I would like to share with you a story, of an extraordinary man, as seen through the eyes of his grandchildren.
The following eulogy was written with love for Melvin Eugene Anderson (1932 – 2016), and read at his Celebration of Life on Saturday, September 3rd, 2016.
We are here to celebrate the life of Melvin Anderson.
And what a life it was! I look around here today, and I see the absolute and undisputed proof of that. Everyone here knew him and loved him. You maybe knew him as a colleague, or as your favorite high school teacher. Maybe you knew him as “Coach.” Or as a mentor. Or as a friend. As a brother, or brother-in-law. Or the fun uncle. He was so many things to so many people.
In our family, he was husband and partner… and Dad… and then Grandpa… and then, even, Great Grandpa.
I knew him as my Grandpa Mel. I was a few days old the first time we met, and I didn’t know at the time how lucky I would be to have him in my life for the next 33 years. As I got to know him as Grandpa, I also got to know him by another name: Hero. He is and will always be my hero. He is a hero to all of his grandchildren. And I would love to tell you why…
As a child, growing up with a grandfather like Mel was magical. There is no other word for it. Grandpa absolutely loved children and they loved him right back. Even babies who were going through that phase, where they are terrified of any and all strangers, loved Grandpa. There is a reason for that. He was playful, and hilarious. And he was full of joy… a quiet but infectious joy, that remained in a constant simmer, bubbling just beneath the surface. Until he laughed. We can all hear his laugh. It was a pure, contagious laugh. And he never, ever hid from you how much he loved and cared about you. He made you feel safe. He gave you the space to make discoveries, and then he experienced your surprise, your awe, your wonder at the world, right along with you. No question was too silly, no story too tedious. He listened to you with his whole heart.
There is a consensus among Mel’s grandchildren that the summer days we spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s house on Lake Andrew, were and remain some of the best and happiest times of our lives. We looked forward to the weeks when our parents would drop us off together and we’d get our grandparents all to ourselves. It was better than summer camp, because we would get to spend time with two people who loved us more than anything. And because of the unlimited supply of chocolate chip cookies and peanut M&M’s Grandpa would sneak for us before meals, when Grandma wasn’t looking. It was probably because of the days we spent on the water, and how obliging Grandpa was when we begged him to drag us behind the boat on an inner tube. Or when he would haul out the old boxing gloves and let us take turns sparring with him.
Many of my favorite memories of Grandpa Mel involve his singing. He was always singing. Whether it was an actual song, or just an impromptu singsong he’d make up for you in greeting, you couldn’t always tell, but he always got my attention through song. He had a rich, baritone singing voice that carried across a room. He used it in church choir, he used it in the car with the radio loud, he used it to send his grandkids off to their nighttime dreams. Many times he would start singing out of the blue, and even if you didn’t know the words to the song you found yourself singing along.
Quite a few times we’d all time our visits to be at the lake together for the Fourth of July, which was a big deal for everyone because of the Lake Andrew boat parade. We would spend hours decorating the boat (and ourselves) with red-white-and-blue ribbons, bows, and flags, and Grandpa would take the grandkids out in the lead boat, puttering along the shoreline while other boats, the neighbors and residents from all around the lake, fell in line behind us. We thought we were kind of a big deal.
As we grew up, our love for the time we spent with Grandpa never faltered. Ever the teacher, he loved teaching his grandchildren various things: mainly about life, and how fun it could be. And we each have our own favorite memories with him.
One time, Emily ventured into town with him, for ice cream and to visit the school where he taught, and a detour took them to several car dealerships, where they test-drove expensive cars that he had no intention of buying. Emily remembers that Grandpa let her take the wheel of the big flashy Cadillacs, driving through the country back-roads and dirt farm lanes winding through the New London and Spicer areas; she was 13.
From a very young age, I remember reading storybooks with Grandpa. Apparently I was always pretty adamant about it. Most photos of the two of us also feature a book, front and center. When Grandma and Grandpa purchased their first computer, I would spent hours in front of it, typing out story after story of my own, and adamantly requesting they read them. Even if he was in the middle of watching a game on TV, Grandpa never complained. Along with Grandma, who remains my biggest cheerleader, he encouraged my imagination and sparked my love for writing and for storytelling. A few years later, I wrote my first novel.
Angela remembers endless summer days spent on the lake, taking the boat out with Grandpa, and how he taught her to drive it, even when she didn’t think she could. And how most nights, before bedtime, the two of them would create epic ice cream sundaes together: mountains of ice cream, hot fudge, butterscotch, and whipped cream. Ice cream was their tradition, and it was always delicious.
Michael spent a lot of afternoons out in the driveway with Grandpa at the Lake Andrew house, where Grandpa had set up an NBA-regulation- height basketball hoop (or at least it felt that way when you were 3 or 4 feet tall). When Mike was little, Grandpa never tired of giving him a boost up so he had a better chance of getting the ball through the hoop, until he was tall and strong enough for Grandpa to teach him how to make a 3-pointer. You could also find Mike and Grandpa fishing for hours together, off the dock, or hitting golf balls down the fairway at the golf club nearby.
Even as a toddler, it was evident Jared would also share Grandpa’s love of sports. He would attend basketball games with “Coach” as a baby. When he was a little older, Jared learned how to golf from Grandpa, who was an excellent golfer in his own right, and from Grandpa Mel he took away a deep appreciation and love of the sport; the times on the course with Grandpa have been some of highlights of his life. Jared also found fun with Grandpa at the basketball hoop, and from playing baseball with him in the yard.
And then there was the time Grandpa took four teenagers to Valleyfair. By himself. And held his own. Watching your grandfather, sitting alongside you, fall 300 vertical feet on the Power Tower is an ego check for a high-schooler. We were not embarrassed to be hanging out with him that day.
The thing about children is that they grow up and turn into adults. But in this family, we still had our magic, and we got to keep it for a long time. We still had Grandpa Mel, who loved his family more than anything. And we kept making memories with him, through high school and college graduations; road trips to the Black Hills, to Florida, to Colorado; and Christmas spaghetti dinners. Through Grandpa dancing with his first granddaughter at her wedding. Through the births of four great-grandchildren. The time we could spend with our grandparents was precious time; and as adults we truly began to understand and appreciate just how precious it was.
The Anderson clan, circa 1993. Lake Andrew, New London, MN.
These memories tell the story of how we, Mel’s grandchildren, knew him best. This is our story of Grandpa Mel, who shaped our lives for the better and who we will always love with all of our might.
All of us here today have our own wonderful memories of Mel Anderson, and who he was to us… what he meant to us. He is a hero to us in many different ways, for many reasons.
So in closing, I’d like to share with you something I wrote a few days after he passed. I wrote it about him, for him, and because of him. It’s about heroes.
- Heroes aren’t only found in storybooks; they are real people, flesh and blood.
- Heroes are larger than life. They inspire us through their examples; they inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves.
- Heroes are selfless. They love deeply, and they protect the people they love.
- Heroes guide us. They teach us about the world, and how to find our way through it. And when we are ready, they gently push us to follow the paths that call to our longing hearts.
- Heroes wield a courage that awes us. Even when time takes its toll on their bodies and their minds. They fight to stay, to give their loved ones one more day, one more week, one more year.
- Heroes give us hope. They teach us about the strength we have in ourselves, even when we don’t see it. When grown grandchildren take turns holding their grandfather’s aged hand and laugh in delight at their memories – when they were small but sat tall on his shoulders as he galloped across the lawn – and they know that feeling of invincibility will stay with them always.
- Heroes live forever. We take them with us, as we go on through life, telling their stories and using the lessons they’ve taught us.
- We sing their songs, we carry their names and their deeds, we hold their memories fast and close. And they live on.
Mel Anderson – Grandpa – brought us far, with his love and his strength, through the years. We were so lucky to have him. And now we will share our stories of him with our children, and among future friends, and with each other. We will remember what we learned from him. We will celebrate his memory and hold him close to our hearts. And he will live on.
Dedicated to the memory of Mel Anderson
(1932 – 2016)
Loving husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather… and hero.
Written for him, and for his beloved wife Jeanne, with love by their granddaughter Jennifer.