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.

7 comments:

Miras said...

This sounds like Great Loss. I'm sorry, Joel.
Both my Grandpa's were great too, but I'm missing them for more than 25 years now...

The Lovely Wife said...

There's a Gramp-sized hole in my heart. Schweetie, he was so proud of you and would have loved what you've drawn and written here.

Joel Priddy said...

Thanks, Miras and LW!

Steph said...

What a great tribute--he sounds like a really cool guy :)

Gus and Fer said...

When my mother's husband died some years ago, he left behind an interesting tenure. George was a rascal, living the hell out of every waking minute, but he never forgot to be compassionate and interested in everyone and the world around him. His kindness is what everyone remembers, even now.

Clearly, Joel, your grandfather is of the same flavor of high character. Dead only in a medical sense, he lives on in your achievements. His tribute is first-rate.

Libby said...

I'm so sorry to hear about this Joel, your Gramp was an awesome guy. I'll always remember his duck glasses and how he used to say, "Fill it up to the duck's bill!" :) This is a beautiful tribute, we should all live such full, memory-filled lives. He's so proud of you right now...

Mb. said...

Hey Djohl, I always loved hearing about Gramps when we were in Uni, and was always a little jealous that you still had such a cool grandfather. Very sorry to hear he's gone, but glad to hear he went surrounded by friends and family, and could just gently sleep his way out. And rest assured, a great deal of him lives on in yerself.