Uncle Harold took us on great drives around coastal Maine – the beaches, the woods, the little towns.
The tours invariably ended near Oak Grove Cemetery in his home town of Bath.
“Why don’t we just drive in,” he would suggest.
We would park on the narrow lane and walk to the single tombstone for his wife Barbara and their son Roger. Harold’s name was waiting for the date of his death.
Roger had died in a car accident near home, after surviving a bullet and malaria in Vietnam. Barbara had lived a long and active life, caring for others, although wracked by bone disease and later diabetes.
Harold often talked about her in the present tense, as in “Barbara and I take this road to Boothbay Harbor for the fried fish.”
My wife, his niece, and I started visiting Harold Grundy after Barbara passed in 2014. We fell in love with that part of Maine, and at my own advanced age I found myself a new hero, as he casually told stories about surviving combat in the Pacific and building electronic surveillance outposts in Greenland and Guantánamo Bay.
But he was wearing down, and it took a village of loved ones to usher him through pain and confusion before he passed on Jan. 4.
People in cold climates cannot bury their dead in mid-winter. Harold, stubborn by nature, modest from his Quaker background, precise from his construction career, specified no ceremony, no fuss, for his burial.
His two faithful surrogate children, Ace and Cookie, now living in Arizona and Connecticut, arranged for a no-frills burial on May 11. Eric came in from Florida. My wife and I were asked to represent the family, scattered and getting on in years. A few locals heard about the burial, and then a few others, and they got to the cemetery, some using walkers and canes to reach the casket, with the American flag neatly folded on top.
The sun was bright, the breeze was chilly, and the funeral director read a few prayers -- as quick and simple as Harold had mandated.
A very fit military guy in a red flannel shirt, who had worked with Harold at the surveillance base in Cutler, Me., stood at attention and whispered to me: “Best man I ever met.”
Later, eight of us met at a tavern alongside the glistening Kennebec River. We toasted the family, and told a few stories.
Ace told how Barbara and Harold used to take him along on so many family outings when he was a kid.
And Ace told how Harold approached the mathematical challenge of building basement stairs: “He wasn’t telling me what to do. He was teaching me.”
People smiled as they recalled how Harold always had fresh pies and pungent chowders on the stove for company.
My wife, the oldest of her generation, remembered a Christmas right after the war, when three young couples were sharing a small house on the Connecticut shore, and how she witnessed Uncle Harold using a tiny saw on a wooden bowl. On Christmas morning, she found a beautiful bed for her doll’s house.
Harold always made things. He and Barbara used to peddle his home-made toys at flea markets in the region, and later his friend Eric made a thriving web business out of wooden objects.
Nobody wanted to leave the lunch. Cookie, so loyal and capable, who did the paperwork for Barbara and Harold for decades, proposed that our little community meet again next year.
We went our separate ways, knowing that Harold was up on the hill at Oak Grove Cemetery, with Barbara and Roger.
* * *
I’ve written about Harold and Barbara and Maine:
5/14/2018 11:10:26 am
My dear friend, George.
5/14/2018 04:41:04 pm
Some of the nicest social gatherings I’ve been to in my life have been funerals. And some of the nicest of those have been ones where few or no relatives were around to attend. Those are occasions that speak volumes about the life that brought us strangers together. Your wonderful Memorial brings good memories. Bon voyage, Matalot Harold.
5/14/2018 09:25:13 pm
Spelling: "Matelot" -- I was thinking, when reading this tribute, of the great Noel Coward song:
5/15/2018 01:11:16 am
Beautiful tribute, George.
Mike from Whitestone
5/15/2018 01:17:24 am
Thanks for sharing and introducing us to Harold via your many passages on him.
5/15/2018 01:28:15 am
5/15/2018 04:24:50 pm
Thank you Altenir, Mike and Brian -- this is a literate bunch. I had never heard the word "matelot" before and it is perfect. The Australians say "mate."
5/15/2018 04:46:05 pm
George—your site provides a daily breath of fresh air to start off each day. It is also a treasure trove of “Harold” stories that remind us of the saner things in life.
5/15/2018 04:59:37 pm
enjoy the stories of your late uncle.you now have two generations of my family onyour lovely site.ahron
5/15/2018 07:51:44 pm
George - this is beautiful. Thank you so much. By the way, that young photographer in the 1974 photo is my son Rich, who has become a known photographer in his local area. See you and Marianne at the "tavern" in 2019!
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.