Sunday, December 5, 2010

Grandpa Nichol

Grandpa Vern died last Wednesday. The funeral was this past Wednesday, and as soon as I get photos from Jenni (forgot my camera AGAIN) I'll probably back date another post. Jami and I were originally asked to read the obituary and a short life sketch (which we assumed would be written for us). At the viewing we discovered that we were on the program as tributes, and handed an autobiography that went up to age 21. We were never close to Grandpa, so we were pretty stressed. After some serious cursing and venting, we got busy. It took me until about 2:00 a.m., but when it was all over, I was grateful that I came to know him better, and really came to learn some great lessons. Here is my talk:

I’m putting what I ad-libbed in italics. I said first that Jerilyn’s musical was wonderful, and that if, as I believed, Grandpa had received a “hall pass” to attend his funeral, he would surely love the music more than anything that was said. That if he’d been in the room during the musical tribute by Jayne and Vivian, his eyes would have tears in them along with everyone else’s. I also said that I did not deserve the honor of giving the tribute to Grandpa, that I could never capture who he was to the many people in the room, and I prayed for the Spirit to be in the meeting with us, that each person might be filled with memories and love, and that Grandpa would feel that, rather than just the words I’d say.

Grandpa started an autobiography in his later years, but by page 18 (his last page) he’d only made it up to the year 1936, when he was 21 years old. Those pages are filled with fond memories of his large family. He loved his parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family. His childhood included World War I and the depression, and he remembers having an outdoor privy, and only one bath for everyone in the family (oldest to youngest, with him sixth in line—he wrote “you can imagine what the water looked like by the time it was my turn”). He said “It was three in a bed for as long as I can remember, ‘til I got into High School.” He also records that they always had chores, and worked hard, but he did not dwell on the hardships of work, but rather the close family relationships and the fun things they did together. They loved to hunt, fish and swim in the creek. In the winter they went sleigh riding, ice-skating, and of course, as a teenager, skiing. He says in his autobiography that he was about fifteen when Jack Walker moved into the neighborhood and they taught themselves how to ski from a book Jack checked out of the library. They built a ski jump and eventually started competing at Ecker Hill with the Engen brothers. They’d leave their homes at 3 a.m. on Saturday mornings, put their skis on their shoulders and hike up 4800 South, along 2300 South through East Millcreek and then up Parley’s Canyon. They’d “tramp the hill for several hours and make a few jumps, and by that time it was time to turn around and start back to home.” He says, “We built muscles that lasted us throughout our lives. And we learned a lot—to be independent, to have enough ambition that if you wanted to do something you had to work for it.” Wayne, Mark, Rulon and Royce all became proficient skiers too, so he got to enjoy two of his great loves together: the outdoors and family.

He carried his loves into the next phase of life. He married “the girl next door,” Helen Christensen, and they had six children together. The kids remember being raised in the ultimate extended family. They were as close to their uncles, aunts and cousins as they were to each other. And they learned the ethic of “work hard, play hard.” Grandpa carried on his father’s trade as a builder, and was known to be able to fix just about anything. I’m particularly grateful for this part of his legacy. He taught my parents his skills, and they in turn taught me through several building and remodeling projects—I’m sure Grandpa would be proud of my crown molding. He would work hard and quickly, so that he could play just as hard. He was also a ski instructor, but his kids and grandkids remember very little instruction when skiing with grandpa—I know that my first skiing experience consisted of being dropped off at the rope tow at Alta, and picked up when it started getting dark. Jerry remembers that they just did their best to keep up. I think Grandpa must have figured if he could do it all on his own, so could we. And, miraculously, many of us have. Grandpa was always happy to hear about the next generation of skiers.

His next phase of life began with his divorce and subsequent marriage to Verna. He loved her so much, and they had many happy, fulfilling years together. They shared a love for fitness, healthy foods, singing, dancing, gardening, and eventually temple work. We remember them on so Christmas mornings, as they served us their delicious pancake breakfasts for so many years. Grandpa was close to Grandma Verna’s family. In fact, Jami and I thought that Diane, Jason, Justin, Amber or Tim would probably be better qualified to speak today, having lived with them. I added, “In fact, Diane will share her memories after Jami speaks. And when I was talking to Justin this morning, he told me that Grandpa was a great example, and always patient. I know that Grandpa loves all of the Leavitt family very much. Our family is grateful that he was able to have such wonderful companionship, and I know that he must be so happy to be reunited with the love of his life, as well as his parents, siblings and many friends. I am grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow from Grandpa. He wasn’t always religious, but at some point, he wrote this testimony: “I believe in God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ, they are living beings who love me regardless of what I may say or do.” He was not perfect, any more than I am. What a great blessing to feel that divine love, in spite of our imperfections. Grandpa called himself “a quiet, uneducated individual,” but he understood that most important thing, that we can repent and become better. Grandpa loved the temple and the ordinances that bind families together—I remember how happy he was to be in the temple when I was married—and I too believe in this great blessing. I’m grateful that we will meet again, and hope to get to know my grandpa even better. Because I believe that he is with us today I’d like to tell him thank you on behalf of each of us, for all that he has done. Thank you for the lessons you've taught us, the way you have overcome trials and challenges. We are grateful for your example, humility, testimony and love. We love you Grandpa!


Jodi said...

You did a fabulous job for such short notice! Leave it to "Charlie's Angels" to pull it off so well. Thanks for posting you talk.

Jer said...

That's a great picture, Michelle. I have to admit, it made me a little teary-eyed. :) And I agree with Jodi--your talk was excellent! It was great to see you that day, too!

Marsh Mayhem said...

Michelle - I'm so sorry to hear about your grandpa ... I think this is the first I've heard of his passing. You're in our prayers!

Aimerz said...

Riley...I loved your talk/tribute to your Grandpa. What a great life that he lived. I loved when he stated, "that if you want to do something you have to work for it.” It is so true. Thanks for sharing your was so nice. :) Love ya!