By Jeff Schaler
Saturday, January 15, 2000 - 2:00 P.M.
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
3rd and A Streets, S.E., Washington, DC
My name is Jeff Schaler. I am a childhood friend of John Grant's. We grew up in Northern Virginia and Turkey together.
Marea, Jamie, and Bill asked me to say a few words about growing up with John.
John and I were in the first grade together at Hollin Hills Elementary School, in Alexandria.
Those were the days.
When the child is father to the man.*
I think back to those days of my childhood with John and I think about how innocent we were . . .
Well, not entirely innocent.
Last weekend, at the kitchen table, my wife Renee and daughter Magda asked what I planned to talk about today.
I thought about times with John when we were kids. I tried to tell them stories of our adventures together, but I began laughing so hard thinking about them it became difficult to speak. It was an infectious laughter. Renee and Magda started laughing too-only they didn't know why?and when I finally told them, they laughed even harder.
Then Magda stopped and said, ever so seriously: "Dad, you can't say that at the memorial for John . . . No."
The child is father to the man.
What do I remember?
I remember John's house in Hollin Hills on Reckard Lane, walking through the bamboo woods in back. There was a path there that led to the Thorpe Estate. That was where we played. We were the ages then his sons James and Alexander are now. It was a time of great adventure.
The adventures of our childhood deepened overseas. In the mid-1960s we were in Turkey together and our families were close. My parents were friends with Jim and Ethel. John and I were friends. Jamie and my brother Greg were friends. And Bill and my brother Joel were friends. We traveled together as families throughout Turkey.
My memories of those times are fragmented, yet telling. When news of John's death arrived I wrote to Jamie and Billy. Jamie and I had spoken on the phone a day or two earlier, while John was in a coma.
It's funny how one remembers certain things.
For example, I remembered when Billy dropped his BB gun over the side of a floatboat our families were on at a reservoir in Turkey. Billy was falling apart rapidly. John swam to the bottom of that reservoir and retrieved it for him. It was dark and deep down there. My father captured that moment on movie film and we still have it.
Billy wrote back saying this too was something he wrote down when he heard John had died.
John was heroic. I can still see him breaking the surface of the water, waving that rifle in his hand.
Of course, John was an outstanding student. Most of you know about that. However, I remember one of his greater accomplishments in high school that few of you may know. It made the headlines of our school newspaper in Ankara, Turkey, and read: "Grant does 3,000"
John Grant did 3,000 sit-ups as part of a physical education week at the high school we attended in Ankara.
He really did 3,000 sit-ups without stopping!
This is the stuff that legends are made of.
My recollection of John as a child is that he was wise: I remember him saying to me, on the roof of his parent's house in Ankara, "Maybe we should stop: We might knock one of them completely unconscious." He said this as we prepared to drop a 15-gallon trash bag full of water on top of our brothers waiting to ambush us with water balloons two stories below.
Fortunately, we came to our senses, shrugged our shoulders, and let it fly.
John was tough: We skateboarded together when skateboards were new. We made our own by disassembling metal roller skates: Remember the kind you use to attach to your shoes with a key? Ankara had the steepest hills. We'd hold on to the back of slow-moving trucks chugging uphill for a ride to the top.
I remember John sailing down one hill in Gazi Osman Pasa with incredible speed. The wheel of his skateboard hit a rock, stopped, and locked.
I remember John sailing quietly in the air, then hitting the pavement in a spectacular belly flop.
These are the kinds of special moments good friends remember.
John was compassionate, to be sure: I remember how concerned he was when I accidentally slammed a sixteen-pound sledge hammer onto my big toe out at Sky Forest, Lake Arrowhead, California. We had been cutting and splitting firewood, constantly replacing the handles on those big mauls. He actually stopped laughing a few times to make sure I was all right.
John was not completely fearless: We camped on the coast of Turkey for a few days, where we did quite a bit of skin diving. I remember hearing his blood-curdling scream when, while washing the dinner dishes in the salt water, an octopus tentacle reached up from under a rock and wrapped itself around his arm.
He talked about the popping sound when pulling that tentacle off his arm.
And John was skillful in ways that only kids can value: He could assemble a Turkish puzzle ring behind his back using only one hand. Those puzzle rings were like worry beads to us. We constantly took them apart and put them together. They eased our anxiety.
Most of all John was my friend from "way back when." Growing up together with our families in the foreign service was exciting and yet it had its drawbacks too: Kids who grew up in that transient environment tend to be careful in terms of how close they get to others. It is painful to form close relationships and then have to break them off because of moving. It was often scary being the "new" kid in class. Also, one tends not to know where one's roots are. Where is home? These are factors that shape who we become as adults.
Despite many years and many miles of separation, John and I always managed to stay in touch with one another and keep our friendship. We exchanged long letters at the death of his parents and the death of my father. He called me a few months ago and we had a fine talk.
After I heard from Jamie the morning after John's death, I went downstairs to pick up the day's mail. There was a Christmas card from John and Marea-and a note from John telling me how he was still trying to get back to Turkey to pick up puzzle rings for both of us.
Child is father to the man.
How rough and tumble those times were as kids together. And how fragile and vulnerable life is now as an adult.
These memories of our childhood live on and are, in part, the essential John. They transcend time and space and so does he. The essential John is what I remember to accept his death. It is what we loved and love and do not say good-bye to.
*"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety."
[My Heart Leaps Up, William Wordsworth, 1807]
© Copyright Jeffrey A. Schaler, 1997-2002 unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.