Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Even into his 80s, Grampa was more photogenic than me:

June 16th, 1921-January 10th, 2006

Daniel O. Myers was born in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the son of missionairies. Until a week ago he would occasionally shout out "kunya kunya madoda!" and then say "That there's African talk." His father lost a hand in a milling machine and used to wear a wooden one which he banged on the pulpit to accent brimstone utterances about the End Times. I think that hand emblematic of the hard lives of my forebears. Grampa didn't see the U.S. until he was seven years old, and came in through the port of New York. Strange that someone with such an exotic birth would choose to live his entire life in Adams County, PA, but Grampa was a man of simple tastes throughout his 84 years. When he was 8 he was hit on the head by a speeding Model A Ford cruising at 50 MPH, and stayed in a coma for more than two weeks. It's a miracle he survived, and a good thing for my Mom and her kids he did. He'd initially been placed a grade ahead of his peers when he entered school in the US, but the head injury bumped him back a grade. He and his three barrel-chested brothers had a gospel singing group into their 20s, and Gramps was a tenor soloist during several performances of The Messiah.

He never made much money as a laborer, but laboring was all he could do with no high school degree (he quit school because they had to take dancing lessons, and dancing was a sin). Gramps was one of the few people who actually believed in Thou shalt not kill, and judge not, etc. Consequently during the war he was a conscientious objector and built roads in the Southwest for the government. I don't think he lived in a house with indoor plumbing until my mother was 12. I know when she was a child he used to sit in the outhouse with a shotgun on Halloween because farmboys would roam around tipping them on a lark. Upon his return home after the war he worked at the pipe and nipple factory, the shoe factory, the book factory--and never complained once about long hours or low wages. He'd come home and work in his garden, work on building something, work on the car, or go to church where he and my grandmother were the volunteer cleaners. Gramps led the singing and she played the organ. They raised up three kids including my Mom and all of them went on to get college degrees. One kid wasn't even theirs, but was the abandoned son of a reprobate brother of my grandmother's whom they took in and raised. They also housed exchange students from Africa, and for two years after my parents' divorce, my Mom, my sister, and I lived in their humble home. All of that and they still tithed ten percent to the church. My grandmother died 15 years ago, and Daniel remarried to Hazel, who is widowed now for the third time at age 92, bless her soul.

Until just a few weeks ago Daniel was a vigorous man who took care of his own chores and did his own driving. He was strong as an ox and could give a bear hug like a real bear; often he'd wrestle me to the ground when I was a teenager, and give me a merciless whiskerin'. He fell and hurt himself badly in December and began an almost instant decline. Less than two weeks ago we thought he was finished--he rallied to give everyone a chance to fly in and say goodbye, but couldn't abide the old folks' home. Yesterday he swore for the first time in his long life, saying to the nurses "Get me the hell out of here!" Today he gave up. I got the call that he was on his way to ICU at 11am this morning--and he died at noon shortly after my Mom arrived and about 30 minutes before I made it.

I remember when Cha met him for the first time, she said "I never knew my grandfathers. They died in the Philippines before I was even born here in the States." He gave her a big hug and said "I'll be your Grandfather." She was as torn up today as I. Mom told us this afternoon that at the nursing home yesterday he was bragging about Cha to the nurses. "She's a pinapplepia!" he said, and Mom corrected him: "Don't you mean Filipina?" "Oh, yeah, that's what I meant. She's the dearest thing in the world, and is married to my great grand-son." (Of course I'm not his great grand-son, but only his grand-son--I like to think he was qualifying with that adjective!) On the way home tonight I was leading Cha down some back roads between Westminster and Hampstead when a deer darted out in front of me. I swerved and managed not to hit it, but it jumped right up and into my passenger door, flipping back and up onto the shoulder. Two weeks ago Cha'd asked Grampa if I ever went hunting with him, and he said "No, he was too chickenhearted," that teasing twinkle in his eye. Strangely I didn't loose it today until I was petting that damn doe as it lay by the side of the road dying, breathing steam through its bloodied snout. "I'm sorry," I told it, and remembering that day in the hospital I turned to mush.

New Year's Eve 2006--the last time I saw him alive. He thought the oxygen tube was his glasses and kept trying to pull it out and move it up to his eyes. The nurse asked if he wanted some coffee and he gave her his famous line: "I'm not old enough to drink coffee." Then he told me that it had been the greatest day of his life because a big crowd came to see him.

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