24th Sep 2012
R.I.P. Edward Vincent Cornelius
We buried my grandfather today. He lived 84 splendid years. His memorial was held in the sanctuary of the church where he spent each Sunday since before I was born. It was emotional, honorable, and filled with people who loved him dearly. That word memorial comes from the ancient latin memoriālis; from or containing memoranda; memories. He gave me many.
He taught me to fish, how to tie a lure, and how to cast a fly rod. He taught me the value of a rich and varied vocabulary. He taught me the pleasure that comes from a hard day’s work, and that a man isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
He told stories. Many, many stories. Stories about eating fried crickets at a monastery in Tibet, flying into a remote valley outpost in Turkey and smuggling a scimitar out for friend in another division, driving a tank convoy up treacherous mountain roads in northern Italy, or about life as a kid in Pennsylvania. He spoke fondly about his adventures, and he did it all with grace and eloquence. You’d think him a master storyteller. And he was. His repertoire was endless and endlessly entertaining. I’d listen for hours. You would’ve, too.
He was more than a storyteller, though. He was a beacon of inspiration. You see, despite his ability to spin a spellbinding narrative, he didn’t teach me with words. He taught me with his actions. His example of how to live life with gusto and treat others with compassion guides me to this day.
One summer when I was not quite a teenager he took me fishing on a family friend’s farm. We were on the water 3 hours and only caught two fish. Disappointed, we paddled back to shore, he in the back of the tiny boat, me in the front. As we approached the shoreline, hot-headed me jumped out which upset the balance of the boat and sent him feet over shoulders backward into the water and dumped most of our tackle and rods into the water. He yelped and splashed about for a moment, then realized what happened. There he was, up to his armpits in murky lake water with a bit of moss on his face. He looked up at me from the cold lake water and just started laughing at the absurdity of it all. He laughed together, I helped him out of the water, we packed up and left. He’d added another story to his collection. He’d tell it often. And he’d laugh with the same hearty pleasure each time he did.
I remember driving from Athens, GA to the Ridaeu Canal in Canada for a family fishing trip while I only had my learner’s permit. I almost wrecked the truck on the twisty roads of the Virginia mountains. I was going too fast for the road and and the truck came to rest in the front lawn of a quaint country home. He sat in the passenger seat and laughed at my panic and exasperation while the dust settled around us. “That’s a fine example of how to miss a turn!” he said with a big grin. “Put it in reverse, kid. Let’s get outta here”.
That’s how he was. Always jovial and kind. It’s these examples of him that I’ll remember most. How he always called my grandmother “super” (because she is). His boisterous laugh. His giant smile. His warm embrace. Everyone who ever met him left with a smile and a brighter day.
He was a big man, both in stature and personality. The only thing that could eclipse the size of his presence was the size of his heart. His generosity of spirit and never-ending encouragement helped me become the man I am today. Without his influence I’d be a lesser me. Thankfully, I have these memories to fill the void left by his absence.
I love you grandad. I’ll miss you. We all will.