Sunday, April 1, 2007

April Fool's Day

Yes, three blog posts in one day.

As my last blog mentioned, today is April Fool's Day. Fun!

April Fool's Day is, appropriately, my nephew Evan's birthday (four years old today). Evan is a lot of fun. While he looks a lot like his father's side of the family, rather than ours, I would like to think he and I at least share a sense of humour. We both really appreciate doodie jokes and fart jokes.

The last time I visited my sister's house, a couple of weeks ago, Evan was running around, breaking stuff, throwing stuff, etc. As my sister was not in the room, I took it upon myself to speak to him and tell him to try to calm down a bit. He put his hands on his hips and said "UNCLE LLOYD! I DON'T LIKE THE SMELL OF YOU!"

"Really, Evan? And what smell is that?"

"KINDA SMELLS LIKE FARTY BUM!"

What could I do? I laughed hard, validating this behaviour. I'm a good uncle.

From a good farty-bum joke to the down side of April 1: it has been two years today since my father's funeral. The only thing that put a happy note on that day was knowing that Evan was excited about his birthday (at two, he couldn't understand anything else, which is how it should be). Well, that and the flask of whiskey my brother-in-law gave me to keep me from hyperventilating before reading the eulogy.

Now that I have this blog set to automatically import into Facebook, there are people who read it who knew my father, so I thought I would put the text of the eulogy that I read that day here. Some of you heard it when I read it, some of you read a copy of it, and some of you don't care. But I'm putting it here anyhow, as a bit of a tribute to my Dad. He liked a good laugh as much as anybody, so I'm sure he wouldn't mind me following the farty thing with his eulogy. Here it is.

Eulogy for Gunnar Ravn - (1929-2005) - April 1, 2005

For those of you who don't know me, I should start by introducing myself. My name is Lloyd Ravn, and I am the youngest of Gunnar and Lois's five children. But if it's easier for you, you can call me Mark. Everyone else does.

A few years ago, my father and I were watching the news on TV, and there was a story about the funeral of a celebrity. The funeral was a huge party, and the reporter mentioned that the man had requested that there be no tears at his funeral, only happiness. Dad said to me that this would be his wish too, that there be no tears at his funeral. Of course, I told him that I couldn't promise that, but I did promise that we would do our best to find a good balance between our sadness and the happy memories we all have of our time with him. Today, I have the opportunity to keep that promise and take a few minutes to tell you about some of the many memories of my father that make my family and I smile when we think of them. Hopefully we can all smile a bit through our sadness.

For me, the story about my Dad that always makes me smile the most is one he often told about his youth, one that I think was probably the happiest time of his childhood. He and his family were living on a farm called White Lilly Farm, near Five Points. Dad was about twelve at the time, and was a voracious reader, a trait that continued well into adulthood. He had saved up his money, earned from doing various chores, and ordered some books through a mail-order bookseller. The farm was quite a ways into the woods, so they had to meet the mailman up the road to collect their mail. On the day that he knew his books were to arrive, he hopped onto a horse and rode out, bareback, to collect his package. When he had them, he was so excited that he galloped his horse all the way home, which was very much against his father's rules. I can picture that young man, with his books in one hand, holding on tight with the other, racing home with an excited smile, and I like to think that what he felt on that day must be a big part of what heaven is like for him now. Those books, which I too enjoyed when I was younger, are still around, with their yellowed pages and scuffed hard covers, and whenever I think of them, I smile at the thought of that story.

The passion and excitement Dad felt that day on his horse was very much like the passion he felt for many other things in his life. For instance, he was very passionate about, and felt extremely close to nature. He seemed to know every thing there was to know about the birds he would see at the feeders, or while walking through the woods. And sometimes, I thought he must know every detail of every tree on his property. It was almost as though he knew those trees by name. He loved walking in the woods, and as anybody who ever hunted or worked in the woods with him knew, he could walk through thick forests as easily as you or I can walk down the sidewalk.

Another passion of his was serving his community. Whether it was washing dishes at church suppers, or ringing the bell at the Salvation Army pot at Christmas time, Dad believed in helping out whenever and wherever he could. One time, in the late 80's, when I was working part-time at McDonald's, on a cold, windy night, an old man came up to the counter and explained that he had no place to go. He had taken a bus as far as Sussex and was hitch-hiking on to his next destination, as he had no money for bus fare. He asked if he could have a free coffee and a warm place to sit before heading on. That night, when I got home and told Dad about this man, he immediately jumped into the car, and he and I drove up and down the highway and around town, looking for him, hoping to take him to a motel for the night, and give him bus fare for the morning. In the end, we never found him, but that immediate reaction on Dad's part to help a stranger in need, sums up his selflessness when it came to doing the right thing. Sometimes he seemed to have a bit of a gruff exterior, but underneath he always had a huge heart and lots of love to go around.

As strongly as he felt about helping others in his community, this paled in comparison to the love he felt for his family. I think that the number of his nieces and nephews here today speaks volumes about Dad's relationship with his extended family. He was the official genealogist for his family, and accumulated several binders full of family records. Each time someone was married or had a baby, Dad recorded it and added more pictures to his collection. He did this not only because he found it fascinating to trace his family tree into its various branches stemming from his parents, but mostly because he loved the way it kept him close with his nieces and nephews, each of whom he loved a great deal.

Dad was a loving grandfather to thirteen beautiful grandchildren, and with each addition he was just as excited and proud as he was with the one before. My own son, who was born just seven weeks ago today, gave dad the opportunity to feel that new grandfather pride and excitement all over again. I feel very lucky to have had the chance to bring little Eric home from Toronto shortly after he was born to spend a week with his Grampie. That week, seeing the love and happiness Dad felt as he held the baby, even through his sickness and pain, will always remain one of the best weeks of my life. He loved all of his grandchildren and was very proud to see the wonderful people each of them is.

Raising five children with fairly long gaps between them (there is a seventeen year difference between the oldest and the youngest) meant that each of us probably had different experiences with Dad, as times changed and as he changed. But I know that over those years, there were certain things that remained constant from child to child. You always knew that when Dad was around, there was nothing to be afraid of, because Dad wasn't afraid of anything. And if your tummy hurt, you could always count on Dad bringing home a treat to help you feel better. Christine remembers having skating races with Dad at the Sussex Corner rink. She usually won them by a toe length. I guess that over the years, Dad's skating didn't improve much, because seventeen years later, I seemed to just barely win skating races with him too!

For each of us, some of our coziest memories are of sitting on the couch watching TV with Dad, whether he was cheering on Gordie Howe on Hockey Night in Canada, or laughing at Foghorn Leghorn on the Bugs Bunny Show, or learning from David Suzuki on The Nature of Things. Once, in the early 60's, Dad called upstairs to Chris and Mark, telling them to "come down and see these girls on the Ed Sullivan Show." They came down to see him laughing at the Beatles, who he figured were just a silly passing fancy. His musical tastes where a bit more traditional, I guess.

One trait that we all inherited from our Dad is his sense of ... well, I won't say humour, because I'm not sure how many people outside of our family would find humour in it. But last night, as Mark and I exchanged silly comments, I knew that this was another part of Dad that will always carry on.

I can't speak for the others, but one way in which I would like to be more like my father is in his ability to say exactly what he was thinking. You never wondered where you stood with him, or what he thought of what you had to say. Sometimes, particularly when I was a teenager, this could be frustrating, but overall, it was one of his best qualities.

Dad's family, being recent immigrants to Canada, moved around a lot when he was growing up. Eventually, they settled in Midland. One day, a neighbour and her daughter came to visit. Dad always remembered that pretty young girl, hiding behind her mother's skirt, peeking out at him. I guess she sensed big things to come, because he eventually married that girl and raised five children and shared thirteen grandchildren with her, through their long and loving fifty-year marriage. Mum was a wonderful partner for Dad, his best friend, constant companion, and the perfect balance, personality-wise. Mum took such wonderful care of him, and we are all so very proud of her. On Wednesday evening, one of their grandchildren said to Mum "you and Grampie looked so good together." And he was right. They fit well, and that gave their children a great model on which to build our own marriages. I know that Dad was proud to know that all five of us followed in his footsteps by marrying somebody who fit us as perfectly as Mum fit him.

Before I wrap up, I just want to say a short thank you to you all. Thank you for being here today, and for visiting yesterday. And thank you for visiting, calling, sending cards, or saying prayers during the past few months. As horrible as Dad's illness was, it helped him to learn a very important lesson. The last time I spoke with him, he repeated something he said to all of us several times while he was sick. He said "I never knew so many people would have cared." The love he felt from all of you made his last days brighter. Thank you for that.

And thank you for thinking of happy memories of Dad with me over the past few minutes. This is what Dad wanted, and it's our way of saying "we love you Dad."

Lloyd Ravn

1 comment:

Cari said...

As someone who did not know your father, may I be so bold as to say he must have been a wonderful guy, to have raised such a great son. Your eulogy was moving, and a credit to him. Nice work! Having lost my own dad many years back, it's a gap that is never filled, but the sadness does wane, and the focus does come around onto fond memories, and lessons learned.