This is the eulogy I gave for my beloved grandfather, Walter Brooks “Bud” Macky (1907-2010).
I want to share some thoughts about Bud, my grandfather, my children’s great-grandfather, and, I think we can all agree, a great, great person. Whenever I tell somebody about Bud, which I do a lot, their usual comment is that I have good genes, which of course I don’t take for granted, but I think there’s more to it than that. His life was not just long, it was rich, and he did a lot of amazing, interesting things, as long as he possibly could.
Summer afternoon on the porch with my grandfather, July 2010
The truth is that I think Bud had a few things figured out, things that I have learned from him, and that I want to pass on to you, because they are things we can all do in our own lives, starting today, really, and I truly can’t think of a better way to honor him and his incredible, vital, radiant spirit. So let’s call these Bud’s rules for good, long living.
- OK, let’s just get this out of the way: There’s a right way and a wrong way to tie a knot. The wrong way, Bud called a granny knot. The right way is a square knot. It’s pretty simple. I can show you later, if you want.
- Find a way to express yourself creatively. You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, or lessons, or any of those things. You just need a willingness to try things, and the discipline to actually do them, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. I believe Bud was very creative and very talented, but what I really admire about him is how much he just did, whether it was carving ducks or building model ships or taking photographs or learning how to make pottery in his 90s or, of course, writing. If you do it from the heart, it has true value, even if you don’t do it perfectly.
- Walk. This is not just so you, too, can be a Senior Olympic Racewalking Champion, although perhaps you could–why not?–but Bud was just not one to be sitting around watching TV. He liked to be out in the fresh air, walking, thinking, saying hello to people, observing the changes in the sky and the trees. You don’t have to be in a hurry, and you don’t have to go far. You don’t even have to be going anywhere, actually. But walk when you can.
- Cultivate a sense of wonder. I think this is related to the walking, actually, but Bud had a real reverence for the beauty of nature, for the powers and forces that are beyond our ability to measure and comprehend. He appreciated the beauty of things, from tiny bugs and leaves to the vast canvas of constellations and galaxies. We live in a time when it seems to be getting harder and harder to be impressed, but I think Bud would say, there are a lot of things to be impressed about, if you just stop and think about it. Be impressed.
- It’s ok to have half and half on your cereal. It tastes really, really good and, I think it’s pretty obvious it won’t kill you.
- It doesn’t take a big, fancy house to make you happy. Bud and my grandmother Sally built their house on Kirk Lane just before they were married, and it was humble and creaky and sweet and absolutely packed with love and memories of parties, and music, and laughter, and fires in the fireplace, mint-chocolate-chip parfaits, and card games, and stories. It will always be one of my favorite places in the world. It was warm and loving. It was about family. That’s what matters.
- Laugh! I think one of the best things about Bud was his sense of humor. He was a character, right? When we were small he would tie our socks together and tickle our ribs until we could barely stand it. He would spend hours raking leaves and then let us jump around in them, just because it was fun. He always loved jokes, and games, he was always fun, and he had this incredible, beaming smile that I will never forget. Just a few months ago, at his 103rd birthday celebration, my mom had the stroke of genius to rent one of those jitneys with the striped awnings, that all the tourists pedal around Rehoboth, and send Bud out for a spin with four of his grandchildren–my sisters, Julie and Cara, and my cousins, Allen and Annie. I wasn’t there to see it but the report is that he was grinning ear to ear the whole time.
I will never forget his smile and his laugh!
- Stay curious. Bud read and talked and thought and wrote, his whole life. When he said “That’s interesting,” which he did frequently, he actually meant it. He asked questions and debated and reflected and, in recent years, if he wanted to know about something, he and my dad would Google it. He never stopped wanting to know more, learn more, understand more deeply.
- Write it down. To me, this is probably the most important, and the most personal. I’m sure most of you know about his Woodshed Notes, the letters Bud typed and copied and mailed to a growing list of friends and family, every month, for decades. I consider these letters a family and cultural treasure because they tell us what it was like to sing in the Episcopal Boys’ Choir in the early 1900s, and what it was like to have a boxing ring in your back yard–and a boxing nickname (“Bearcat”), and what it was like to ski in the moonlight on wooden skis. I am so glad he wrote all this down.
This summer I discovered another treasure, which was a lovely leatherbound diary kept diligently by Honey, Bud’s mother, who I never got to meet, but who now I feel like I know because she wrote in such beautiful detail about Bud’s baby life: the first foods he ate, his babbling and cooing, when and how he had his bath, all those things that new mothers, myself included for sure, go so nuts about. Honey’s diary even solved one mystery for me, which was how young Walter came to be known as Bud by nearly everybody–it turns out that she started calling him that when he was just a few months old. “It just seems to suit him,” she wrote. I’m so glad she wrote this down.
Baby Bud, 1907
Earlier this year, Bud wrote down a list of all the songs and poems he could remember from his childhood, and I am so grateful that he did, because now I can surround myself with music and words that had meaning for him, that represents my family and my roots. Write it down. This doesn’t mean you have to write a book, or a blog, or a two-page letter every month, but try writing down a few simple things–maybe the song you danced to at your wedding, or your favorite books, or a special holiday memory you have, things that are meaningful to you, and share them with someone you love. Our world runs at a pretty fast pace these days, and I believe capturing and passing on these kinds of simple things has tremendous value, and gives us a sense of connectedness and perspective, and even comfort.
I want to read to you one passage from the November 1993 Woodshed Notes, when Bud was considering the question of human significance. “We have intelligence that can reach from the neuron to the farthest stars,” he wrote. “And we have imagination that transcends all that is material and factual. We have within each of us a spirit that rises above the perishable and the corruptible.” Intelligence, imagination, and imperishable spirit: Bud certainly had all of these things, and I feel indescribably lucky to have known him, to be his granddaughter, and to have all those things he wrote down.
So there you have it, nine things I hope to do to honor Bud’s memory and to keep him present, part of who I am, part of how I live, as long as I can. And I hope that you will do the same.