Grandpa Joe was born January 2, 1916 and died August 9, 2005. He was 89 years old. The funeral was at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Yorktown, where I haven't been for 25-30 years. It was your traditional ornate rural Texas Catholic churches, with marble column arcades on either side and a barrel-vaulted ceiling with intricate patterns in the tin ceiling. There were beautiful stained glass windows that were vaguely Byzantine, and the flat wooden crucifix was decorated with distinctly Byzantine iconagraphy. Rather than the life-size crucifix above the altar, this church had an enormous pillared, marble "palace" that made me think of St. Peter's Basilica (even though it didn't actually look all that much like St. Peter's Basilica) that held a small (maybe two feet tall) golden version. Lovely and unusual. Incense filled the air, and I dearly love incense. Very turn-back-the-clock. But on closer inspection, the columns were actually painted to look like marble, rather than the real thing. Candle and incense soot stained the upper reaches of the walls. In various places moulding was cracked and deteriorating. Plaster was cracking and crumbling from the walls and paint was peeling here and there. I noticed later that the windows at the entrance of the church had been broken out at some point and covered with water-stained plywood. It felt old and poor. Yorktown is an agricultural community, and it's grayed noticeably over the years. It's shrunk and withered along with all the other ag-based towns in this part of the state. The land is tired, and that's reflected in the church.
Grandpa Joe's casket was open at the entrance for final viewing before mass. I hadn't seen him in 20 years, but I wasn't prepared for the shock. He didn't look a thing like I'd remembered. Firstly, I can't ever remember seeing him without a cowboy hat on. But here, obviously, he wasn't wearing one, and to see him with his white hair combed back was disconcerting to say the least. And he'd always been fat, the type of stereotypical round Texas cowboy farmer. After he suffered a stroke maybe 8-10 years back, I'd heard that he ballooned up over 300 pounds, so I was expecting the worst. But this man in this casket had to have weighed significantly less than 200. In the last year, I'm told, he lost his taste for food and shed almost 100 pounds. Which would've been a positive development for his health under normal circumstances, but here portended that the end was near.
As the priest led the funeral mass, I was startled to learn that Grandpa played the guitar. I never even knew he owned a guitar. Certainly he never played it while my family was around. As I thought about it, I realized that I never really knew the man--certainly not like I knew Grandpa Fritz, who died of cancer back in '98. Grandpa Joe was always a fixture in his chair in the living room of his home outside of Nordheim. I can't remember him ever saying anything to me, although in my memory he wasn't unfriendly. When he wasn't sitting in his chair, he was going out to feed the cows. He had an old, battered white pickup--a '52 Chevy or like year model, with an odd welded iron frame that boxed in the bed. He'd drive out into the yellow mesquite pasture and us kids would throw flakes of hay out of the back for the cattle, who swarmed after us like locusts. A section of land by the hay barn was more lush, since that's where the windmill and water tanks were, and wild melons grew there. About the size of a cannonball, the dark green melons weren't really edible, but they were good to throw at each other and crack open to scatter the white seeds everywhere. There was slowly rusting farm equipment here and there, and the old, concrete dairy barn that hadn't seen a drop of milk in 50 years. It was filled with all manner of junk, and along the eaves of the back wall, where it backed up against a cedar grove, was a mass concentration of the most mind-bogglingly enormous black widow spiders I'd ever seen.
So my feelings in church were those of nostalgia and sadness, but not necessarily for Grandpa's death. He'd lived a long life, and had more years after his stroke than probably anyone expected. I daresay I won't have room to complain if I'm fortunate enough to reach 89 years. But it's sad that he never met Calista or Keela. That my sister, Candice, was only 2 the last time we visited those grandparents. It's sad that idiotic family feuds devolve into finger-pointing and self-important martyrdom. It was an embarrassment and a shame that my father was the only family member not there, despite some very sincere and heartfelt efforts over the years--and prior to the funeral, in particular--to make amends and rebuild bridges that had been burned years before. I find myself wondering if there is some bizarre genetic compulson towards estrangement in the Blaschke lineage. Our ancestor, Joseph Blaschke, came to America in 1861 via New Orleans, apparently leaving everything behind him in Europe. His three sons went their separate ways, settling different parts of the state and never having contact with each other ever again. Grandpa Joe was one of seven children, and he had a bitter feud with his brother, Weldon, that began well before my birth and ended only a couple of years ago with Weldon's death. And now my father's imperious self-importance not only refuses to allow him to make amends with his parents and siblings, but has alienated and estranged myself, my sister, our mother from him, and is coming periously close to driving a wedge between him and at least one other son. Is there such a thing as hereditary asocial insanity?
I think, perhaps, that the tide may be beginning to turn with regards to the rest of the Blaschke family, however. While I've never been part of any of the feuds, and indeed, have only the vaguest understandings of the conflict's underpinnings (although I've pieced things together and have suspicions) the overwhelming mood at the post-interment reception was one of burying the hatchet and clearing the books of any and all old debts. My brothers and I were greeted warmly with genuine gratitude for coming (although, again, we were never avoiding that part of the family. It's just when your father severs ties with his siblings and parents, the flow of information slows to less than a trickle). There was talk about holding a full-blown family reunion next year, which would be good. In October, after Grandma has a chance to emotionally recover and the weather cools, Lisa and I are going to take the girls to visit the great-grandmother who they've never seen before. I learned that one of my uncles and aunts live on the same street as my birthmother, so the next time we visit Oma we'll drop in to say "Howdy." My cousin, Keith, who I roomed with for a year in college, is expecting his first child in a couple of weeks. His sister, a few years younger than us, has a two-year-old.
We've got 20 years of missed contact and family relationships to catch up on. It's going to take effort on everyone's parts to reconnect. Do I believe the insanity gene has been purged? Not really. Somewhere, some time, a mole hill will grow into a mountain and speaking terms will be torn asunder. It might happen in a year or so, or it might happen a generation from now. But I'm working to prevent that from happening in my immediate family, and everyone else appears to be doing the same. As far as I'm concerned, that's the important thing.
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