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Last weekend, the Lawrence family gathered from all corners of the US to memorialize my poppa, who passed away on July 31st, 2017 after 92 years on this planet. What a beautiful way to celebrate our poppa, a man who had such an incredible life!
We flew into Philadelphia on Thursday evening, stopping to see an old friend of ours, Andy (Mike hasn’t been back to PA since we moved!). Staying the night with Mike’s Mom, we left on Friday to head north to Connecticut, stopping along the way for a scrumptious lunch. My Aunt Robin, who lives in Massachusetts, organized the out-of-towners to stay in Stamford, Connecticut at a beautiful 5 bedroom house. The home was lovely, and what a special thing it is to wake up and all be together.
The whole gang was there upon our arrival and the fun started. Drinks flowed, stories were shared, and the family love could be felt.It was Mike’s birthday and Aunt Robin & Leah had prepared a carrot cake so we all could celebrate. With Mike’s mom being there with us, it was a truly special way to celebrate his 39th birthday. My aunt Robin made a homemade carrot cake (his favorite, we even had it at our wedding!) and we sang and everything.
Later that evening, the cousins got goofy, lining up along the staircase in the house and posing for “prom” pictures. The truly hilarious photos were a reminder of how awesome it was to be together as a family!
The next day, we woke and headed to the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan to set up displays of his wood working projects, family pictures, Yale memorabilia, articles he published, and photos of him and my grandmother. His life displayed on two large tables made us all reflect on the impact he had on all of us.
After rushing back to change, we were ready to officially memorialize him. The family was organized and entered the beautiful church, where him and my grandmother had belonged for years. Prayers were read, psalms were recited, and a story I had written years ago (for his 80th birthday) was read by my sister.
The Saw Dust Jungle
A musty smell hit my nose as the creaking stairs announced my decent. I paused not wanting to disturb this environment.
Nature’s fallen soldiers stretched as far as the eye could see; propped up, waiting to be reincarnated.
The native emerged from the shadows, traveling down a well-known path.
Metallic beasts with razor sharp edges lay still as he passed; for he had tamed them, giving them a purpose. It was time for the selection. Which carcass would be given a new life?
The natives’ hands listened to each piece he passed, hearing the stories of their past, smoothing over the angst of their future.
The animals could sense his readiness, snapping and hissing in anticipation.
The time had come. Selection had been made. Creation began.
I watched from a safe distance, taking it all in. The scent wafted towards me and I inhaled deeply, breathing burnt wood and dampness.
A wooden blizzard began falling, covering the ground, filling the air with flakes. And then all grew silent. I waited.
The sawdust jungle parted and my Poppa, covered with cedar bits, came over to take my hand, and we boarded the steps that led to the house to go have lunch. (4/15/2015)
I wrote, and read, the following…
How do you sum up 92 years of a life fully lived? To pack up this man, my grandfather, my poppa, in a few moments is near impossible, so I will talk of what I, and my cousins, knew of him, the memories we share, and the things I think all would recognize about him.
He was not an idle man. His hearty lineage included hard working, self-sufficient men, who used their hands to make a living as farmers and carpenters. My sister, the eldest of his grandchildren passed on the following: “I learned from Poppa the importance of diligence and hard work. I never recall him sitting down, watching TV or relaxing. He was always in motion. If he sat down, it wasn’t for very long – even at meals. He always had a project that he was working on.” Our poppa did things. He explored things. He built and crafted things. And the things he didn’t know? He made it his mission to find out. The things that he found interesting? He’d dig into with a tenacity most would envy. He read books and researched, his thirst for knowledge never quenched. As his youngest granddaughter, my cousin, Lauren recalls, “He loved to learn as much as he could and that fire in him never died.” Our Poppa’s hands, and mind, were always moving.
He was fearless, a genuine trail blazer, a man Lewis and Clark would have kept in their company. His energy was timeless, the years never seem to slow him down. My sister recalls, “He never seemed to age, he was up on a roof at 80!” Poppa went beyond the boundaries of most men. There was not a lobster in all of Castco Bay he couldn’t hypnotize, a roof he couldn’t climb, a piece of wood he couldn’t find a soul. His workshop filled with tamed metallic beasts, ready at a moment’s notice for his master skills. Each of his grandchildren have a few of his wooden masterpieces and for that I am truly grateful. From applesauce, to gorgeous butterflies, loons, and pedestal tables, his legacy lives within his art.
He was a kind, gentle man, one who always had time to tell stories.Lauren, remembers this the most. She shared a memory with me….“Poppa babysat for me a lot when I was younger and whenever I stayed over at their house I had Poppa tell me stories about the island, usually the same 2 or 3 stories but he was always happy to oblige and he always knew so much! I think he would have made a great historian if he had not been an engineer. Poppa was one of the kindest people I have ever met, he never raised his voice, he was never hurtful and in times of stress would just add a calm little “well, Priscilla, I think…” There was not a mean bone in his body.”
He was a Maine-iac. Lower Goose, the beloved island bought by his father, Linwood, was an extension of him, a member of the family, and we all grew up with the wild taste of blueberries in our mouths. Life here was hard at best, but many hands make light work, and when Poppa was on the island, there was a project to complete (more like several), scavenger hunts to explore, with clues like “look at the place where Poppa lays his head at night” and later, an island skills course, to learn how to tie knots, light lanterns, and clean off the boat. I remember participating in work weekends when I was young girl, a tomboy, so excited to be included and up on the roof with my poppa and dad. We all had a purpose, working together on something so deeply rooted in all of us.
Lauren shared the following with me, “I can’t even begin to explain the love and the ties I feel to Camp Lawrence and I know that is a bond that will never break. I have always been so thankful to have that little piece of paradise in my life and without Poppa that would not be possible. He loved that island and has passed that love down to all of us.”
His beloved island, Maine, is a part of all of us and our poppa made sure that Casco Bay coursed through our veins.
The love our Poppa and grandma had for us is felt deeply. Throughout the years, the holidays, gathered together were truly special times. During Easter, eggs were hidden around the pond for my younger cousins Leah, Luke and Lauren. Thanksgivings gathered around the table, giving thanks for one another and eating green bean casserole. He even got to meet his great grandkids, Ben and Ella, at Leah & Joe’s wedding, almost two years ago, whispering to my sister as he hugged her goodbye, “Your kids are great.” And the love he shared with my grandmother, a love that spanned 65 years, this love was palpable. My cousin, his granddaughter Leah, told me that in the last few years she was privy to numerous occasions of this adornment, even when time had taken it’s toll and they had to be separated. He would ask, “Priscilla, would you like to go to lunch with me today?” or mention “We must get Pricilla for dinner, we can’t forget her.” Their love is, and forever shall be, a timeless love.
Thank you Poppa, for teaching us, guiding us, showing us this love.
The weekend was beautiful, spent with family we rarely get to see, reminiscing about our dear poppa. I feel so lucky to have known him for all of my life and to have him know me into adulthood.
My aunt Nancy gave the eulogy, honoring his incredible life as a marine, a Yale man, a master carpenter, a family man, who explored the world and country with adventure on the brain. It was a beautiful tribute. Following the memorial, there was a lovely reception where friends and family could chat, look at old photos, and be together. My dad, my poppas only son, held up pretty well, tears filling his eyes as his daughters read. The whole weekend was an amazing family gathering to honor my poppa.
Treasure the time spent with those you love, be happy in each other’s presence, for time goes quickly!