HE LIKED HIS BEER COLD AND HIS TV LOUD AND A FEW OTHER THINGS
I didn’t want to give Dad’s eulogy.
But I knew if I didn’t, I’d never hear the end of it.
From the beyond.
You gave your Nana’s eulogy and you won’t give mine? Thanks a lot.
You gave your uncle’s eulogy and you won’t give mine? Thanks a lot.
You gave your mother-in-law’s eulogy and you won’t give mine? Thanks a lot.
You gave your sister-in-law’s eulogy and you won’t give mine? Thanks a lot.
I figured it was easier to conjure up a few words about Dad than deal with his constant nagging masquerading as haunting. This decision did not require much brain effort.
This is for you, Dad. Please turn up your hearing aid.
Turn up your hearing aid!
TURN UP YOUR HEARING AID!
If you had to sum up Dad in a single sentence that sentence would simply read:
Dad liked his beer cold and his TV loud.
Yep, that’s Dad in a sentence.
It also makes a damn good epitaph.
Once upon a time, Paul Ordell Riswold liked his beer cold and his TV loud. The End.
But Dad is worth way more than a simple sentence.
Growing up I really had no idea what Dad did except be Dad. I knew what all the other dads in the neighborhood did: Mr. Von Moos was a fireman; Mr. Miller cut Mom’s hair and was married to a crazy woman; Mr. Kolbe built airplanes at Boeing and was the baseball coach who always cut me; Mr. Gianetto was a printer who was always mad about something, especially when someone stole an apple off his tree; and Mr. Holland’s job must have been to be mad because he was always mad about everything and looked like LBJ.
Dad just worked.
I started to learn where Dad worked. Dad worked at Associated Grocers at night and Associated Grocers was where Bill Muncy’s hydroplane, Miss Thriftway, was stored so I deduced Dad was a hydroplane driver too. Then Dad took a job at Boeing, so I figured he was designing sleek rocket ships to take us to Mars for family vacations. Then Dad moved to Van Waters and Rogers, a chemical company, so I reasoned Dad was a scientist of sorts. Then Dad moved on to Harry Levinson’s electrical company to—what else?---become the next Tesla. Duh.
Alas, I was wrong about what Dad did where he worked. He drove Associated Grocers’s forklifts, not its hydroplane. He did not design Boeing’s rockets; he sold Boeing’s airplane things. He was not a scientist; he sold Van Waters and Rogers’s chemical things. He was not the next Tesla, he sold Harry Levinson’s electrical things.
Dad just worked a lot, often two jobs at once.
Dad even spent his time off working. Dad worked around the house. Dad worked on the house. Dad worked in the house. Dad worked on Christmas decorations for the house. Dad worked on toys for the kids in the house. Dad worked on things for Mom. Dad worked mowing the lawn, sometimes twice a day, and when he was done mowing the lawn he’d mow the all the neighbor’s lawns whether they liked it or not.
One time Dad got on the local news for working on the house while on vacation. The basement leaked a lot. Dad took it upon himself to dig down six feet or so to the foundation to fix those leaks. He dug a trench all around the front of the house to get to the bottom of those leaks. Now this trench was not exactly what the Army Corp of Engineers would call sane, let alone safe. He hired his teenaged nephew, Derek, to help him. Derek was not in the Army Corp of Engineers. The trench collapses—on Dad. Derek, on the phone at the time, comes out to find no trench and no Uncle Paul. Derek spots the top of Dad’s head in the former trench and clears dirt away so he can at least breathe since breathing comes in handy. A fire truck comes to the rescue. Dad makes his television debut being hoisted out of the failed trench by a crane, spitting dirt out of his mouth and his pants half way down his backside. The news reporter refers to him as Paul Griswold. Professional trench people finish the job. Dad goes back to mowing the lawn a lot.
So let’s amend our simple sentence: Dad liked his beer cold and his TV loud and working a lot.
Dad also liked falling down. He could fall down with best of them. He fell down off decks. He fell off roofs. He fell down off ladders, big and small. He fell down off chairs. He fell down out of bed. He fell down stairs. He probably defied gravity and fell up stairs. He fell down in crosswalks. He fell down on sidewalks. He fell down just to fall down. If somebody could ever figure out how to fall down while already lying down on the ground, it would be Dad.
There’s a wonderful Japanese proverb that says Fall Down Once, Get Up Twice. By that equation Dad got up more than anybody in the whole history of everything. Dad could get up. I’m both delighted and embarrassed to say I have picked up Dad’s mantel and become the family’s preeminent pratfaller. I hope I make you proud, Dad.
So let’s amend our sentence again: Dad liked his beer cold and his TV loud and working a lot and falling down.
Dad liked spilling things. He spilled well. He spilled everything everywhere: Liquids, primarily alcohol, primarily everywhere, food, primarily on the floor (we never had an undernourished pet), condiments, primarily mustard, primarily on his shirt. I don’t think this propensity for spilling was so much a social faux pas as it was proof positive of Dad’s love of the socializing—large or small—that usually accompanied drinking and eating.
Dad liked his beer cold and his TV loud and working and falling down and spilling things.
There’s a pattern here. Dad liked. Dad liked his stuff so much he never threw any of his stuff away ever, be it his 1949 tax return or a spring from a long lost flashlight. Dad liked taking photographs and more photographs and more photographs and more photographs, occasionally in focus and without his thumb or finger in the shot. Dad liked asking so many questions he would make the Spanish Inquisition jealous.
But most of all Dad liked people.
Dad’s stuff, Dad’s photographs and Dad’s questions were far more than just stuff, photographs, and questions.
They were his memories, often memories of people.
Those memories nourished his heart. They enriched it. They made it grow. They filled his heart--a heart that kept beating 150 beats per minute for his final four days (or 5,760 minutes) in the hospital--with love, BIG LOVE. Yes, he joyously and proudly wore that heart unfiltered on his sleeve, right next to a mustard stain. Yes, it was a big goofy-assed heart that often made him mow the lawn too much, fall down and spill things, but it was real and he shared it, often accompanied by a hug or 212, with each and every one of us here today.
Dad liked loving.
So with all due respect to Saul of Tarsus, aka St. Paul, and despite no affiliation with the Vatican, let alone any authority whatsoever from it, I hereby canonize Paul Ordell Riswold as Saint Paul II, the Patron Saint of Cold Beer, Loud TV, Working a Lot, Falling Down, Spilling Things, Keeping Stuff, Photographing Everything, Asking Questions, and Big Goofy-Assed Hearts.