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.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Kindness Does Matter!

In December, when my dear friend, Nancy, asked us to again honor her beautiful daughter, Ashley, with acts of kindness during her birthday month, I started to think about what I could do this year. Shortly after that, I went to Walmart, and I did my usual – saying “excuse me” or “thank you” while moving around other shoppers, letting people go ahead of me, smiling at others – what I consider to be standard adult behavior, but I saw so many grumpy people, people who didn’t respond and many who didn’t even acknowledge me. I chuckled to myself thinking, well this year would be easy. I practically did a month’s worth of random acts of kindness on one shopping trip. Now don’t start the usual Walmart jokes (which I’ve been guilty of also). It had nothing to do with that. This is a pretty friendly store normally, and the town I live in now, Huntley, is generally friendly also.

I thought it might be a one-time thing, that people were having bad days, but in another store the next day, the same thing happened. People were just not happy, or kind, or at peace … whatever it was. Again, I continued to be kind, doing what I could to make someone’s day a little better. But I also was concerned this might be the new normal. I decided it must be the stress of the holidays, and I let it go at that.

Fast forward to a recent trip to a grocery store in Florida. I thought people had to be as full of joy as I was to be where it was warm and the sun was shining. Again, though, most people were not smiling, did not appear happy, and sometimes weren’t even polite. And this was in Florida!

So now I’m officially concerned. I’m afraid the tone of the country in general has affected us all. I know when things are stressful and people are unhappy or angry, we all tend to pull back from others. I was in a very toxic work situation a few years ago, and as the “divide and conquer” mentality continued to beat us down, we all realized we were so busy protecting ourselves that we lost our wonderful ability to be a great team. We all still cared for each other, for sure, but when the tone of the organization changed, we all changed with it.

I am afraid that this is what’s happened to our country in general. People who promote fear are affecting all of us, and we cannot let that happen. We cannot let that happen! That’s how “divide and conquer” triumphs. I know that now …. whether it’s in the workplace or in our country, turning us against each other will cause all of us to lose. It affects everyone.

Earlier today, I read the article about George H.W. Bush in People Magazine. It told how modest he was, how compassionate and kind he was, how much empathy he had for others. I think I knew all this, but it really hit home because that’s how the world should work. He never let anything affect how he behaved toward others. If you know me at all, you know I almost never agreed with him politically, but I did always like and admire him, in large part for his compassion. We need to remember how that’s done.

Regardless of how others choose to be, I will continue to choose to be kind, to go out of my way to make someone’s day a little brighter, to act in the way Ashley chose to be, even when she was fighting that damn cancer. If she could do it, there’s no excuse for the rest of us not to.