A Tribute to my Grandfather

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My earliest memory of my grandfather is in a fishing boat. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and I had decided that I wanted to go fishing with pop and Uncle Melv. So the night before I stayed at Nan and pop’s house, the old one down over the hill. I slept in the room in the far corner of the house, in a soft bed piled high with blankets and homemade quilts. They were piled so high that my tiny little body could barely turn over. I remember the excitement. For a small boy to go fishing with his grandfather was a big deal, in fact its a big deal for a boy of any age. I lay sleepless in the bed for a long time before the peace and quiet of that old house lulled me to sleep. I can’t remember what I dreamed that night, or if I even did dream, but I’m sure if I did they were pleasant dreams. How could you have bad dreams in such a loving and caring home?

The next morning Nan gently shook me awake. She got out the bed pan for me (remember no indoor plumbing at this time) and then went off to get some warm water ready for me to wash my face. Breakfast was waiting for me: a boiled egg and toast and tea. The smells of the house are vivid in my mind. Slightly burnt toast and the smell of javex as Nan did laundry. The sun was already well up and for all I know Pop and Uncle Melv had already been out to check some of their nets and were just now coming to get me. As I sat there dipping my toast in my tea, watching the sun glisten off the water of the tickle and listening to the screeching gulls around pop’s stage, and the gentle purr of Nan’s old spinner washer I was as happy as any 6 year old boy could be.
Nan got me all dressed: so much clothes I could barely move. Then pop held my hand as we walked through the front door, passing the old outhouse, pass the big picture window in the living room and down over the foot path to the stage, and then through the stage to the wharf. Oh the smells in that stage: saltwater, old fishing gear and gasoline. Pop lowered me down into the boat into Uncle Melv’s arms and we were off.

Beyond that I don’t remember much about that day. I have a vague memory of talk of points and bays and coves, of wind direction and land markers. I don’t think the fishing was good that day. I learned that day that fishing is hard work and that maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a fisherman. But why the day sticks in my mind and why I share it is because for me it captures the essence of who pop was, who Nan and Pop were. And I’m sure each of their children and grand-children, and hopefully the great- grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, can relate to this or similar stories. We all felt their gentleness, their kindness, their hospitality and their generosity.
By the world’s standards my grandfather, Archibald Rowsell, was insignificant but to us he was the most important man in the world. By the world’s standards he was poor, but to me he was the wealthiest man I knew, blessed with family, longevity and a simple but rewarding life. By the world’s standards he was uneducated, but I never met a wiser person. He didn’t travel very far and when he did it was under much protest, but he knew more about the workings of the world, the workings of people, than the most well-travelled and cultured globe trotter. There are two words that sum up my grandfather: work and love.

No one worked any harder than Arch Rowsell and he wore that truth like a badge of honour. I’m sure we all sat and listened to his stories of hard work. His tales of fishing on dangerous and turbulent waters, of mega catches and days when despite all your hard work there was nothing to show for it. He would talk of days in the woods, cutting countless cords of wood, of days, yes days, walking to and from these work camps, of nights spent sleeping on beds of evergreen boughs with no blankets and your knapsack for a pillow as the cold, the snow or worse yet, the mosquitoes nipped at you. He would talk of building up and tearing down, of clearing land and planting gardens. I would listen to these stories, as a child and as an adult, caught somewhere between awe and disbelief. To me they were as thrilling, entertaining as any movie, comic book or ancient story. I’m sure we all found it hard to relate to them, because our lives were so different, but we knew them to be true, which made us admire and respect him even more. Pop had a lot to teach us about hard work. In a world that often looks for the easy way out, Pop showed us that there was no substitute for good old fashioned, roll up your sleeves, down and dirty back breaking hard work. It builds character and appreciation for everything we have. He taught us to take pride in what we do, and to do it honestly and never at the expense of someone else. For that he was my hero and role model.
Pop was blessed with an abundance of love in his life. When I paid tribute to Nan I said this about their relationship. “Arch and Lucy were married 67 years and no greater love has ever been written. No Hollywood movie or romance novel can compare to the love that they shared. I remember as a child being in awe of their love. The way they would tease each other and laugh and carry on, the way pop was always stealing a hug or a kiss, the way that Nan would pretend that she didn’t love the attention.” Their family was a product of their love, forming and shaping us into the people we are today. All who met them or entered their home felt the warmth of the love they had for each other and were better people because of it. Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. They had their hard times too. They felt the bittersweet and often sharp side of love: sickness, heartbreak, loss, struggle, and death. But they got through them together. They had their arguments too, doozies sometimes. The usually ended up in Nan telling Pop that he was stubborn and pop grunting something or another. But in a moment it was gone and they were back to normal.

Pop loved his children and their spouses. He loved all of his grandchildren and took every opportunity to say and show it. Pop also had the love of his brothers and sister: Andrew, Phil, Will, Rich, and Audrey. The shared a closeness and mutual respect that was obvious to all. So much love!! Pop was so blessed.

He had a love for the simple things: for a warm house on a cold day; for a drive with Nan up over the road; for a feed of lobsters, or cooked dinner or Mary Brown’s chicken; for time spent with family and friends.
And was there ever a kinder man? How many thousands of dollars did he give to us? How many meals? How much time did we spend there? Pop’s love was shown in his kindness. Money was not something to store up for a rainy day; it was something to be shared, given away. God had blessed him so he would be a blessing to others.

In my younger, more naive years, when I thought I had it all figured out, I would have said that pop was not a very religious person. Nan was the spiritual bedrock, she was the religious one who prayed, read the bible and went to church. Yes she was that, but as I get older I see that Pop too was a religious person. He wasn’t as out front but it was still there. He possessed a quiet, unassuming faith. It was a faith that got him through some difficult times, losing Nan being the hardest. Pop’s faith wasn’t so much in buildings like this or books or ideas and doctrine. Pop’s faith was one doing. His work ethic and his love ethic came, I believe from his faith. You work hard and love harder because that is what you do. No need for applause, no need for fanfare, no need to make a big deal. You do it simply because you should. We’re losing that today. So much of our world, our lives, revolves around us and what’s best for us. Buy this, go here, do this, take these, because you deserve it. Pop didn’t think that way. Life is not just about me, it’s about all of us, and it’s about putting what I want aside, for my family, my community, my God. I learned that from Arch Rowsell.

We may be sad today. It’s hard not to be sad. But in the sadness remember two things. One, don’t think of it as all these good things about pop are now dead and gone, they are not lying in this casket here with him. No they are alive in each and every one of us; every good deed, every loving gesture, every fond memory of Pop lives on in us. I can see his kindness in my own children and his streak of stubbornness in myself, and others of you as well. Pop will always be with us. Second, remember that death is not the end. It is not the final answer. We have hope that this world is just a beginning and this is not an end. Pop you will be forever missed and forever loved. Goodbye for now and we’ll see you when we get home.

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