A Eulogy For A Dear Uncle
We had so many plans for this summer. Among other things, we wanted to cycle around Nova Scotia and France, complete the 2nd edition of the Bike Touring Survival Guide and review some new gear. Unfortunately, that was all put on hold by something unplanned and rather sad.
Until now, we haven’t really felt like writing about it here but now we are ready to share. This spring Friedel’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer and last week he passed away. It all happened very quickly and during this time our focus was as far as it could be from the world of bike touring. We’ll try to get back to normal soon. In the meantime, we’d like to share the eulogy that Friedel gave at the funeral. It has nothing to do with bike touring but it does tell the story of someone who loved travel, cared for others and who we’ll really miss.
Paul was the only relative to come out and meet us on the road when we were travelling around the world, and he often said that if he had been younger he would have joined us.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Friedel and I am Paul’s niece. I want to thank you all for being here today, and I’d like to share a few memories about my uncle Paul.
Paul was, perhaps, the only person who I can truly say has been there throughout every step of my life. When I was born in the old Truro hospital, the pictures show that Paul was there. We went on summer vacations together. He helped me move when I started university, gave me away at my wedding and visited me nearly every year in Europe, after I moved there in 2000. For over ten years, we regularly visited family in Germany and worked together on our family tree. Paul was a fixture in my life, as I am sure he also was for many of you.
I have so many memories of Paul, it’s hard to know where to start but I thought I’d start with one place where you were always sure to find him: at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner. Being a Jehovah’s Witness, Paul didn’t celebrate occasions like Christmas but that didn’t mean he would miss a meal at Joyce’s house. He was always sitting at the table, often wearing his trademark suspenders and checked shirt. In front of him would be a plate piled high with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. Joyce’s cooking was certainly worth making the trip for. Paul loved the food but more than that, Paul was a people person. He loved the conversation and warmth that went along with these kinds of occasions, surrounded by so many friends and relatives.
During the rest of the year, Paul often visited our home. Each time I saw his van coming into our driveway I’d run to the door and shout excitedly ‘Uncle Paul!’. Once inside, he’d let me sit on his knee and tell me stories in the way only Paul could. I think almost all of you here will be familiar with Paul and his stories. It didn’t matter what the topic was, Paul seemed to have a story to suit every occasion. He loved telling them and they were never short. He wanted to share every last detail. Once, he and his daughter Heather went out for lunch at the China Rose restaurant in Truro. The stories started flowing and the afternoon flew by. Finally, someone looked at the clock. It was 8 in the evening. “Well, I guess we’d better order supper,” was Paul’s response. To sit and talk to someone for hours was never a waste of time in Paul’s mind. It was one of his favourite things to do.
One of the stories I remember best was about coming to Canada from Germany by boat in 1951. Paul was seven years old at the time. On that trip, Paul grabbed what he thought was a grape and popped it in his mouth. What happened next was a dose of salty, shocking reality. Instead of a sweet grape, Paul had actually eaten an olive. He’d never tasted an olive before and he didn’t like his first taste much at all. Shortly afterwards, Paul got seasick. He blamed the seasickness on the olive, and that experience was enough to put him off olives for the next twenty years.
When Paul visited us, sometimes he would bring a present. Nothing expensive or fancy, just some little treasure he’d pick up along the way. Once it was a small pin in the shape of a pink elephant that he’d found on the ground. He polished it up and carried it in his pocket for a few days until he saw me the next time. “This matches your pink jacket,” he said to the six-year-old me. “I think you should have it.”
That was Paul – always thinking of other people. If you needed something, all you had to do was ask. Paul was happy to help, even when the task was something that most others would have found too difficult or too much to take on.
One good example of that was in 1982. I was just a little girl, living in Edmonton with my mum Inga and aunt Rose – Paul’s sisters. They needed help moving home to Nova Scotia so they called Paul and a few days later he was there, ready to help them drive back east with all our stuff packed into one little Chevette, towing a trailer. As it turned out, that year saw some of the worst spring snowstorms in Canada’s history. For 10 days, Paul drove our family through the freezing cold and snow, right across Canada. Everything on that trip went wrong. In addition to the weather, the heater on the car broke. So did the fan belt. The wheel bearings seized on the trailer and in Maine there was a flat tire to fix. As for those snowstorms, they were so bad that once Paul even had to shovel his way into a hotel room so we could all get some sleep. Through all of this, Paul was unflappable. He just kept on going with a smile on his face, and he seemed to have an answer for every situation.
Maybe the reason Paul had so many answers was because he was interested in everything. It was hard to find a subject that Paul didn’t know something about. During his life, he completed courses in scuba diving, sausage making, accounting, Spanish and German – to name but a few of the things he studied. He also learned by doing. As a young boy on his family’s farm in Hilden, Paul took care of the animals, planted the garden and helped make butter. In his retirement, Paul joined the local photography club. At home, his natural curiosity meant that Paul’s house was filled to the rafters with stacks of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. He had a photographic memory and once he’d read an article or book about something, he could recite the facts back to you without hesitation for years afterwards.
There was no doubt that Paul loved learning new things and sharing his knowledge with others. One of his special friends was five-year-old Lilly. She called him Papa Paul. When Paul came to help remodel her family’s basement he let her try out everything: drywalling, painting, plumbing. He even let her smash a hole through the basement wall to put a window in. Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he told her that rough hole in the wall was the finished product. He just let climb in and out of that stupid hole! Instant access to the back yard! Paul could be such an instigator.
Another thing that Paul loved was food. He always appreciated a good meal and was never shy to try out something new. You could hand him a plate full of prairie oysters, pungent Limburger cheese or durian – the world’s stinkiest fruit. Most of us would turn up our noses but for Paul it was no problem. He would certainly try it and let us all know how it tasted. Once someone emailed Paul a questionnaire. One of the questions asked Paul to list four of his favourite foods. Paul’s list went like this.
Number one: pizza. Number two: Chinese food. Number three: pork chops. Number four: spaghetti. Number five: polish sausage , Polski ogorki [pickles], mashed potatoes with butter, roast beef,, or pork ,turkey,chicken, mmmmmmmm gravy , mixed veggy mmmm. Number six: soup. All kinds. And salads. Number seven: chocolate chip cookies.
That list makes me smile. It reminds me of his love of food, and also of the many happy meals we shared together, whether we were out at Joyce’s house for Christmas dinner, with German relatives devouring mountains of cakes or wandering through the Oktoberfest in Munich, in search of a pretzel and a beer. Those were good times.
When my uncle Paul passed, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. I don’t suppose anyone can ever really take his place but the memories from our many shared adventures will keep me smiling for years to come and for that I am deeply thankful.