Monday, June 12, 2006
Carlton Kendrick Mathes, 1913-2006
I recenty had the privledge to sit at my grandfather's bedside during the last two weeks of his life. The circumstances of his death are, I think, to be envied. At 92 he was still playing tennis several times a week. He could drive himself around town and handle his own finances. The night before he entered the hospital, he went on a date and to a poker game. When the end came, it was relatively rapid: after a silent heart attack, he became very confused because he was no longer able to get enough blood to his brain. He had about two weeks of occassional lucidity, during which he was able to greet family and friends. Everyone got to say all the things one would like to say on such an occassion. Then he went to sleep for a week. We should all be so lucky.
The lovely wife and I got to be there for his last moment of lucidity, during which we ate tapioca and talked about his summer cottage in Connecticut. But I missed his death while having dinner with my younger brother.
Carl was born in 1913 in Terryville, Connecticut. He loved history, and had a particular admiration for Abraham Lincoln. In emulation of Lincoln, he decided to become an attorney, pushing himself through college in three years so that his family would be able to afford schooling for his younger siblings as well, and then going on to Harvard Law. At a Govenor's Ball he met Doris, a girl from a small town in Connecticut who was now living the adventurous life on her own in New York City. They eloped. During World War Two, Carl served in the FBI, where, among other things, he learned about the Atom Bomb before then-Vice President Truman. He and Doris had a daughter, who in turn had three grandsons.
Every kid should have a grandfather like Carl. He was never self-concious in his enjoyment of children, and eagerly shed his role as a respected member of the community to goof around with us. I loved going to visit him at his cottage during the summers. We would go out in his boat and pull lobster pots every morning. He took me to Mystic Seaport and taught me about whaling. He tried to teach me tennis and the Gettysburg Address. During the winters, he and Gram would come down to Virginia and take us to Civil War battlefields, or up to the museums in Washington, DC.
He put my brothers and I through college. And not just us. Gramp never forgot the difference education made in his life, and he made sure that many others got that opportunity.
He was a remarkable man, and a big part of who I am. I'll miss him very much.