Friday, June 8, 2012

In Memoriam: John Wilbur Jeppson (1926-2012)


There is a painting at the foot of the stairs of my childhood home. It shows an older man clutching the hand of a young boy as they walk, backs turned, through an autumn path.

That image, reproduced in watercolor by my mother, is taken from a photograph of me and my grandfather on a picnic stroll during my pre-teen yeers.

It is one of many images that come to mind when I think of my grandpa. There is the one, posted above, of him as a missionary in Hawaii posing in a silver Speedo. Or the hand-drawn caricature that has been on the wall of my grandmother's basement for as long as I remember. There is also the photograph of my grandpa and grandma (a.k.a TuTu, a Hawaiian word) at my grandpa's 80th birthday party that I carried with me during my mission in Brazil.

My paternal grandfather passed away when I was 2 or 3, so for all intents and purposes John Jeppson is the only grandfather I've ever had. My one, Hawaiian/American/Canadian grandfather who was laid to rest in the Brigham City Cemetery yesterday, June 7 2012.

Call it luck (I call it something else) but I was able to have lunch with grandpa about one week before he died. My parents called me unexpectedly, said that they and my grandparents were in town and headed to Sweet Tomatoes (where we always went) and wondered if I was free.

It was a lovely afternoon. TuTu asked me about the world of journalism and we all chatted about politics, religion and life. Like many lunches of the last few years, Grandpa was quiet, sitting patiently as we all tried to talk clearly and slowly despite our natural Jeppson tendency to accelerate and amplify our voices. When they dropped me off, TuTu came inside to see my apartment, and we chatted for a minute or two.

Grandpa stayed in the car, and before she left TuTu turned to me and said "Your grandfather has been very tired lately. I hate to think that you'll remember him like this, less involved."

I assured her that wasn't the case, but now that I'm at a keyboard I would like to tell you, Grandma TuTu, exactly how I'll remember grandpa:

I will remember him as a man of incredible physical strength. He will always be the man that would grab us grandchildren and hang us upside down by our ankles while we squirmed and screamed. I'll remember when we rafted down the Snake river and he snatched Katie out of mid-air and pulled her back inside. I'll remember him challenging us to swimming contest at the various hotel pools we stayed at (for hours) and winning every time.

I will remember him as a gifted musician, like the Man of Song concerts and his voice that he possessed with absolute mastery as both a booming baritone and tender Tenor. From the Hawaiian music he would play on his Ukelele on the fireplace mantel to the "Danny Boys" and "Moon Rivers" we would sing by the campfire.  I will remember him whistling along every time I played the piano or leading us in songs as we hiked through Zion's or drove through a "short cut" in the car.

I will remember him as an academic, like your and his practice of rewarding us for memorizing poems or his knowledge of the scientific and latin names of plants and flowers. It was grandpa that taught me to love a crossword puzzle and to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature.

I will remember him as a spiritual giant, from his years of dedicated service in the LDS temple to his insistence that every year at Christmas we read the nativity, no matter how much we just wanted to play with our presents.

I will remember him for always saying "WHAT DO YOU SAY, BEN?" as his salutation when I arrived at your house and for the "OOOH-AH" call that sent us grand kids running back home from the far reaches of the gulley. I will remember the crazy faces he could make.

I will remember him for being a phenomenally handsome man, and the hope I feel that male hair paterns really are passed down from your maternal grandfather.

I'll remember that I never heard him say an unkind word. Mostly, I'll remember him as one of the most caring men I've ever known, the consummate gentleman and scholar and the best grandfather I could have ever asked for.

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