more than sixty years. He had four children - two boys and two girls, the eldest daughter Hollee being my mother. He had numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren (most of which came from my mom and our side of the family!). His family devotion remains a true legacy that we will never forget or take for granted.
Family gatherings were always a huge highlight of my childhood, as we got together nearly every Thanksgiving and every Christmas. Grandpa loved playing card games and Yahtzee with us grandchildren, and one of my fondest memories of him is the way he would ear-piercingly yell, "Yahtzee!" whenever he scored a big one, and slam the dice cup down on the table. We weren't afraid to talk to him about politics, religion, or anything else, and he wasn't afraid to give his most emphatic opinion! :-)
One of my favorite pictures of my grandparents together, from 2006
I was fortunate enough to have my grandparents at my wedding; I realize not everyone can say that, and I was truly grateful for his presence on the big day!
A picture of the family in 2009 (not all of us, though! Lots of great-grand kids missing from this shot)
Hunting, fishing, gardening. He loved to work with his hands. He was an avid deer hunter, and some of the highlights of my childhood were having him and the uncles come to our house every November for the start of deer season. They would sit around the table and swap hunting stories, their rifles and ammunition, and blaze orange hunting clothes strewn around the dining room. Grandpa shot a beautiful buck on our property, and though he was adamant about eating the venison and never letting the meat go to waste, he still had the head mounted. His house contains numerous antler displays, in addition to his oil paintings of deer, elk, buffalo, mountain scenes, and much more. One could tell from his choice of decor that he deeply loved the beauty of God's creation and the great outdoors.
In addition to deer hunting, another childhood rite of passage was going fishing with grandpa in the summertime. He would wake my sister and me up at 4:30 in the morning, serve us bacon and eggs, and we'd be out on the boat by 5:30 (any later, he said, and you might as well forget it!). He loved pan fish and walleye especially. The first time I saw him clean his catch, I expressed my concern that the fish were still alive while he flayed them. "Oh, they don't feel that," he said. I laugh about it now -- such reassuring lies that a young child needed to hear. :-)
Some shots from a fishing trip back when I was 11 or 12. Grandpa probably threw that smallmouth bass back in. He refused to eat bass and preferred the taste of bluegill or walleye. :-)
One year the whole family freaked out when we heard that Grandpa had fallen through the ice while out ice fishing, but managed to pull himself back up to safety. He was in his 70's.
Grandpa maintained an enormous vegetable garden every year. The pride of his garden was his sweet corn. I can still picture him taking up a butter-laden ear of corn at the dinner table, mowing it down in seconds, smacking his lips, and saying, "Very goodly!"
We were always amazed and delighted by his vivaciousness and love of life. He would come back from a doctor's appointment and declare that he was "the youngest old man they had ever seen."
I wish I had the photograph I'm thinking of as I write this, but I'm sure it's tucked away in the family albums back home in Wisconsin. It's a picture of Grandpa sitting on the stairs at my parents' house, wearing his heavy wool socks like he always did in the winter, and playing his guitar and singing, with my twin sister and me on either side of him, enjoying the performance. He especially loved traditional hymns and gospel songs, but sometimes he'd pull out an old war tune. He often sang for church services and loved to glorify God through music. When Emily and I came over to his house, we always brought our piano music along. Both our grandparents encouraged us in our music and art.
Emily giving a mini recital, with Grandpa singing along.
I've saved this one till the end because this is where I feel the strongest connection to my sweet grandfather. When I was 9 or 10, he gave me my first ever lesson in oil painting. Grandpa didn't even know he was an artist until he took it up at age 70. He attended some local classes, and the teacher told him he was extremely talented. His home is filled with his paintings now, works of art that are an evocative display of the things he enjoyed or found interesting. He did lots of mountain and landscape paintings. As a history buff, he had a special fascination with the Civil War and early Native Americans. He made numerous historical paintings, including images of Indians hunting buffalo, Civil War generals on horseback, and even one of his own 32nd Red Arrow division in WWII, fighting in New Guinea. Grandpa usually copied from photos or other paintings and simply painted for his own enjoyment, never with the intent to sell. At the time of my first art lesson with him, I was still obsessed with horses, so my very first painting, under his careful guidance, was of a horse. My second painting with him was of my dog. I still remember everything he told me about mixing color, applying paint, and much more. He had faith, allowing a ten-year-old to play with his tools; I am forever indebted to him for believing in me. Over the years, I would show him my progress and send pictures of paintings I had finished. He was amazed at my ability to paint portraits, "especially the eyes," but I told him that he deserves all the credit for getting me started.
In 1993 this kiddo received the best Christmas present she had ever gotten from the grandparents: one of Grandpa's original oil paintings! He knew me well, and made sure it was a painting of a horse. :-)
Above and below: Grandpa's rendition of the jungle fighting in New Guinea.
Man of faith.
Last but not least.
Grandpa certainly wasn't perfect. Long before any of us grandkids came along, this man had a rocky life, post-WWII. He was angry and depressed, and dangerously addicted to alcohol. But then, God removed the scales from his eyes, he became a Christian, and his life changed completely. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey. He become a committed church-goer and more loving family man. He became the person I will always remember him as: loving, hard-working, godly, devoted, passionate, joyful, unafraid, strong.
As I look at the clock, I realize I've spent most of the day writing this. Going through all my photos, reminiscing on sweet memories, and writing about this lovely man... this is how I am grieving for him, and when I join my family next week for the funeral, I'm sure everything will be okay.
Grandpa, you will be missed. But we both know this isn't goodbye; it's simply a "see you later." Until we meet again in heaven... I love you!
Elmer Recknagel, 1919-2013 RIP