Edward Geelhoed, my dad's dad, died last Friday, and services were held early this week. He was a trumpeter and musician in his younger days, and played reveille for his Army battalion in World War II, in the South Pacific. After the war, he returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan, joined SYSCO/Frostpack as a salesman, and began climbing their corporate ladder. My dad was his only child, and his wife Martha is alive and well.
Grandpa was one of those guys who was extraordinarily confident, yet was never intimidating or condescending. He had subtle ways of encouraging you to do more than you were capable of. He and Grandma used to have a summer cottage in Mackinaw, Michigan, a small town at the northern tip of Michigan's mitten. There was a bright red paddle-boat there that my dad or mom and I would take out into the Straits of Mackinaw. My legs were too short to reach the pedals, so Grandpa taped woodblocks to them so I could reach them, and take part in the fun. The woodblocks were a little smaller each summer, until I no longer needed them.
Grandpa had an insatiable appetite for financial news. He began reading the Wall Street Journal when he entered business, and the wealth of knowledge he assembled concerning the markets and corporations enabled him to become an extraordinarily savvy investor. Many afternoons, he would have CNBC on the TV, and would be watching the stock ticker at the bottom of the screen. I would be sitting somewhere else, reading a book or magazine. He would pick up his pad and pencil, scribble a few numbers, then call his broker to make some sort of transaction. As an aesthete who struggles with basic arithmetic, this still makes my head spin.
He was a trumpeter, and a darn good one, I'm told. I never heard him play, since he had put the instrument away by the time I was born. He loved playing, but his false teeth were unable to support his embouchure. In his day, he played Flight of the Bumblebee and all of those virtuoso cornet solos by Herbert L. Clarke, and a family friend spoke yesterday of how good it was to hear him playing in church. He had perfect pitch, and I remember seeing him miming the trumpet fingerings for the hymn we were singing in church one Sunday morning. He was transposing the hymn in his head as we went along, playing the B-flat fingerings for the C sheet music in front of him. He hadn't played in decades, yet that skill hadn't deteriorated.
My first instrument was the Conn cornet he purchased in the mid-1930s. I switched to a trumpet eventually, but I'll always be fond of that instrument, with its gold-wash bell and exquisite etching. It really was a remarkable and flexible cornet, with a mellow tone that could blend with an ensemble easily, as well as slice through it when you needed it to. I pulled it out a few times, the most recent in 2000 for a performance of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique.
Finally, Grandpa simply took life in stride. If an argument ever broke out over dinner, he would shake his head before levelly explaining how the world actually worked, and why the other person was wrong. He never pounded the table or yelled, because he didn't need to, and set a remarkable example by not doing so.
He was beset by diabetes and several other ailments these last months. His mind remained clear, though, for which I'm grateful. A week before he died, I went to see him. Not trying to dwell on the negative, I brought up a quotidian news event.
"Ford is trying to sell Volvo, I read last week," I said.
"They've been trying to do that for two years," he responded, weakly.
He then launched into a description of Ford's various maneuvers covering the last two years. It was difficult for him, but he had a point to make, and was going to make it.
He lived to be 86. I'm grateful that he lived so long, and that we were able to know each other over so many years. It still wasn't enough.