The central purpose to funerals and memorial services goes without saying.
This past weekend in Portland we remembered and honored my uncle Henry. It was a wonderful, uplifting, spiritual and touching experience spread over several days.
But these sorts of gatherings are secondarily a catalyst to bring extended families together. A forced family reunion if you will. It is sometimes a good thing and sometimes maybe not.
My experience in Portland this past weekend clearly embraced the former.
There was much happiness in remembrance. I’ve broken, yet again, the cardinal rule of posting a letter ahead of Ellen and Reid reading it, but in this instance time is of the essence. I’m sure they’ll understand.
Here is the letter that will likely arrive at their homes today.
September 17, 2012
Ellen/Reid: It was a good few days in Portland. The memorial service was well done (Henry outlined the service in its entirety) and it was great to be around the rest of the Andersen clan both before and after the service. They handled the entire extended weekend about as well as could be done. Aunt Mary acquitted herself as you might expect, with grace and still more grace. Her family group did believe, and that as Hank had preached, that there was something better awaiting him and most certainly a higher calling. So things went swimmingly in that regard. They were glad to see us cousins there, and we tried to stay out of the way as best we could.
The early highlight was your cousin once removed, Eli. He had fashioned a lengthy surfboard out of cedar, and proceeded climb aboard it to paddle – by hand, no oars – the length of the western side of Vancouver Island which is not quite 400 miles. Even one mile in the Pacific on a wooden board knowing that there are creatures swimming below us who could just as easily chow down on hapless boarders would be too much for the lot of us. He gave a talk on his adventure at a local Patagonia store in downtown Portland on Thursday night, and it was well attended. Patagonia is a sponsor of Eli and there was, as someone in the family said, a small ‘shrine’ to Eli in the store including photos and the actual board dangling ahead. It was quite inspirational. Eli exists for that very kind of thing and this was just another chapter in his saga. He’s gone across the U.S. on bike with his dad, Tom and brother Ben, built yet other boards, and paddled other salt waters along the Pacific coast.
Ralph and Gayle arrived Thursday, and that night we went up to Ben’s home where we ate broiled chicken and other good foods. The highlight was an audio tape that Tom’s wife, Jessica (a really good book and magazine writer) had recorded of Henry a few years back describing the Christmas Eve sinking of the Leopoldville, a World War II troop ship sunk by the Nazis that claimed about 750 – 1,000 lives. Henry was one of the handful up on deck who survived because they were there to sing carols when the torpedoes slammed into the hull. His account was riveting, in part because it was already dark outside when the tape started, and he retold the story so well. It was good for the family to hear that.
The family assembled a couple of other times aside from the service. We convened Saturday after the service for lunch at the church and later that day for a relaxed reception on the penthouse floor where Mary lives. We had a meal there, too, but before that some of us took a side trip to have the best tacos I have ever eaten. It was at a seedy joint named Robo-Taco, and they were just incredible. There was a funny moment during the post-service reception at Mary’s place. Henry was cremated, and they returned the ashes to the family, but they returned other non-burnable items in a clear plastic bag, too, such as Henry’s replacement knees. We all tried to guess how the knees worked – Ben took them out of the bag – in a scene that Tim described as macabre. It was a good moment of levity. So the family took things very much in stride, and we would not have missed it.
I hoofed it around Portland a fair amount in part because my hotel, the vaunted Inn at Convention Center, was a total fleabag/dump. But otherwise it is a great town. High emphasis on mass transit and a great light rail service that covers much of the metro area. Tons and tons of bike riders (the pedal kind of bikes). The weather was divine and conducive to hoofing it.
But I’m glad to be home now. A few hundred work emails will grab your attention, so I am back at the entrance to the salt mines. Pretty soon I’ll be fully immersed in it.