Friday, January 25, 2019

The Head Nut

My father-in-law died unexpectedly last week. He had a heart attack, and as the texts were making the rounds with that news, it wasn’t long before the worst news arrived. He was gone.

I was not at all prepared like I had somewhat been when losing my own parents. Not only had I never envisioned Bill, Sr. dying (he had quite the stubborn streak), but I was a bit surprised at how awful I felt.

I had grown pretty fond of him over the years. He had come a very long way from the man I first met in the late ‘70s – a proud graduate of the school of hard knocks and a firm believer in tough love. I won’t dwell on those years except to say as gruff as he could be, he did love a good comeback. Every time I was a smartass in return to something he said, he would laugh and take it in stride, almost like he was hoping for that response.

As you may know, he’s actually my ex father-in-law. Dave and I are divorced, but because we are good friends, the Chestnuts still include me in the family, which makes me tear up sometimes, especially this past week when they listed me as one of the surviving family members. And then when I told them how stunned and honored I was, they reacted like they didn’t know why I would expect otherwise, which of course, made me tear up again.

From a blog post I wrote a few years ago:
“My father-in-law, who likes for people to think he’s a grump (and to his credit, he’s very good at it), told me that even if Dave or I remarried, I would always be a Chestnut. That’s probably the biggest speech I’ve ever heard him make. It may not be a lot by most people’s standards, but it was a major statement from this man of very few words. Then my mother-in-law (never a grump) said pretty much the same thing to me, that no matter what, I’d always be a Chestnut.”

So I was included in just about everything the family did this week to give him a great send-off. I was so touched. As you can imagine, the stories were flying. One of the hottest topics was his home improvement exploits, which were legendary. The man never met a level. He would just eye something and pronounce it ok (and it never was). These were not little projects, mind you. We’re talking stairs, porches, a sun room … every year we all couldn’t wait to see what the new addition would be. It always made for great laughs and still does.

He loved to organize items in his house. Spreadsheets and labels were some of his favorite things. So of course, that had to be acknowledged. Check out the front of his urn:

I can’t look at this without laughing. He would have LOVED this! I don’t know who actually thought of it, but this was excellent.

You can’t see it, but the yellow ribbon in front, in elegant print, says, “Head Nut.” Again, perfect.

Dave gave the eulogy. He was so spot on, telling many funny stories and describing him perfectly. When he sat down, there was a slight pause, and then we all broke into a loud round of applause. The pastor, laughing, said, “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and that’s the first time anyone’s ever applauded!” Yep, welcome to a day with the Chestnuts.

I have to add this little tidbit because I know it would have made him laugh. When we were at the cemetery, under the tent, during the prayers, a huge wind came up, and it sounded like the tent was going to blow over. It scared me, and before I could stop myself, I said, “Jesus!” I didn’t think it was that noticeable, but after the service, several Chestnuts were asking who yelled “Jesus” when the wind blew. I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know, so I owned up to it. Yes, it was the Jewish family member … another very proud moment for me. Fortunately, this crowd thought it was funny, and I have a feeling it will be brought up again for a very long time.

Although always a character, Bill mellowed over the years, I think in large part due to his ever-expanding family. What started with the seven original siblings has now grown to include 20 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. When you add in the spouses, cousins, and a few assorted others (like me), that’s quite a group.

Leah posted these beautiful words:
     “It's a special thing to be a member of the loud, quirky Chestnut family, something that I appreciate more and more as I get older. Today we said our final goodbye to Grandpa Nut - the patriarch of our crew.
    There are MANY stories that could be shared, but I keep going back to a quiet moment (which is rare in our family). The last few years at Chestnut Christmas, I'd catch a glimpse of Grandpa sitting contently as he watched family sharing stories and laughter. There's a lot of that going on with 60+ people in one house! I think he enjoyed these gatherings and having everyone in one place. It turns out that I do too.
     There will be a missing piece at our next gathering, but his presence will still be there. I'll miss you, Grandpa.”

I’m so glad we were together for Chestnut Christmas.

My favorite picture
I’m glad Bill and Flo (my mother-in-law, the family matriarch and Bill’s wife of 63 years) recently went on a long road trip that included a lot of casino visits, and they also went on a cruise.

I’m glad he got to see the Cubs win the World Series.

I guess mostly I’m glad I get to be a Chestnut, and that I was a part of the loud, rambunctious group that sent him off in style this week.

I think he would have loved it all.

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