It seems so insufficient to try to summarize my Grandpa in a little blog, but it seems worse to just pass over this part of our life lately. My wonderful Grandpa Merrill died at the age of 95 two weeks ago. I was able to fly home for the funeral thanks to the kindest donations of loving family!
Grandpa Merrill had a charisma that attracted everyone around. He loved and accepted everyone. He'd eat anything. He always had a song on his lips. And when I was younger, he belted out “my” song every time we said hello:
K-K-K-Katie! Beeeeautiful Kaaaatie!
You’re the only one that I adore!
When the moo-moon shines o’er the c-cow shed,
I’ll be w-w-waiting by the k-kitchen door!
No matter how many times he sang that song, I never stopped feeling delighted to hear it. He sang, and I blushed and smiled. I was a freckled, snaggle-toothed kid, awkward and messy. But Grandpa, in his faithful singing, told me I was beautiful. He sang with a big smile, a big voice, and a big heart. Now that he’s gone I find the song turning up in the back of my mind. I hum it to myself and I’m instantly transported to childhood, and to his house—and to the warmest feeling of being loved.
People used to ask me “where did you get your red hair?” when I was young. I was always proud to say, “from my grandpa.” But more than hair, and more than songs, Grandpa affected my life in so many ways. I sometimes wish I had a G-G-G-Grandpa song that I could sing back to him with the same message of love. But no song could measure up.
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As part of my dissertation I am researching life stories. So for the past few months I have been asking myself, ‘What adds together to make a life? How does one record a life? What does a person leave behind—days, years, even centuries later?’ And then on my long flight home I found myself asking myself the very same questions of someone I knew very well.
When I sat with Grandpa in the back room of his old house with a microphone and a steadily depleting stack of blank tapes, I heard a lot of stories. I heard so many stories that they all now blend together in my mind, forming a kind of….life. I’ve only begun to collect the bits and pieces floating around my memory, my own impression of the life of Doug Merrill.
Grandpa loved a good crown burger. He lived the life of a dry farmer in the years of the Depression. He ate ice cream once a year when he was young, but only after his dad had the first bite. He accidentally drowned a horse when he was about five. He loved wearing bolo ties. His corduroys were once so dirty they stood up on their own. He rode a pony to school, and broke his leg when it slipped on ice. His mom mended it. He loved familiar old tunes. He taught glee club. He gave his college tuition savings to save his dad’s farm. He hitchhiked to BYU to attend college, hoping to find a scholarship when he got there. He loved reading magazines. He loved passing those magazines on to his grandkids, saying with a smile, “thought you’d like to see that”. He pruned the trees at age 80. He loved making things out of wood. (He once called me asking for all the dimensions of my hair dryer so he could make a wooden holder for it.) He enjoyed a good swear. He collected aluminium cans for recycling, even making Dorothy pull over so he could pick some up on the side of the road. His garage was always crammed with ‘useful’ stuff. He had one of the scariest jobs in the world – teaching Jr. High math. He brought vegetables from the garden to our house every Sunday in his trunk. He seemed always to have a picture of something wonderful—a grasshopper, a wolf, the Washington Monument—in his shirt pocket. He wooed Dorothy with fish & tomatoes in a sack. He absolutely loved to sing. Of all his Navy experiences, the most vivid picture in his mind was that of a rickety makeshift store in the Philippines with toilet paper on the shelves, stacked so the perfect circles of the tube ends made a design. He had a Christmas tie that played music. He walked laps around the house in Vermont when it was too cold to go outside. He told the story of Old Ephraim to all the scouts around the campfire. He was fond of saying to his grandkids, “who wants to go to MACDonald’s?!". He washed the dishes until he couldn’t stand up. He loved Sesame Street. He was a master fisherman. Instead of “goodbye”, he always said “come again!” even if he was leaving our house.
He was young at heart. He loved the world and every tiny thing in it. He leaves us all behind, but has left us an unmeasurable amount of love. We love you, Grandpa. Come again!