Calvin Stevenson: A Eulogy for Granddaddy

(I wanted to post this, if just to mark the moment if for nothing else.  What follows is a rough manuscript of the Eulogy I had a chance to offer at my Granddad’s funeral this past Wednesday.  It was written to be spoken, and needed some ad libs along the way for support. It was hard to get through it without completely falling apart.  Perhaps someday I’ll edit it for better reading, but here is the current version. Thanks to all of you who have been so kind to my family as we mourn this loss!)

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Calvin Stevenson
January 1, 1924 – December 15, 2014

Family

Although we come to mourn a great loss, we do so with a spirit of celebration, knowing that Calvin Stevenson was a great, great man, and also with the joyful laughter that marks our family. The laughter in our hearts is part of the legacy of the man! He would light up when you were around him, smiling with his whole face, and he always had some little quip.  He would tell you he was hanging in like a rusty nail, or say something like “I used to use head and shoulders, but now I use mop and glow.” He was a man of great hospitality, and who knows how many poor souls came to him for the friendly chit-chat that came for free with your lawnmower tune-up. He was good at fixing mowers, but what he was really great at was making people feel like you were his absolute best pal in the whole world. One of my cousins told me about listening to Granddad carry on with somebody, and it made her feel like it must be somebody special. When they left, she wanted to know who it was, and he said, oh, I don’t really know”. But that was just part of his character…indeed, he never met a stranger indeed, but with his infectious smile and playful spirit, he was always welcoming people in.

There is, of course, one exception to this that I must, in all fairness, mention. There was one shady character who Granddad would not abide, his one great remaining enemy after the fall of the third reich. There was a squirrel in his backyard that was always conniving to steal from the bird feeder, and granddad was always devising new ways to keep it out. From building on little shields, to greasing the pole, and then the power cables, there was often a new chapter in this ongoing chess match, although it seemed like that squirrel was always just one step ahead.

On the other hand, at Christmas is seemed like Granddaddy was always one step ahead of us. It took a while for the family to open presents, going around and around the circle. But if you didn’t keep a close eye on him, grandaddy would slip out his pocket knife and slit the tape on his next package, and probably had the gift out of the box. So many times, our gift-giving was interrupted with laughter as granddad was caught, and one of the kids would be moved next to him to keep a better eye on him, and off we’d go.

These are the sorts of tales that always filled the air around the table on N. Weakley street, and they sealed our family with a spirit of joy and laughter.  He loved to have the family all together.

Hardwork

But don’t get the impression that Calvin Stevenson was an idle fellow…he was a hard working man, maybe the most hardworking man that any of us will ever know.

He could do anything with his hands, whether it be his work at Ford, or the second job he took at the butcher shop, he had the soul of a craftsman. He took on the carpentry work of adding an addition to their house when his father came to live with them, and I’ve even heard it told that he tried his hand as  barber once upon a time.  And of course, nothing exemplifies his hardworking nature to me as much as the oily smell of the lawnmower shop.  It was a great retirement for him, and he was good at it. There was even a time or two when he had somebody’s mower fixed before they even got all the way home, and I think he enjoyed being able to call and say, “Hey I got it fixed already…you know, to make these things work, you have to put a little gasoline in the tank…” It was really the only kind of retirement possible for him…he was a doer, and needed something for his hands to do. Mark told me that he thinks it won’t be long after meeting the Lord in heaven that Granddad will ask for a job to do, and I think he’s right. The man was made for work, and he believed in doing his work well.

 

Loyalty

He was a man of intense loyalties. From his football team to his brand of bologna he had a way of sticking to the things he loved.

But he he had the wisdom to understood that different loyalties carried different weight, and his greatest loyalties always belonged to his God, his family, and his country.

He served his country well during the second World War. He was in training when his own mother died, and missed her funeral. He was injured at the battle of Metz during the allied advance that led to the battle of the bulge in the fall of 1944, and was awarded both a purple heart and a bronze star for his service. For the rest of his life he bore the scars of war both on his body and in his heart. He didn’t talk about the experience of combat, but proudly carried his identity as a veteran. Perhaps the proudest moment of his life was getting to Washington a few years ago to visit the World War II memorial, what he called “His memorial”. We all have such great respect for the sacrificial loyalty he carried for his country.

He was also fiercely loyal to his family. His love for all of us was full and warm, and being a part of his family is one of the great blessings of my life. Whether born into the family or married into it, he would do anything for those who were his, and you never had any doubt that he wanted what was best for you.

We were richly blessed by the legacy of love that he shared with Grandmother. Some 70 years ago they had been dating for only six weeks when he talked her into going with to Mississippi to be a witnesses for one of his cousins that was getting married.  By the time they were halfway home, they decided to turn the car around and just go ahead and get married themselves. That sounds a little whimsical and downright dangerous to me, and our girls better not even ever think about doing such a thing, but on the other hand, how can you argue with a sixty year message that bore such joy and love. As rare as it may be, there was never any doubt in anyone’s mind of their deep love for each other. They were such a pair, and we all know that his life was never really the same from the day she died. Their reunion in the Lord is something we celebrate today!

His loyalty to the Lord extended far beyond the second pew over there, where he worshipped for decades. In his mind, if you knew there was something that was right, something the Lord would want you to do, you may as well consider it done. Whether service through the church or the silent and secret kindness done to neighbors and strangers, his busy hands constantly found themselves serving God and serving people.

 

Guide, Guard and Direct

I often think about the times when our family would gather around a table to share food and laughter together, and the time was always punctuated by a moment of prayer.  The text of the prayer never varied much, he would always thank God for the family, for forgiveness when we fall short, and would pray that God would guide guard and direct our steps through future walks of life.

Over the past few weeks I’ve realized something that I think would surprise even granddad…that in large part, it was he himself that the answer to that prayer. The mysterious grace of God is that we were indeed granted guidance, protection, and direction through this great and faithful servant, Calvin Stevenson, My Granddaddy. He was the greatest and best man I have ever known, and I loved him dearly.

 

Psalm 89:1-2

His great loyalty and love were mirrors through with we have seen the great love and faithfulness of God.  Psalm 89 says:

“I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.”

(Psalms 88:11; 89:1–2 NRSV)

I will indeed sing of the love and faithfulness of God.  I have learned them both from this man.