Saturday is my grandfather’s funeral and unfortunately I’m not going to be there to say my final goodbye to him. It especially saddens me because it’s not just goodbye to him, but goodbye to family traditions that he and my late grandmother worked hard to uphold.
I feel like there were four Roger Rech’s in this world – the life before kids, the life with kids, the life with grandkids, and the life without my grandmother.
I obviously never knew the Roger Rech before kids, but I like to think that life started when he met my grandmother in high school. He and Grandma would talk lightly of it, especially when they would talk about my great Aunt Kate that they went to high school with. It wasn’t until after my grandmother died that Grandpa would open up about stories of his time in the military and missing my grandmother. At one time he shared with me a picture of my young grandmother sitting on a car. While it would seem like an ordinary picture, you could see the picture was folded and he explained that he kept it in his wallet and it was what kept him going during his military time while he missed my Grandmother. He said Grandma was proud of the car she had purchased for him with my Great Grandma Lela and both were waiting for him to return. You could hear the love and longing for my grandmother as he told those stories.
The second Roger Rech was the father of seven children. Again, this time was before me. Interestingly, this was also not a time he shared stories of, but my parents and aunts and uncles did. I knew a few things were important to him, which he instilled in his children: agriculture, hard work, saving, family, and education. I believe he’s proud of how his children have helped to instill these in their children.
The third was Grandpa Rech and the one I got to grow up with. During this time the household duties were still split with Grandma spending much of the time in the house with Grandpa outside on the farm. Grandpa would come into the house every day to eat and in the afternoons to nap on the living room floor. When he came in he’d always ask about our sewing projects and want an update on school. On rainy or winter days I realized his knowledge capacity when I’d find him reading the Encyclopedias for fun or crushing a game of Jeopardy on the computer. For fun, he’d also come out for a game of basketball or sledding with us and seemed ageless. Given his passion for farming, he taught the next generations what he knew and loved spending time on the farm with the grandkids. He’d find a common interest with each of us, whether baling hay or introducing us to the new farm kittens. He’d also let us keep our animals there after we moved off the farm and give us regular updates on how they were doing. This was my favorite part because it gave me an excuse to talk to Grandpa and make conversation, jealous of the farming time my brothers got to spend with him.
The last Roger Rech was the one without my grandmother. This stage started before we lost my grandmother, but as she was sick. I remember watching both their patience as she taught him how to cook and bake his favorite recipes, knowing one day it would be a skill he would need. This is when Grandpa also showed his tender side and started taking over all the traditions that Grandma had upheld for the family. He’d send a card with a heartfelt letter for every birthday, telling a story about what was happening on the farm. He even did this the day my son, Harrison, was born, talking about what was happening and his wish to teach Harrison how to drive the farm truck as he got older. In Grandpa’s mind, he was always going to be there and I think we all believed the same. Every time I would come home to Wisconsin to visit, Grandpa always prioritized the time to come into town to visit and get updates on our lives. He was never too busy and nothing was ever more important.
I think that’s why it pains me to not be there for the funeral. My life got too busy and his time ended before I could make it back and show my respects. I hope that as he looks down on my life, he feels pride in how I raise my children with the same values he taught his children and grandchildren. Our family was blessed to know him and further blessed to learn from him. His legacy will live on in all of us.