Monday, March 21, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #4

A WARTS 'N ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN ORDINARY GUY

1000 WORDS ON…MY GRANDFATHER AND I

Written : October 21, 2004 (Speech done August 27, 2004)

It was about 1:30am when the call came. As soon as I saw the words Royal Hospital Donnybrook on my phone I knew what had happened. The head nurse from the night shift complied with my wish to ring me on my mobile and not subject Grandma to being first to hear the news. At the very least he had passed away in his sleep like he had always wanted.

So now what to do? I had the kids staying with me. I wanted them out of here when I told Grandma. I had to get them ready in the morning and bring them to school, THEN come home and break the news. Still not quite 2am, I called Sandra and told her. She told me she would take the day off work on Friday to be with me. I was so glad she was there when I eventually informed Mrs Lee of her husband’s passing.

Of course there was no way I was going to sleep now. Then it struck me – what if I have to say something at the funeral? I set up my laptop and put together a speech.

“First I would like to thank all of you for your incredible support at this difficult time, it has been a source of great comfort to Mrs Lee and all of her family.

In 1976 Mr Joseph Francis Lee was diagnosed as having cancer of the throat. At the age of 63 he had already led a full rewarding and productive life, serving his country in World War II, raising 3 children and serving his community as principal of the local high school in Pittsburg, California. Many would say he had spent his time on earth and that his day had come, but as far as he was concerned he was not yet done with his responsibilities.

He and his wife Ann had already accepted the challenge of raising their grandson as their own, and with this in mind he made the incredibly brave decision to move his family lock stock and barrel here to Ireland on the strength of his research which told him this was the best place for me to receive a good Catholic upbringing and education.

And so in September 1977 he retired and the three of us emigrated here when I was only 8 years old, and shortly after our arrival he had his operation to remove his larynx, a procedure though while it left him without a voice, it was one that gave him an extra 26 years of life, all of which he devoted primarily to myself and my rearing. All I have in my life right now, especially my two beautiful children, stands as a testament to those sacrifices.

I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of Mrs Lee and indeed all the Lee family on both sides of the Atlantic to thank all of the staff at The Royal Hospital, Donnybrook for all their round the clock care and attention they paid to Mr Lee over the years. There is no doubt that without them we would not have been able to cope, and we will do what we can to ensure they can continue their incredible work.

Joseph Lee was a man of few words even before his operation, but believe me, when he felt strongly about something, his lack of vocal chords would not stand in the way of him getting his point across. I am reminded of a particular incident about ten years ago when we went to The Punch Bowl in Booterstown for a pint to discuss or actually lock horns over a particular family matter for which we had both drawn very distinct lines in the sand. I won’t give details of the argument, but suffice to say his fury at my not complying to his wishes was matched by my frustration at not being understood by someone two generations my senior. We proceeded to go at it hammer and tongs in the pub until we reached an agreement, but it was long after the incident that I realised how it must have looked to the other customers, with me shouting and roaring at a poor old man that didn’t appear to be even answering back!!!!

Because he was in the most part a quiet, private yet extremely proud man, he won’t want me to be going on for too long up here, but I wish to conclude by making one important point. I have chosen my words very carefully up to now, referring to him either or as “Him” or “Mr Lee”. This is because if I call him my grandfather as befits his biological relationship to me, I would be doing the man a serious disservice.

Even up to his last few weeks in Donnybrook he would introduce me to people as his son. Even when he could not recognise others around him he would always acknowledge me. Now it just so happens that in the last few years I have both made first contact with and begun a relationship with my birth father, which in its own way has been a welcome addition to the lives of myself and my children.

But before you all today, I wish to make it perfectly clear that as long as I draw breath I will consider Joseph Francis Lee to be my father in every true meaning of the word, and I am in no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to watch over the family he leaves behind and give us all the strength to carry on. Thanks for everything, Dad, I love you. May He Rest In Peace.”

I can’t lie, when Father Kennedy informed me the following Monday afternoon that his church did not encourage speeches, and that I could do a reading instead at the funeral the next day, I was a relieved man. It was almost as if someone “up there” was helping me through it all.
© JL Pagano 2004
NEXT, #5 : 1000 WORDS ON...MY GRANDMOTHER AND I

2 comments:

Buffalo said...

Well done, my friend. Well done.

Michèle said...

A great speech for a strong man. I'm sure you make him proud.