We’re on vacation! A trans-continental road trip, in fact, from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest. We’re hoping to do plenty of site-seeing out there and along the way. But oddly, some of the first sites that we’ve stopped to see were gravesites. My grandparents’ gravesites.
I know it’s a little bit weird to make my family drive (slightly) out of the way to hit a couple of cemeteries on the way out west. But it felt meaningful to revisit the final resting places for my grandparents. Stopping by on our way out west felt like an important way to honor them. To consider the legacies they’ve left: spiritually, emotionally, genetically, financially, and otherwise.
Our first stop was in Long Prairie, Minnesota, where my Dad’s parents are buried. We didn’t have an exact location for their gravesite, but my Aunt Judy gave us some vague guesses on where we might start. So we parked there, and then the five of us fanned out and looked through about half of the cemetery… with no success. But just as I was about to call off the search and concede defeat, Cor came running from the opposite end of the cemetery saying he’d found their gravesite!
I took some pictures and recorded the GPS coordinates. We used our hands to clear off the overgrown grass and lawn clippings from George’s military marker. And then Marci and I told some stories about George and Betty to give our kids (their great-grandchildren) a better idea of who they were and what they were all about.
My Grandpa Asp was a pastor, like me. He led several different churches throughout central Minnesota during his years of ministry. Many of his congregants were immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from Norway and Sweden. And even later in life, when I knew him as a white-haired grandfather, he could conjure up a Norwegian accent effortlessly — which goes to show just how close he was to that great trans-Atlantic migration made by my family and by so many other families throughout American history. He played games with us as kids: pushing around the lump in his cheek with our pudgy little fingers… Bouncing me on his knee while singing “I go riding on my horse”… He died when I was in high school, so I didn’t get to know him as an adult. But I appreciate my memories of him from childhood.
Grandpa and Grandma Asp always stocked their cupboards with Cocoa Puffs and Frankenberry (over-priced, over-sugared breakfast cereals) for our visits. We thought that was such a treat.
My Grandma Asp devoted herself to God and prayer. She was a generous ministry partner through her last decade of life and my first decade of support-based ministry. But she wasn’t always a sweet, white-haired lady. She was also a read-headed, ferocious college athlete in her youth. She passed along a love of basketball and a competitive streak that I still see in my boys today.
I really appreciated the opportunity to pay our respects in Long Prairie. But we eventually needed to push further northwest — another three and a half hours of driving — to Jamestown, North Dakota.
It was hot and dry when we got out of the van in Jamestown. The gravesite for my Mom’s parents was much easier to find because it was marked with several large monuments that my Grandpa Liechty had chosen for the family members who died before him. It occurred to me that the large stone slabs were a symbol for the grief that Grandpa Liechty carried with him through his years of losing his loved ones. We cleaned up the dead plants from the gravesite pots, planted a little flower that we had purchased in town, and told some more stories.
My Grandpa Liechty came out of the Great Depression and built a real estate empire throughout the Upper Midwest over the course of his lifetime. He also generously endowed it to us, his descendants. That’s how Marci and I are able to pay for a significant portion of our kids’ college education. But he and my Grandma were modest about their wealth, in life. From early marriage until their deaths, they lived in a very modest duplex in Jamestown, North Dakota. Their idea of “fine dining” was roadside diners and the local Perkins restaurant. My Grandpa Liechty was devoted to physical fitness, regularly going for walks with a bowling ball bag, just to stay strong. He taught me to appreciate pies purchased from truck stops. He introduced me to one of my favorite snacks: smoked almonds. My Grandpa Liechty loved Jesus, and he loved his family.
My Grandma Liechty seemed to always stay sweet and positive, even under duress. She was a strong partner in her husband’s business ventures. But her extended family was her true love. She cooed over babies and puppies. She loved music and cinnamon rolls and Barq’s Root Beer. I never quite got past the “doting grandmother” persona, in my relationship with her — but as the years have passed, I’ve become increasingly impressed by — and grateful for — her patience. With me, during an awkward period of my life. But also with the world. I wish more people were like her.
I’ve missed all of my grandparents this week. But I’m also glad that I got to be visit my grandparents’ gravesites and be “with them” again, in a way.