This post is not by me. It is from a letter that we got while doing research on our family, and talks about the death of my great-grandfather, Frank “Bubba” Welsh.
I grew up in a secure family, I can’t recollect having to deal with any major problems – sure, a broken leg here, a broken arm there, a few gashes, all the childhood illnesses, braces and the lot – we were free of any lasting injury, and I had never known what it was like to love someone that I loved. My father’s parents both died before I knew them, I can remember Grandaddy Goode vaguely, but not too well, and I had one cousin, Christine, die of cancer when I was still fairly young. So I didn’t really know what it was like to have someone close to me die, that is until last May when my grandfather, Bubba, as we called him, died at the youthful age of eighty-one. I can remember it to this day, I imagine I always will…
I was going up to Rochester, New York for the summer with Jim McCarthy, a friend, and we were to stop in Blaunox, Pennsylvania, and spend a night so I could see Grandma and Bubba, my cousins, and aunts and uncles. The Thursday before we were to leave I called home to let Mom know what our final plans were, and to get a little money to subsist on. After talking [out all the details] Mom asked if she had a phone where she could reach me if she needed, due to the fact that our phone had been disconnected by the telephone co. Thinking nothing of it, I told her that she had Eddie Likes Lein’s and I gave Steve Greens, whose phone I was using, for good measure.
The following Sunday I was studying in the dorm Library when Eddie stuck his head in the door and told me my mom was on the phone. I couldn’t figure out why she would call, but I knew something must be wrong. I got the phone, and sat down on Eddies bed.
“Frank, Bubba died this morning.” “Oh God, no” and the tears began to come. “Are you o.k.?” I managed to choke out “Uh, huh.”
Mom told me that Bubba had been taken to the hospital Thurs. night, and had died earl Sunday morning, painlessly, in his sleep. Mom said she was flying up to Pittsburgh, and added that Jim and I should still stop over.
In a daze I hung up and sat in the bed, not knowing what to do.
Eddie asked if anything was wrong and I managed to tell him. He walked over to me, gave me a hug and asked if I wanted to borrow his car and go off someplace. I told him that was o.k., but i’d prefer to just go for a walk.
I made it to a tree in front of the dorms, sat down and cried. I was there when Jim came by on his way to work. He asked me if anything was wrong, and I told him there was, but that i’d tell him later. When I did tell him, he asked if I’d like to say in Blaunox for a couple days, but I told him that I’d prefer to stick to our plans.
I got up from the tree, and went for a walk, thinking about bubba, and wondering why he had to die before I got to see him again. I hadn’t seen him in three years, and even though I had tried to prepare myself for his death, with only a week to go before I saw him, I was thunderstruck. I would have been anyway, I guess. At that time I hated God for not letting me see Bubba again, I felt as if someone had stolen something dear to me, something that I would never get back.
I went back to Eddie’s room and we talks for awhile, Eddie comforting me, for he knew how I felt because his father had died a couple of years earlier. Eddie wanted to know if Bubba and I had been close, and what kind of guy Bubba had been. Eddie got me to remembering Bubba, and that in itself cheered me up.
I remembered Bubba and the stories he used to tell us – stories about hoop snakes and wolves; about little mice that crawled all over while we sat on Bubba’s lap; stories about the time during WWI when he had captured a German tank and an ever-increasing amount of Germans single-handed. I remembered the dinner table and the stories Bubba would tell us, about how he used to wring chickens’ necks on the farm near Reynoldsville, Pa. I remember the “arguments” Bubba would have with Grandma – he’d set her up, she’d take the bait, an “argument” would start, and Bubba would always have Grandma with the feeling that she had won, even though everyone else knew better. I can remember hIm quoting “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” his favorite poem. In his deep, light hearted voice he would begin:
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated SamMcGee.”
Emphasizing the right words, and using the right facial expressions he would quickly have us spellbound, and though he didn’t remember all of it, his style he would have us in peels of laughter when, and wherever he finished. The first present that Grandma had ever given Bubba was a collection of Robert W. Service poems, including Sam McGee, and I do believe that it was his most treasured possession. I can remember Bubba’s own little whiticisms, and his nickname for Ms. I was “Fanz Josef, Emperor of all Austria,” and my brother Joe was “Geribaldi.” I can also remember Bubba saying, while we were swimming at the Trails, or were about to go swimming, “I may be brave, and I may be bold, but I can’t go in, the waters too cold.” I can remember the card games with Bubba, at cards he had no peer and most of the card games I know he taught me. He wold beat everybody, except his grandchildren, of course. One time he and Grandma were playing crazy eights, and Bubba had 96 point to Grandma’s six. Bubba ended up winning 96 to 100 plus.
I remembered Bubba and missed him. Indeed, it was on his knee, or in his house on Walnut St. that I grew up quite a bit. I came to realize however, that it is my younger cousins who will never know Bubba, who will really miss Bubba.
I imagine that since the very moment Bubba entered heaven, things have not been quite the same. Bubba probably got reunited with Christine, and then began holding court for those that wished to hear his stories. By now all the souls of all the ages have heard him, if not heard him personally. The hierarchy of heaven, the saints and archangels have no doubt been relegated to second class statues by now, and Bubba has taken over their positions, I can see it as clear as day….
“Move over Gabriel, Bubba’s on his way to tell me a new story.” Sigh. “Yes, my father.
– Frank J. Goode