Grandpa Camp passed into glory on Saturday, April 13 at the age of 89. I was able to share at his memorial service, and here are the words that I more or less shared.
Growing up, Grandpa was a man to be feared and respected. For many years, Christmas Eve was celebrated in Grandma and Grandpa’s condo. We grandkids were banished to the kids table. It was not so much that kids were to be seen and not heard, it was more like, “Kids are neither to be seen nor heard.” On the night before a joyous day of celebration and presents, we children were told to be not kids.
As I grew older, I would occasionally do work for Grandpa at Eclectic Associates, which Grandpa and Dad started. And in work it was his way or no way. Everything had to be exactly to his specifications even the laying of computer cords that no one would see. He was a perfectionist, an extremely hard worker and demanded everyone else be the same. Laziness was the unforgiveable sin for him.
Grandpa was also a man who would speak his mind, even if the words were extremely hurtful. For me it was right after moving back from three years in China. I stayed with Grandpa for about 6 weeks as my parents’ house was being remodeled and there was no bed for me. Moving back from China was an extremely rough time for me. I felt lonely but most of all I was disoriented, not knowing where I was or even who I was. The day I moved into an apartment, literally right next door, Grandpa said to me, “You are about to start seminary, and never once did you ask me if you could do anything for me.” Here I was in complete culture shock with almost no one asking me if they could help, and here he is turning the tables on me. It was hard to hear. And for a while I did not want to talk to him.
You might be wondering why I am sharing these memories, but the Grandpa I came to know and love in the last 7 years is all the more remarkable when I recall how he once was.
Right before Deborah, my sister, moved to Colorado for grad school, she cooked dinner for Grandpa, and Grandpa loved it and so did Deborah.
So I decided to take a chance and do the same.
These were still in the first few months of me returning from China. Still feeling lonely and very disoriented. But I was beginning to cook more and was really enjoying it.
If my memory is correct, that first night, I made filet mignon with a mushroom red wine sauce finished with truffle oil. We drank wine and enjoyed a great meal together. I don’t remember much from that night—not because of the wine drank—but it must have been a good night because we started having more dinners together.
The deal was I could cook anything; try any recipe on him, and he would reimburse me for the food costs, plus provide wine. As a result I tried many new recipes on Grandpa, expanding my cooking repertoire. I made my first beurre blanc sauce, specifically a Champagne buerre blanc. The sauce turned out great, and I remember thinking to myself, “Beurre blanc sauces are not so hard to make. I don’t know what the big fuss is all about.”
It was not uncommon for us to sit at his table for hours, even after dinner was over, sipping wine and talking. Grandpa being the man he was, was usually not content with just one bottle of wine. If you knew Grandpa, you knew he loved to compare and contrast different products, especially wine. So we might open two bottles of different wines to see which paired better with the food.
A little aside and confession: There have been only two times in my life where I have thrown up from drinking too much, and both were with Grandpa.
The first was a wine and cheese night that Deborah and I had with Grandpa. Instead of dinner, it was just wine and cheese. And Grandpa being Grandpa, wanted to give us the full education. We first started with three different bottles of white wine and about half way through opened three bottles of red wine. The three of us did not finish all six bottles of wine, but if memory serves me correctly, we came close. Needless to say it was a rough night for me and a rough morning as I got up to go to work.
The second was the night before I started my last year at Talbot in the Fall of 2009. For dinner we enjoyed seared scallops with a sherry mushroom sauce served over risotto. With dinner we enjoyed a bottle of Riesling, which we finished; plus we split a bottle of beer. (I am also proud to say that I was able to get Grandpa to see that beer is more than Budweiser.) Grandpa had some blue cheese that we enjoyed after dinner, and so we opened a bottle of red wine. As we were enjoying the cheese, I realized that the amontillado Sherry I used for the sauce would pair great with the cheese, so we also sipped the sherry. I did not do so well that night either. And I may or may not have been slightly hung over in discipleship class with Dr. Wilkens the next morning.
As the meals progressed, our conversations progressed. They moved beyond the food to talk about family and memories and life.
And so began my transformation of seeing Grandpa as grumpy old man to a man, still flawed, but who was taking a deep and honest look into his life, coming to terms with who he was.
Through our conversations I learned about his rocky relationship with his father—from idealizing him growing up to seeing the truth of his father’s character, which was anything but good, according to Grandpa. I learned to see a man who began the hard work of ridding the family of generational sins. He was far from ideal, but he did the best he knew how in being a father and a grandfather and a person in general.
But most importantly I saw a man who deeply loved his wife, Anita, my Grandma. Tears would often fill his eyes at the mere mention of Grandma. (Grandma passed away right around Christmas 2004 after having a debilitating stroke in February 1993.) He regretted not loving her more. He regretted buying into the lie his father told him of not publically displaying his love for Grandma more so. He spoke fondly of the few years in Connecticut, which he described as the best years of their marriage. During those years, he worked in New York, taking the train to and from work. Each day on his way home, he would stop by the flower stand and pick up a single rose to give to Grandma each night.
Grandpa truly thought the world of Grandma. I almost got the sense that in some ways he did not think himself worthy of her love. Grandma made Grandpa a better man.
I began to sense how difficult it must have been to watch Grandma’s health, strength and vitality be taken from her for Grandpa. Here was the woman he cherished and who was responsible for his salvation, literally and figuratively, wasting away.
I glad that right before Claire and I moved to Utah this past summer, she was able to join me for one last grand dinner with Grandpa and hear some of the stories herself. He also challenged us to love one another deeply. He challenged me to love Claire fully and sacrificially.
But most of all we shared life together. And why food and wine? To quote MFK Fisher, a 20th century food writer:
“The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.
“There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?”
And I am so thankful that I was able to share in this joy with Grandpa.