daernhelm (daernhelm) wrote,

4 Flights and a Funeral

As some of you know my grandfather passed away on Friday of last week.

He was really an amazing man, nearly 94 years old. In fact the funeral is being held on what would have been his 94th birthday. Born into the deep south of Florence Alabama, he was the eldest son of the Chief engineer on the hydro electric damn at Muscle Shoals. And he followed his father into engineering... Surprisingly enough though for a man who had a story about everything (if you've ever seen the Tim Burton film "Big Fish" you have a rough idea of my grandfather)very few of his stories were about his engineering. He told how when he was a teenager, he and a friend jumped a freight train north to Chicago for the Worlds Fair in 1933. Or he might relate the story of going hunting and mistaking a friends backside for a squirrel and filling it with buckshot (which his friend recounted in a letter on my grandfather's 50th wedding anniversary, complete with what he claimed was the last of the buckshot finally gotten out by a doctor).

He was in some ways a figure straight out of a Faulkner or Hemingway short story, to hear him recount it there was no thing he hadn't done and no where he hadn't been. He served with the SeaBees (CB's) in World War II including a stint as commander of the main CBMU (Construction Battalion Maintenance Unit) for Iwo Jima as it was being conquered. He brought one of the first camera's onto the island and took some of the first pictures of the island. A MU's job is to keep the runway and all the other equipment that services planes and keeps them flying, in good repair, and since Iwo was taken as an air base his was a relatively important job. Yet, aside from the few amusing stories regarding shooting bars of soap, he was most proud in his service days of the dirigible hanger he designed and built down in Trinidad. Poppop reached the rank of full Lieutenant in the Navy (equivalent to Captain in the Army) but was apparently busted back to Lieutenant JG because he refused an order to report to such and such a base at the end of the war. As he tells it, he had a wife and beautiful baby girl waiting for him at home who he hadn't seen in 2 odd years, he'd be Danged if he was waiting even another minute.

He and the only women he ever loved raised three amazing daughters, conveniently spaced 5 years apart. I wish I could describe the love affair between my grandfather and my grandmother. Family legend has it that my grandfather was pseudo courting a cousin of my grandmother, who showed her one of his letters. My grandmother's response was simple, "That's the man I'm going to marry." And they did get married. Lived in Alabama, moved to Ohio, and then Rhode Island. When he retired they built their dream-house in the mountains of NC, in a little town called Pisgah Forest. He of course designed it, (ages ahead of its time in terms of insulation and maintaining of energy.) and they hoped to spend their retirement hiking the Appalachia trail, and traveling the world.

That changed within the first few months of their moving to NC when my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson's. And so instead of hiking the Appalachian trail, for the rest of her life my grandfather took care of her. He helped her through every small thing and when it finally got to where he couldn't provide the medical needs at their house he spent every hour of every day that he could visiting her and sitting by her in the nursing home. He charmed every nurse and staff person in the facility, and in some ways rediscovered a faith that had been if not lost at least dormant for most of his adult life. There was no one he meet who wasn't charmed by this extremely intelligent good ol' boy.

His daughters had sons, 5 grandsons between the three of them to be exact. And his wont when talking to us was to run through the names in order till he got to the one he wanted. As I was the 5th and final grandson, the litany tended to be "Jimmy...no Stephe...no..And..., Number 5!" And then he'd launch into the story of how he designed a flange that affected the aluminum melting point so that you got stronger and better and tougher aluminum wire at half the cost. Ask him the time, the joke ran, and he'll tell you how to build a clock. He always took an immense pride in all of the five of us accomplished. And he lived to know and love two wonderful great-grandchildren, JT and my niece Ella. It is in Ella's eyes that I will forever be able to see him, because her smile - which lights up the room which captures the hearts of everyone who sees it - is his smile, its that hint of joy and happiness and love and humor.

I have many regrets, I regret I never got to tell him about my nomination for a WATCH award, he would have been boasting about it to everyone he knew and by the next time I saw him half the town would think I'd been nominated for an Oscar or a Tony. I regret I never sat him down with a tape recorder and got him to talk about his experiences in the war or during the great depression, that I never was able to fill those magnets on his refrigerator saying 'My Grandchild Made This." That he and I never got a chance to take one last walk around that mountain.

Yet, at the same time, I am so happy for him, because he's finally going to be reunited with his wife, and he'll still get to see the joy and strength he's provided his family. I have this image of how his arrival in Heavan, goes, St. Peter is standing in front of those pearly gates and he looks down, "Ah, Walter Bloss, thank you so much for coming," and within minutes of my grandfather speaking to him, St. Peter is instantly charmed and allowing my grandfather the chance to examine and redesign the opening mechanism for the pearly gates. And his father, and two of his younger brothers, Robert and Squirt are sitting around consulting with him as he fiddles with the gates. Finally he finishes and turns around to see my grandmother wearing her gardening clothes and with binoculars ready to watch birds, and all she says to him is, "Its about time Walter."

I have to get down to Brevard, NC for the funeral

I scheduled myself a vacation from school starting the 13th through the 21st, mainly spent with my girlfriend in Allentown. When my grandfather passed away that had to change. I rearrainged my schedule to fly out of Allentown and back into the LV so that I could still see her. I specifically left MA early to not have to drive in the snow storm, and I'm in a hotel just down the road from the airport. Well about 9:30 last night my flight was canceled. Delta's main number was busy...(not placing me on hold for 30 minutes busy, just a busy signal busy) and Expedia had me on hold for roughly an hour before disconnecting my call. When I finally got back in touch with them I was informed that there were no flights anywhere. After much prodding and poking and asking to check other airlines I finally got the Delta person to say that the best they could do would be to fly me out of Pittsburgh. Figuring this was the best I could do I went ahead and decided to say the heck with it and drive down. I contacted my brother to see if he wanted to go with me, upon which he magically conjured a seat on his flight out of Newark (Hmmm 5 hour drive or 1.5 hour drive...?) on Continental. Delta will not give me money back for a flight they cancelled, instead they have given me basically store credit, oh minus a $150 fee for changing my flight. I am not pleased with Delta. They have seriously tried my patience and offered extremely sub-par customer service through this entire ordeal. When I spoke with the Delta person last night they really seemed to not care that what they were offering me was after the funeral.*sigh* Rant over.
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