Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

The Funeral

The night before the funeral, I only slept a few hours.

I woke groggy, nervous, and out of sorts. I tried to take a shower, but no sooner had I got the water running, than my sister knocked on the door and said, "let me get a few things before you get in the shower so I can use the other bathroom?" So I put a towel on and let her in. She took all the soap, the shampoo, and the conditioner. I fumed, and shouted that there was no point in my taking a shower, with no soap or shampoo. Anyway, eventually we sorted that all out, which I mention only to illustrate that we were both on edge and stupid.

A limo came to take us to the church. We loaded it with a box full of books for Dean Ipollito, a chess master that my grandfather corresponded with for several years, posing chess problems with him, and ultimately becoming friends. My grandfather had worried about what would come of his chess books and notes (he kept meticulous notes about good games, including newspaper clippings, for over 50 years.) and sending them on to Mr. Ippolito seemed just the sort of thing to please Grandpa to no end. We also put in a phonograph and record (its use explained later) and the consecrated host of the Presbyterian Church - rice krispie squares.

At the church there was an awkward, shuffling time while the family greeted people who came to the service. Finally the service began - my grandfather had left specific notes on which bible readings ought to be read, and which hymns sung (he left them on a 3x5 card, as e did all of his other meticulous notes..) and so I know that the service was what he wanted. My Aunt spoke beautifully, ending with "He was the bedrock of the family, leaving a firm place to spring from, and a soft place to fall back on." My uncle spoke, but despite being an extraordinarily laconic man, he was unable get much out because he was very choked up with emotion. Other members of the church and community spoke and since I had the record to play, I went last. Here's the eulogy I delivered.

I have always thought of my grandfather as a hero. What does it mean to be a hero? Mostly, I believe that we reserve the term for those people who we observe have extraordinary courage in times of crisis. We also tend to use it to mean someone whom we idolize or admire, and I believe that in both senses, my grandfather, Philip Gould Van Osten, was a hero.

He came from a long line of competent, industrious men – his grandfather built the wood patterns for the destroyers and battleships of America in his pattern-shop in Camden. His father was a choir master and math teacher. From these two men, my grandfather inherited his three greatest ideals – to praise God with music, to design and build things, and to love and provide for his family.

When the world was at war and duty called, my grandfather, a young engineer, worked on projects in the Army Corps of Engineers that changed history. He was on the team that helped to develop and improve sonar, and he worked on the Manhatten Project. Perhaps no other single invention more clearly divides the old world and the modern world – and my grandfather stood astride both. Born in the old world, he with his own hands and ingenuity helped to birth the Atomic age, and usher in modernity. He designed parts for the lunar lander, for the satellites that GPS navigation systems use, and all told had his name on some 400 patents. As an engineer he was without peer, and as an architect of the modern world he may have labored in obscurity due to secrecy constraints, but not in vain. The world we live in today has been profoundly affected by my grandfather's work and genius.

He was unswervingly loyal not only to his nation, but also to the church. Shortly after settling in King of Prussia in {1969} – he joined the First Presbyterian Church of Port Kennedy. He has been a deacon and an elder of the church for much of that 35 years, and has been a member of the choir for all of it. He has done everything asked of him by the church and the community that it serves, and much more that was never asked, but that he saw needed doing, and did. The community we live in and the church he worshipped in has been profoundly affected by my grandfather's work and genius.

But above all, my grandfather valued family. Last year I asked him what he felt we were all here to do, and he answered without much hesitation, "To sustain the family, the Van Ostens." He didn't hesitate because his life had been a testament to the truth of his words – he woke early every day and went to work to provide for two generations of the family, and when he returned at night he continued to work to make his house safe, warm, clean and inviting. When called upon, my grandfather's first instinct was always to provide anything that was needed or wanted by his family. He loved and cherished his wife, and was immensely proud of the accomplishments of his children, who are living testimony to the care, decency and compassion that he passed on to his family. Without hesitation, he also took care of my sisters and I, and provided all of us, all the Van Ostens with a moral compass that points unerringly to what is right and good. My grandfather was the North Star of the family – an ever-loyal and generous constant in the sky, whose memory, when invoked, will always and forever guide my actions. The family I grew up in was profoundly affected by grandfather's work and genius.

One of the other great constants of his life was music, specifically singing in church choirs. His father was the choirmaster of the church in Riverton New Jersey, where he met my grandmother, Helen Wood. There he sang with her, and with my great-uncle Brian Wood. At his request, I have a recording of the three of them singing in that choir that he wanted played today. In his words, "Just play it, and let 'em think about what it means. It'll sink in." After coming to Port Kennedy, and throughout 55 years of marriage, my grandfather and grandmother sang together in the choir. For 33 years, they did so here, in this church. When my grandmother passed away, Grandpa said it was important to have a "house full of music, particularly of sacred music." I hope that he will be pleased that we will fill this house with his music today. But we'll just play it, and let you think about what it means. It'll sink in. The worshipful music this church made was profoundly affected by his work and his genius.

The world is diminished by the loss of my grandfather. I do not know if such excellent men as he will ever live again – heroic in the scale of his deeds, yet humble in his needs. He rarely spared time for himself when something needed doing. He often told me, "First take care of every one else, then if you have time left over, you can do something for yourself." Such was his constant devotion to others, selfless generosity and tireless energy. When he had open heart surgery, I came to visit five days after he was released from the hospital and only 8 after his surgery, and he was in the front yard mowing the lawn. I nearly had a cow, and asked him what he was doing – he said, "Someone has to do it." Whenever something came up that someone had to do, my grandfather quietly took it upon himself to do it. I won't say it was always without complaint – he was a hero, not a saint. But he always did what had to be done, or even what might need to be done. He was thorough in everything he did, with a high standard of perfection and no patience for half-measures. Even when he did take time for himself – to play chess, read histories, or design and build, by hand, working model airplanes – he did so excellently. His planes were graceful designs of simple elegance. He read avidly and was eager to talk about the history that fascinated him. He followed the games and careers of chess players that he admired very closely, and kept meticulous records of good games that he would play out on his own in the evenings – presumably because few lesser players would have given him a good game. I know I didn't measure up to his caliber.

I don't know if I ever lived up to the high expectations that my grandfather set, and exceeded himself. But I do know that I learned what it means to be a man from him – to be dutiful and honest, to be industrious and forthright, and to give more of yourself than you expect in return. His body may have passed, but his spirit will live on as long as any of us remember him to pass on his example – a humble hero toiling on behalf of family, church, and nation. I will strive to live up to his example, and I, for one, will never forget all that I owe to him.

And now, I'll play a selection from "The Crucifixion" – recorded on Good Friday 1955 at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverton, New Jersey. My grandfather sings bass, and you may just pick out his voice. My grandmother and great-uncle Brian are in the chorus, according to Grandpa.

After that, I played the record and let it sink in.
There was a luncheon afterwards, bland and salty, just the way Grandpa loved the best.
We left the church, maybe for the last time, and went home to an empty house.

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