Farewell, Greg

I have just returned from the memorial gathering for cousin Greg (my father’s cousin). His passing was a long time coming and it had been clear for some time that the end was not far away, but it was still a sad moment last week getting the news. The memorial was held not far from his home in Vermont, about a three-hour drive from here, so I was able to make a day trip. E., unfortunately could not come with me as she had to work. My folks were also there, having driven over from Maine.

The drive up was a beautiful one. The temperature today reached nearly 80F, under a cloudless blue sky. This fall has been strange like that– it keeps pretending to be summer. I have put my sandals away in the closet four or five times now, thinking it’s for the last time until next summer, then I keep having to pull them out again. Despite the summery temperatures, the fall color was on full display. I got to see the full range on my drive: in Georgetown the leaves have barely begun to turn, while up in Vermont they are in full color and beginning to drop. Driving north was like taking a fast-forward drive through the fall. The route took me up into the mountain valleys, so I got gorgeous views of tree-colored hills in full color. Franconia Notch was especially breathtaking at this time of year and in this perfect weather. There could not have been a better day to gather together with far-flung friends and family.

The site of the memorial was a farm on a mountainside above St. Johnsbury. I arrived just as things were beginning and the barn was already packed full of people with more arriving carload by carload. Greg’s family and friends took turns speaking about him and remembering what he was like. There was much laughter and much love, as was only right for a man like him, much that was serious and heartfelt but nothing that was somber or formal. After people had a chance to speak, there was a theremin performance and a meditative ceremony led by a local Buddhist practitioner. Then the band struck up for anyone who wanted to dance while the rest of us ate and drank and caught up with old acquaintances.

I stayed for a few hours, then it was time to make my way home again. It was a long day but it was well worth it to be there and be part of saying farewell to Greg.

It is hard to put my memories of Greg into words. Mostly I remember him from being a kid and the semi-annual visits our families would make to each other– summertimes in Maine at the lake, wintertimes in Vermont in the mountains. My sister and I had trusty playmates in Greg’s children, much as I imagine my father and Greg and the rest of that troupe of cousins must have played as children. I remember Greg from those years as one of the few adults in the world who took our childish games just as seriously as we did, who would get involved in our play not with a smirk and an oh-look-at-me-being-a-good-dad shrug but with full commitment to whatever nonsense our imaginations had conjured. Perhaps that child’s impression contains some of the qualities that made Greg the inquisitive, mechanically-gifted, interested-in-how-everything-works man I came to know him as in my adult years– a love of discovery and a belief that everything knowable is worth knowing. Those are qualities that I try to bring to my teaching and while I can attribute a lot of that to my own father and some of my best teachers, I think that in the mix of what made me who I am is a little touch of Greg as well, remembered from all those summer and winters ago.

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