Grandpa Bob’s Final Journey
Robert Dale Gero “Grandpa Bob” passed in October of 2006. This is the story of how his wishes transpired in his final journey.
My father was a creative, imaginative and an independent man. As a boy, growing up in Maine, he established his design-and-build-it focus working with his grandfather on woodworking projects, a love that he was involved with during his entire life.
It was on his Pend Oreille River property, purchased bare in 1968 and built by his hands over the years, where he was at-home and happiest. And thus, it was no surprise that his wishes were to remain there after his death. ‘GBob’ was an easy going guy. He didn’t think in terms of ‘can I do that?’, but rather ‘How can I do that myself?’ His humor was unique and his ideas imaginative. To those of us who knew him best, it would seem quite appropriate that his request for his remains after death was to “Sprinkle my ashes on a donut and the put rest in the Pend Oreille River”. That is what he said multiple times to me and to my daughter Stephanie. So when he passed, I thought, “Why not?” That is uniquely Grandpa Bob.
The timing was right on a July evening, when my daughter Stephanie, wife Cathi, and I were on our way to what he left to us, our family property on the Pend Oreille River. We stopped on the way at GBob’s favorite donut stop when returning from his trips to Spokane, to pick up a donut; his favorite, a large rectangular maple bar. As the sun set on the surrounding tree covered mountains that surround the Pend Oreille River valley, the three of us launched GBob’s white fiberglass canoe from our dock and paddled across the glass flat water to the middle of the river. As is typical at the end of the day on our section of the river, it was calm, quiet and peaceful. As I rowed, we observed the mirror-like reflection of the mountains to the east on the water. There would be no motor boat for this journey – the way Dad would want it.
On a piece of balsa wood, representative of the projects my father and I built first as models when I was a child, we set afloat the single Maple Bar, one of his favorite treats, beside the canoe. Pouring his ashes over the top of the maple bar, I could hear Dad chuckling with delight in my head. His ashes covered the maple bar and ran down its sides into the water of the Pend Oreille River, immediately drifting shallow and deep in all directions at once in front of us. He was on his way. As we watched pleased and entertained, ‘GBobs raft’ slowly drifted away from us as the current took him slowly down river on what would be his final journey. It reminded me of those stories of knights being laid to rest on a raft, drifting out to sea (minus the flaming arrows sent by archers igniting a fiery blaze of course.)
As we watched the ‘raft’ drift apart from us, we each thanked him, remembering what he taught each of us. For me, it is self-reliance, and the skills and a sense that I can solve problems by creating solutions. I thanked him for making a positive difference in my life. Coming from his very humble childhood, he improved his life and in doing so, improving his sons well beyond his own and consequently, through his continuum … his granddaughter’s. For Cathi, it was an appreciation of a completely different lifestyle – a country lifestyle - and a deeper appreciation of the satisfaction in the beauty in nature. For Stephanie, it was teaching her to fish, how to row a canoe – better than her dad - as we laughed about our canoe adventures in the past, his encouragement and pride in the legacy that became her youth baseball and softball career. She thanked him for this property on the Pend Oreille River, left to us to enjoy. We all concurred on that one. We talked and watched and smiled until we could no longer distinguish GBob’s raft headed slowly downriver. Our farewell was complete.
Although tempted briefly to put a GPS tracker on that ‘donut raft’ to watch his journey unfold, we knew that was our curiosity, not his wishes. He would love the idea of drifting through the moonlight, destination unknown, in the water where he was so comfortable. He was an expert swimmer, diver, and scuba enthusiast in his youth. He met my mother through swimming. This was his perfectly appropriate request coming to beautiful fruition. We laughed, we remembered. Memories that are uniquely GBob, like this one, setting him afloat, per his wishes, in a manner that honored him. I miss you Dad. Travel in peace, wherever the current takes you …
~Alan Gero, 7/30/12