Monday, October 17, 2005

The Values of Family

"He did the best he could with what he had - and then he moved on".

Those words from my Great Uncle Dave, spoken at Saturday's interment of my grandfather's ashes, probably best summarized the life of his brother, John Q. Alden Fritchey Jr. My Grandpa's life.

The service, actually more of a do-it-yourself ceremony involving two handfuls of relatives and an old friend of my grandfather's, took place at Mt. Pleasant cemetery, a tucked-away vestige of a bygone time, located just outside Claremont, the littler town outside of the little town of Olney. Claremont and Olney were the home of five generations of my family, six if you include the brief stint that I did there as a small child.

The windows to the church were long since shuttered, but almost eerily, the door to the small single room building was invitingly unlocked. As I walked in with my daughter and brother Jon, (don't even ask), the air smelled as if it it hadn't been smelled in decades. The small rays of light coming in through the door and the occasional flash of my camera were the only means of discerning what lay inside.

There were still a couple items hanging on the wall, a stack of discarded bibles on a shelf, and posted on the wall near the door, a plat of the cemetery showing all of the family plots, many laid out well over a century ago.

On the plat, you could still read the square with "Fritchey" handwritten on it, showing where my great-great grandfather and great grandfather are buried, and where we buried my grandfather's ashes ourselves on Saturday. (My great-great-great grandfather Richardson is buried about thirty feet away across the driveway.)

There are six plots in our section of the cemetery. After Saturday, three of them are now occupied. And despite having grown up pretty much as in the middle of downtown Chicago as you can grow up, as I looked at the plat, I couldn't escape a feeling that one of those remaining spots would one day be mine.

We all went to the cemetery in the late afternoon to bury Grandpa. My dad and Great Uncle Dave had taken an earlier run to the cemetery to prepare the headstone and dig the plot. It fell upon my brother and I to make sure that the burial vessel was properly and securely ensconced in the Earth.

I learned a lot that I didn't know during Dave's comments about Grandpa. About how when Dave was born at home at the height of the Depression, the eleven year old boy who would one day be my Grandpa stayed to work at the family store because it was a Saturday and that was the day the farmers came into town for supplies. How he used to be Fuller brush salesman. About how even though my grandfather was in the hospital for a year after getting blown off of his motorcycle as the result of German fire during WWII, he never received his Purple Heart. About how Grandpa never complained about it.

Uncle Dave also talked of my Grandpa's love of poetry, one which I never would have guessed in a thousand years. Dave punctuated this familial affinity with an extemporaneous recitation of the conclusion of William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, that moves
To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustain'd and sooth'd
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
I doubt a more poignant selection existed for the occasion than the one chosen by Uncle Dave. As he spoke, I looked at the headstones of my ancestors and couldn't help but be filled with thoughts, both somber and random. Was the maple that now towers over the Fritchey plots even planted yet when my great-great grandfather was buried there in 1905, having died the day after his 35th birthday? How did he die? Was it a hell of a birthday party or a family tragedy?

I learned more things about my grandfather during Uncle Dave's comments than I ever gleaned in the first forty-one years of my life. Some serious, some thought-provoking, some just downright amusing. The mental image of two grown men, my grandfather and future Congressman George Shipley, pushing each other down the middle of the street in a wagon after a night of 'socializing' comes to mind.

My family has never been overly separated by geography. Dad lives outside Houston, Uncle Dave outside St. Louis, my brother in Terre Haute. It's been the emotional bridges that have proved to be the larger barriers. Hearing Dave talk how Grandpa was a man prone to hold his feelings about his family inside of him gave me a certain sense of solace that some of my personality traits are the resdiue of countless decades of genetic wiring and not just some developmental failure on my part.

But as we all stood around Grandpa's final resting place Saturday afternoon, the sun getting low in the sky, there was a overall sense of family among us that hasn't existed in a long time, if ever.

I had gone down to Olney for a burial, but left having had a homecoming.

It's strange how it often takes a death to make us appreciate life. So maybe while we're here, we should all do the best we can with what we have - before we move on.


At October 16, 2005 at 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What an incredible read. Rep. Fritchey, I am at a loss for words. Not to take anything away from your legislative skills but you may have missed your calling as a writer.

Speaking of callings, having read that, I think I'll call my dad tomorrow just to say hi.

Thank you for sharing that with us. It is great.

At October 16, 2005 at 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, not that I saw you in a bad light before at all, but I see you in a whole different and more positive one now.

Who knew that deep down you were a country boy? Wish you would have stayed down here. I'm hope we'll get the chance to vote for you one day anyway :)

At October 17, 2005 at 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Real nice post Rep.

At October 17, 2005 at 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic post.

At October 17, 2005 at 11:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rep. Fritchey,

Thank you for being able to take a step back and put in perspective what truly should be important to all of us. We all get caught up in our work and the day to day routine of life, especially in government and politics. I hope that reading your post makes people catch a breath and remember what it is that they will care about in their twilight. And how they want to be remembered. And whether they lived a life based on those things that are really important. Thank you again. You are a good man.

At October 17, 2005 at 3:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As good a non-political post that a person is ever likely to find on a political blog, or anywhere else. Nice.

At October 17, 2005 at 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having just lost my college room mate to a brain tumor last week (just 34 years of age), I am exploring similar themes. I join the others in appreciating your post.

At October 18, 2005 at 12:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, you have done the family proud, very proud. Thank you,

At October 19, 2005 at 7:29 AM, Anonymous Carol Fritchey said...

"Cousin John",
Thanks for writing so eloquently about the internment of your grandfather's ashes (my Uncle Bud). I'm so glad you were able to go and hear my Dad ('Great Uncle Dave') share some of your grandfather's life. There are a lot of memories!!
Take care! d:)

At October 19, 2005 at 9:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading about soldiers that served and died in the war so long ago makes you wonder how a President can send American troops into harm's way to attack a country that did not attack us in any way with a clean conscience.

Marketing such warfare under the guise of high ideals such as 'freedom' and 'democracy' when you are really just sending American troops in so you can make your buddies rich off fat war contracts is despicable.

President Roosevelt should have been ashamed of himself. It is too bad we didn't have any real leadership in Congress that could have stopped his 'warmongering for profit', and instead had to see all those good Americans get injured and die in Europe.

At October 19, 2005 at 11:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yawn. This relates to government how?

At October 19, 2005 at 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, sometimes there's just no accounting for idiocy. Especially when it's combined with an obvious lack of knowledge.
My best guess is that the 'anti-war' poster above has never studied or considered what his position in this world might be if our Commanders-in-Chief, past and present, had not had our military intervene at the proper times so that our borders would not be violated. He (she) probably never considered that we lost nearly 3,000 American civilians because we did not attack a 'country that did not attack us' soon enough. Had that been done, as it should have, those lives would not have been wasted.
Wake up sir, we are under constant attack from more fronts than you are obviously aware. Is war hell? You bet. Is it worth it? Every dollar and every life. Just so you can have the privilege espouse your uninformed opinion.

At October 19, 2005 at 2:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11:38, How much of an a-hole are you? First of all, the consensus seems to be that this was a great post. Secondly, it's the Rep's blog to do with as he will. Third of all, let's not forget that our elected officials are human beings. Rep. Fritchey has shared more of that than most of colleagues are willing to, and if you don't care to read about it, then don't. But your comment? Pure a-hole.


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