Eulogy given at memorial service for Orville Loomis (5/29/10)
I never knew my grandfather without Parkinson’s. The larger than life figure that many of you know, the South Dakota farm boy, the sailor, the father of three, that man was only a face in a few faded black and white pictures. Even in my earliest memories, the man I knew had the shakes, the pains and the symptoms of Parkinson’s. And so it is, that I don’t have a funny story about the time we played catch, or went fishing, or practiced football. I don’t have these stories, because my grandfather was robbed of his physical capabilities before he could ever play with his grandchildren. I do, however, have stories about euchre, a simple card game that allowed three generations of my family to connect.
Euchre is an incredibly counter-intuitive game, where jacks are higher than aces and diamonds are hearts, sometimes. It is a complicated game, but it is the basis for many of the stories I hear about my grandfather. Stories like, that time Grandpa Orv ordered with no trump, and won. Or that time one of the Semmel boys went alone with right left king, and Grandpa Orv euchred him. The stories were always told with a laughing disbelief; nobody would do something that crazy, except Grandpa Orv.
My grandfather taught me euchre at the kitchen table, dealing each card face up, explaining the right bauer, the left bauer, which cards were trump, and which were not. He taught me how to play the game hard, how to pay attention to details so that I could play smarter. And he taught me how to play clean, that at the end of the day, it was just cards.
I remember the first time we sat down to play, Ruth and my father versus my grandfather and me. He took the cards, gingerly shuffled them and then, with a smile starting to trace his lips, he dealt to my father and said. “Three bad ones to you.” To me, “Two good ones for you.
After that first game, the countless others blended together. It seemed like whenever he visited, we had barely brought the suitcases inside before the cards came out. Whenever we played, my grandfather wanted me to be his partner. He said it was because I brought the luck, but I realize now that he liked playing with me because of how excited I was to play with him. Then, as I grew older, and my brother learned the game, my brother became his partner.
As his Parkinson’s worsened, we used euchre to gauge his condition. Even in instances where he would lose track of where he was, or who we were, he would still remember his last four hands. His passion for cards never seemed to dim, and the game helped everyone cope with what was a very difficult situation.
I still remember the first time we visited him at the hospital. We had been warned that he was unaware of his surroundings, that his mind wasn’t what it once was. And I remember thinking, if he really is gone, we will know when we play cards.
We sat down in the dining hall, and someone pulled out the deck. The game moved along, and my grandfather struggled to keep up with the conversation. He was confused easily, and sitting next to him, I wondered if he was going to be able to play. A few hands in, I dealt, turning over a club.
“Pick that up.” He said.
I picked up the card, making clubs trump.
He led a low club, meaning he was going to lose the trick. My father and I looked at each other. “That’s trump.” My dad said.
My grandfather nodded as I trumped his card and won the trick. I won the next trick too, and was on the verge of euchring him.
It was then that my grandfather, his hand trembling slightly, flashed my brother a quick thumbs up. My dad and I looked at each other again, and watched as my grandfather took the next three tricks with off aces. It was a gutsy move, but it paid off. And in the end, it only added to his legend. Hey, remember that time Grandpa Orv pretended he was too confused to play, gave you the thumbs up, and won the game? It makes me laugh to this day.
In speaking with many family members this week, I have come to realize that my grandfather lived a life divided into various stages. And the stage of his life I am speaking about today, when he had Parkinson’s, is probably a time in his life many of us would rather forget. But is a testament to my grandfather that despite the hardships he faced, I still have very fond memories of the time we spent together. There are some of us here today like me, who only know Orville Loomis when he had Parkinson’s. People like my brother Zack, his other grandchildren Mercedez and Camdyn, and Ryan and Cory. And as hard as his disease must have been on my grandfather and the people who loved him, I think we can all take comfort in the fact that he was still able to make a difference in the lives of young people, something I could tell meant the world to him.
As we gather today to celebrate a man that meant many different things to many different people, we should look back on the times we spent with him, all the times. We do not remember days, we remember moments. There might have been days where my grandfather struggled with his disease, but he still led a rich and rewarding life, filled with many moments where he touched us all.
It is comforting to know that he is in a better place, where his physical abilities have returned, his mind is clear, and a 9-10 with 3 off aces isn’t that bad of a hand.