Friday, May 3, 2019

O'dell Anderson Frandsen (1925 - 2019)

Last week, Valerie's grandfather died. O'dell Anderson Frandsen. He was an old man. He lived a good life. And he had a family that loved him.
I only knew one of my grandfathers, and he died when I was quite young. So, when I married Valerie, I acquired a new grandfather. A cowboy grandfather. Maybe we could say something of a cowboy intellectual.
A one sentence biography: After WWII, he went to school on the GI Bill, earned a degree in range science, then spent his career looking after the Utah and Idaho BLM rangelands, raising five kids with Ona, and then becoming a beloved grandfather and great-grandfather to more than I'm comfortable guessing.
I loved Grandpa Frandsen an awful lot. We hung out quite a bit when I lived in Utah. I asked him a lot of questions. He told me a lot of great stories. Stories no one else had seemed to have heard. I liked that. I was the outsider that had a special insider relationship. Or at least I liked to think I did. (I mean, he trusted me enough to let me drive his truck. Actually, it was his suggestion. On a rutted dirt road, even. Just to see the sights. Those of you that know Grandpa, you know this was no small thing.)
Anyway, the funeral is in Utah, tomorrow, and while Valerie is there I am not. So I'm going to remember Grandpa by posting something I wrote to him nearly 14 years ago. I don't exactly remember the context, but I'm guessing it was for his 80th birthday. Probably we were all asked to write a memory. This is what I came up with.
September 6, 2005
Dear Grandpa,
Sometimes memories are like spiderwebs. Spanning time rather than space, they seem to collect scattered thoughts and impressions and conclusions and ideas that stretch out across our consciousness. Bits and pieces of reality, real and imagined, all tangled up and connected to a single event. The event isn't meaningful in and of itself, but mean is given to it by the thoughts that cling to it.
I've one such memory--a memory littered with the debris of stray thoughts which, over the years, have given it meaning.
The day before Val and I were married was a Friday. May 16th. Idaho Falls. I was nervous. I was anxious. I was wearing out the carpet with my pacing.
I remember walking all over that house. Upstairs. Downstairs. In the mudroom. In the dining room. In the living room. I remember worrying about things that seemed pretty important. Tuxes. Rings. Shoes. Family.
While I was walking around aimlessly, I remember that you were sitting comfortably on a living room couch. You were wearing a smile as big as a truck. The kind of happy and satisfied smile that starts at the eyes and works itself outward from there, so that your whole face reflected a sort of joyful, content, curious appreciation of what you were watching. While I wore a path in the carpet from pacing, your expression and posture seemed to say that you knew something that I didn't. A secret. A joke. Something happy and sad but on the balance good that you'd like to share if you could but I wouldn't understand so you didn't. You just smiled.
So while I worried about trivial things to keep from worrying about important stuff, you just smiled. While I was blinded by a kind of temporary insanity, you just smiled. While I remained convinced of my invulnerability and infinite wisdom, you just smiled.
See, with this memory, it isn't so much the event or the players or the punch line, but the thoughts, collected over time, that are now all caught up in that night of pacing and smiling. It seems to me now that I was worried because I didn't know anything (though I didn't know it then) and that you were happy and content because you knew maybe two more things than I did: that I knew nothing and (this you at least hoped) that it would all somehow be okay. I like to think you had more confidence in us than I had. And you hardly knew me. But you were okay having me around (I didn't yet smell of three-day old fish) and you seemed to believe that perhaps Valerie and I really did love each other. Well, maybe not really loved, but maybe we had just enough optimism and blissful naiveté, coupled with perhaps just enough responsibility and desperate stubbornness, to make of our marriage a humble success. And that maybe over the years, as we come to know in each other people completely different than who we thought we were marrying, that maybe, with a bit of luck, we'd be happy and content too.
Phew... That's a lot of meat to hang from a teeny, tiny memory. But I've found a great deal of motivating goodness in our teeny, tiny conversations. Even in just a smile. you're my kind of people.