Thursday, January 2, 2014

The gentle virtues of Grandpa Bud

From Toledo, IA
Grandpa Bud (center), his son (left), and my family
at the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., April 2012
On the last day of 2013, we buried my wife's grandfather, Bud Thiessen. He had been "Grandpa" to me since I married into the family nearly 15 years ago, and it was an honor to be asked by the family to officiate his funeral and graveside services.

Bud was a farmer and a truck driver. He was also a WWII veteran and proud of his service, which inspired a number of men in subsequent generations to serve in the military. He's pictured here at the right on an "Honor Flight," a program that transports WWII veterans from all over the country to the memorial on the National Mall in D.C. We were living in Virginia at the time and so were privileged to be there with him and his son, Sam, my wife's uncle. In light of all this, he could be rightly characterized as a "man's man."

So while courage and honor were two of his noble virtues, in my eulogistic reflections I wanted to also lift out what I took to be Grandpa Bud's "gentler" virtues that were crucial to his being a good man, as he indeed was. My intent for doing so was theologically rooted in the fact that virtues which might commonly be called "gentle" are precisely those that Jesus taught and exhibited himself, and the New Testament writers commend to those who would follow Christ. In naming and celebrating them in Grandpa Bud, I also encouraged those who knew him to embody these in their/our own lives. So they are...

Joy & Kindness - In the picture above, you can see a bit of the radiant smile that Bud often wore on his face. He lit up the whole room with his smile. He also loved to dance with his wife, Marlene, which they did at Erin's and my wedding back in 1999, captured in a picture that still stands in our house. Shortly after learning of his death, Erin looked back over her life with Grandpa Bud and couldn't recall a single time that he had raised his voice or lost his temper with her. He was always sweet and kind to her. A former neighbor said during the open sharing time in the eulogy that, "Bud never had a bad thing to say about anybody," a testimony that he had a charitable spirit toward others.

Honesty & Humility - Grandma told me this in the days leading up to the funeral, that Bud was an honest man. She told the story of him during a stint as a seed salesman, encountering a salesman from another seed company. He came back to the office to report that not only had he not sold any seed, but he had bought seed from the other guy! "He just wanted to see how it was," Grandma said. A local ag supply businessman I talked to at the visitation also named honesty and integrity in Bud, saying that as a young businessman it was hard for him to get respect from older farmers, but that Bud always treated him well and as an equal.

Patience, forbearance, and neighborliness - Grandma told stories of farm equipment going missing for sometimes years at a time, only to discover later that a neighbor had come by to borrow it and hadn't returned it. Bud was never upset in these instances, giving his neighbors the benefit of the doubt and not staying cross with them. One set of neighbors shared with me at the meal following the graveside service that Bud and Marlene were always great neighbors, and that he would be sorely missed.

One story shared during the eulogy by a friend and neighbor, Franky, bears repeating here. One day Bud stopped by Franky's farm while he was in the barn milking cows. While chatting, the phone rang and it was a person wanting to buy some of his corn. As Franky conducted business on the phone, he suddenly felt a cold draft on his legs. He looked down and his pants were around his ankles! Grandpa Bud had snuck up and "pantsed" him as he did business on the phone, and was just then sitting back "laughing to beat all hell." Franky told the lady on the phone that he'd lost his pants and then continued to transact the sale of corn.

When Franky hung up the phone, Bud said, "Franky, you sold your corn and lost your pants!" To which Franky replied, "You got it backwards, Bud; I lost my pants and then sold my corn!"

This story is a gem, and it shows that a good sense of humor (and a bit of mischief) were also part of how Bud was a good neighbor. So it's stories like that and grandpa's "gentler" virtues that will help me remember well of the man my daughter called "Grandpa Buddy"...

With other Iowan WWII vets in D.C.

See also: In the dappled light of my grandfather (Feb. 2011)

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