Her last three wishes were to go home from the hospital, to see her family, and to have a picnic. She got to do all three of those things (the picnic was in her bedroom) and then died peacefully in her sleep that night. Myrtle Garfield (Brown) Coggeshall, known to me as Gramma, was 84.
She was the nicest woman in the world. Three months ago, I wrote that her husband was the nicest man in the world. I'm not just reusing the phrase to say something sweet about someone I loved. It was true. Ask any of the doctors and nurses who attended her in the last years of her life. They told us so and clearly meant it. But they were only affirming what others -- people from church, neighbors, friends of her kids, and so on -- had been telling us all along. Not that we needed to be told. We knew better than anybody.
The church youth groups she and my grandfather led knew it too. One particular youth group was dwindling until they took it over and revitalized it simply because of how well-loved they were and how good they were with kids and teenagers. She was active with Girl Scouts and Pioneer Girls, too. It is telling that her obituary caught the attention of a woman who posted on the funeral home's memorial guestbook that she remembered my grandmother as her scout leader in 1957. "She was so kind, accepting, and patient," she wrote. "I especially enjoyed her company." To my knowledge, they hadn't seen or corresponded with each other in the five decades since, but Gramma had obviously made a positive impression strong enough to survive the years.
Her devotion to her family was profound. Growing up, I scarcely remember her having any interests but her love for her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and for the family God gave her. The highlights of her life were visits from her siblings, children, and grandchildren. Between visits, she wrote letters. I saved many of them and recently pulled them out to look over. Her words glowed with the joy of spending time with me, even in the limited way that writing letters entails. When she sent birthday cards, phrases like "Very Special" and "Lots of Love" were invariably underlined two or three times -- because it wasn't enough for her to pick out a card that said the right things. She had to make sure you knew she meant them.
I know few others, if anybody, who knew how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life more. She read books voraciously -- mostly mysteries, westerns, and historical dramas. As early as elementary school, she would regularly walk several miles to the library. When she'd gone through all the books there, she got special permission to go to a private library instead. All my life, the table next to her favorite armchair had at least a Bible and a novel on it. But it wasn't until I was older that I realized how much she read, because she didn't read much when I was around. She was too busy doing things with us. There were bubbles to blow, cartoons to watch, and card games to play. The books could wait.
She loved water. Canoe trips on lakes were wonderful. Ferry rides over the ocean were better still. I remember taking boat rides with her. No matter how chilly the wind was, she'd stand at the rail and look out to the horizon, a permanent smile frozen on her face.
I got to know that smile well -- I'd seldom seen her without it. Not that she couldn't get frustrated or angry. As patient as she was with kids, as gracious as she was with strangers, and as quick as she was to forgive, she had no forbearance for people who were cruel or disrespectful. Impugn her Lord, her country, or her heritage at your peril. But you had to earn a sharp remark from her. Otherwise, you got that smile. It was the kind of smile that covered her whole face and lit up her eyes. She almost never looked at me without it. I got that smile when I charged in the front door as a young boy, and I got it decades later when she was laid up in the hospital. I even got it, so I'm told, when she was talking to me on the phone and I wasn't there to see it.
It was hard for her when age and a stroke wore away at her independence. She had a hard time sitting by while other people worked, and she certainly didn't want others to wait on her. She was never a burden, but that didn't stop her from feeling like one, despite our constant reassurances. I suppose if you live your whole life as selflessly as she did, it becomes a hard habit to break.
Gramma, you haven't been gone long, but I miss you so much already. I love you more than I can say.
Herbert Lee Coggeshall was born in 1922. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II as a machinist and trainer, specializing in the use of torpedoes. He married at 19; his bride was younger still. At the time, folks said it was a mistake, but 67 years of a happy marriage proved them wrong. He had four children: three daughters and one son.
These are a few of the broad facts of the life of Herbert Lee Coggeshall. But it feels so detached and dispassionate for me to recite them. Even the name "Herbert Lee Coggeshall," while familiar and certainly beloved, lacks the emotional resonance I have for the man. Because his real name was Granddad.
And here are some of the important facts of his life: His faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was solid as a rock. He loved his family with all his heart. He suffered what no parent should have to -- his first daughter died in a car crash some months after her wedding. I'm sure he carried that tragedy with him for the rest of his life.
His natural disposition was cheering and comforting to others. He was slow to anger. His laugh was infectious. The twinkle in his eye might be the most kind and gentle thing I've ever seen. He was quiet, saying probably fewer words than anyone else in my family, but when he did speak, you listened, because what he had to say was worth hearing.
His interest in carpentry and woodworking could have been a lucrative retirement job if he'd wanted it, but he didn't. He just liked making things for his family. He made practical things, like bookcases and cabinets and picture frames, but it's the toys that spring most to mind: wooden cars and planes with working wheels and propellers. The fruits of his labors were the highlights of many Christmases.
When I was young -- I don't know how old, but maybe six or eight -- my family took me to see Mary Poppins in the theater during a rerelease. Granddad stayed home. When we got home, I jumped in his lap to tell him all about it.
"We saw Mary Poppins!" I said.
"Mary Popping?" he asked, his eyes wide with wonder and apparent sincerity.
"No!" I laughed. "Mary Poppins."
"Mary Popinjay?" he asked.
"Noooo!" I laughed again. "Mary Poppins!"
"Mary Popcorn!" he said.
I cracked up even more. "Nooooooo, Mary POPPINS!"
Remember what I said about the twinkle in his eye? It was bright then, as it was every time he spoke with us kids. Even when we weren't kids anymore.
He was in poor health for the last several months. Some of the nurses and aides that took care of him toward the end of his life, even ones who hadn't known him long or well, told us he was the nicest man in the world. He was like that. All his life, strangers would take an instant liking to him.
Until two weeks ago, he was seemingly though not securely on the road to recovery. But going into Memorial Day weekend, we got the call that he'd taken a turn for the worse, and it would be a good idea for us to visit him in the hospital. He was on a respirator and therefore under a degree of sedation. But he knew we were there: his wife, three children, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and all spouses, several at a time, rotating in and out over the course of the weekend. We told him we loved him, even though he knew it. With the respirator and the sedation, he couldn't tell us he loved us, but he didn't have to. His life spoke for him.
He died at 87 on March 28, 2009, and the world is poorer for it. Granddad, I'm going to miss you so much. Give my aunt a hug for me.
So "early January" turned into "late January," but the new feature has now, as of this moment, been unleashed on the unsuspecting public. It's a novel that I started back in February and (more or less) wrapped up in November. It took up most of my free time in 2008, which is why updates on RinkWorks were scarcer than usual. As you might imagine, the feeling of having finally released this thing is just incredible, although I don't think it's fully hit me yet. Besides the satisfaction of completing and releasing such a personal project that took so long, there is also the relief just to have let the cat out of the bag. My work on the novel was a difficult secret to keep.
As my last 2008 entry says, I'm already three months into a new project. My current goal is to start unrolling it in March (it's something that I'll be releasing a little bit at a time over the course of many months), but that's an estimate, not a promise.
I'll also soon be resuming the playtesting of a new Adventure Games Live game, so that's around the corner as well.
Looks like it'll be another week. So what's going on? Why do I have to delay the release of a feature that's already done? I'm still coughing pretty horribly, and that means I can't go visit my grandparents this weekend. That, in turn, means I can't show them the new thing, which I want to do before opening it here, lest they see it on the site and get it spoiled for them. Have I cleared things up, or just made things more confusing?
Either way, Stupid Day is January 21st, and that doesn't move.
The previous entry mentions a new feature in "early" January. A particularly brutal cold or flu or something preempted that. My revised estimate is to expect the new thing on Monday.