Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reflections on Grandpa Gremillion

Grandpa’s life is a testament that the nature of life is truly comic, rather than tragic.  Visiting him the other day as he rested quietly and peacefully, I could not help but think of the scope and influence of his life.  He will be the subject of bedtime stories at my house for years to come, and I can only hope my children grow up with a fraction of his work-ethic, family value, humor, and faith.  Though immensely saddened by his passing, it is hard to ignore the peace that comes with knowing his life was full and far reaching.
Grandpa, Ryan, Dominic (6 weeks), and I in 2009
In a recent interest in the history of World War II, I was amazed to discover that he served in the Pacific theater.  When my dad asked what he remembered of the war, he told him he had landed on Nagasaki after the second atomic bomb was dropped.  When asked what that was like, he replied, “just like you can imagine.”  He never discussed the war with his family, and my dad only found out that small (but fascinating) detail after my Grandpa already had Alzheimer's.

I’m amazed to consider life with so many young children in the 50s, much-less life with so many children while building a company from the ground up.  His work ethic and determination to provide for his family are phenomenal in my eyes – though I am sure he would say he was just doing what he had to do.  I love hearing the stories of my dad getting a Shipley donut after rolling the Houston Post in the early morning with Grandpa, and I am reminded of this every time I bite into one of the world’s tastiest donuts.  He took a paper route to help make ends meet in the early days of the family business.  I remember having many a cup of coffee with Grandpa in the A&E break room while my dad or uncles wrapped up work to take him to lunch.  It is interesting to imagine the way Houston’s architectural landscape has changed since the start of A&E, and to think of the vast number of buildings he printed while they were still just drawings on a paper.  What started out as a blueprinting shop for architectural drawings, is now called A&E - The Graphics Complex, printing everything from business cards to billboards and it is still operated by his five sons.

As for the family, my cousin Patrick commented recently that a Gremillion family photo equals an ocean of people, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a dissenter from that truth!  As a child I vividly remember piling onto Grandpa’s chair, then onto sofas, and eventually moving the pictures outdoors to accommodate his ocean of grandchildren – every photo with at least one screaming baby or silly face.  These photos were always a matter of stacking as many kids on top of each other as possible while still seeing everyone’s face.  We would pile in to build a photographic monument to the man who started our enormous family – a monument, which if attempted today, might be visible from space. Next time we take a family photo, we ought to hire a landscape photographer or the Hubble space telescope.

His life was joyful and fruitful, which was apparent even in his last days.  He serves as a powerful witness to the blessing of family – he was well cared for in his illness and in his death.  Not only were his children with him daily, they are with each other daily, supporting and enjoying one another.  It is difficult to fathom a “culture of death” in a family like this.  Though he is no longer with us in this world, his influence is widespread, and will continue to spread through the legacy of his 8 children, 29 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren, and all of his other friends and relatives, whose lives he has touched deeply.  He took his last breath early in the morning of July 4, 2011 surrounded by his wife and 8 children.

In John chapter 6, Christ defends his presence in the Eucharist, stating, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  Grandpa showed his commitment to the Eucharist throughout his life – even helping to institute perpetual adoration at St. John Vianney and spending time in adoration during the early morning shifts.   My distaste for waking up before 8 am seems all the more frivolous in light of his devotion to time spent in adoration of the Eucharist.

On Sunday his youngest child read him the readings from Mass, which were beautifully fitting for his last day of life.  In the second reading, Paul wrote to the Romans, "for if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live," and at the end of the Gospel reading from Matthew, Christ says, "come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."  
Aunt Char and Grandpa at our wedding reception in 2007
When we finished the readings, my Aunt Char said "Those are for you, Daddy," and he made a sound of acknowledgment.  I will think of that moment every time I hear those verses in Handel's Messiah.