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Yesterday was Josh’s grandfather’s funeral. Josh gave the eulogy, and because it was so beautiful, here it is.
First of all, on behalf of my family Iʼd like to thank you all for coming today.
Your presence with us on this day means more than youʼll ever know.
My name is Joshua Candler Steen, I am the son of Eddie Norris Steen, and the grandson of the man whoʼs life weʼve come to celebrate here today: Gilbert Norris Steen.
As a young child I spent a great deal of time with my grandmother and granddaddy. Like clockwork on Saturday morning Iʼd get in the car with my dad and weʼd drive across town to the little white house on the corner of West 6th Street. As a young child this was incredibly special for me! Up the stairs in the back, into the kitchen, through the dinning room, and around the corner, and there theyʼd sit. I could close my eyes for you right now, and every day for the rest of my life, and see them sitting there and hear their voices as I walked around that corner. My grandmother with her crossword puzzle and granddaddy in the rocking chair. “Hey there, boy!”, heʼd say to me with his typical wide- eyed grin.
As I got a little older, I spent even more time with my grandparents, as my parents went on trade shows and other things related to the teacher supply store they had owned. Now these were incredible times! Weʼd get in the white van, when it was first new, and go on adventures. Weʼd ride over to the train tracks and heʼd tell me all about the trains, and how they worked. Even as a child I was able to understand that he had taken pride in his work, and how he had wanted to share that with me in a way I could understand. Weʼd drive into town and get me a Happy Meal, and they just always seemed so much better when I get to eat them at their house. (I really think this was because I was allowed to squeeze out as much ketchup as the little plate could hold.) Weʼd go lots of places and say to just about anyone that weʼd meet that I was his grandson. As a kid it seemed to me that my grandparents knew just about everyone around, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people and experience many different things.
There are so many wonderful memories that I have as a child, and most of them I can relate back to the time spent at their house. Reciting Bible verses on the hearth, playing catch in the backyard, trying to catch fireflies on a warm summer evening, and just sitting in that old iron swing and talking with him. He was the only grown-up I knew that had just as much energy as I did, and it seemed as if he always had something special just for the two of us.
I watched him like a hawk; how heʼd trim the hedges, brush his hair, and drink his coffee. I copied his mannerisms, learned to take pride in how I presented myself, and most of all how he treated my grandmother.
He had this magical way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world at the very moment; that Iʼll never forget. He was charismatic, bold, stubborn, fiery, and compassionate all rolled into one. Heʼd do anything for you, if only youʼd ask.
Iʼve been fortunate over the year since my grandmother has passed to learn of all the things that he had done for many people, most of which have already departed this life.
When I entered into my teenage years I began to notice subtle changes in him and my grandmother. They began to slow down, they didnʼt go as many places as they once did, and it seemed as if they were getting smaller in many different ways. I remember giving Granddaddy many of my clothes that I had outgrown. Heʼd joke with me about how tall I was getting, and Iʼd always tell him heʼd catch up with me someday.
High school came and I made fewer trips across town to see them; for the rest of my life thatʼs something Iʼll regret. They were there for my big moments; proms, contests, performances, and graduations just like they had been for my t-ball and basketball games as a child. They were a constant in my life, even if I had thought I had outgrown them.
My first semester of college wasnʼt exactly the best, and I remember driving over to their house one afternoon planning to tell them things hadnʼt gone as I had planned. Up the stairs, into the kitchen, through the dinning room, and around the corner. Iʼm not sure what I really expected that day, but I was greeted just as I had been every single time I had entered their home. After a bit of talking, I got up to leave and he followed me to the kitchen. “No matter what you do, Iʼll always be proud of you, boy.”
Several years passed and my life changed quite a bit. I got married and became the stepdad to two of the coolest kids I know. I remember the overwhelmed look on Emilyʼs face as she was thrust into the middle of a Steen Holiday meal. Granddaddy came up to me, pulled me aside, put his arm around me and said, “You love that girl and hold on to her.” Through all of the good and bad times of being a husband Iʼve remembered those words, and will never forget them.
Over the last few years, our family has been transformed by the vast reach of the effects of cancer and Alzheimerʼs on two of the people who have been the biggest parts of our livesʼ.
On my birthday in 2009, I was preparing to take a moving truck full of every possession that my little family owned and move to Jackson, Mississippi for an exciting new job and life. As we were putting the final few pieces into the truck my cellphone rang. “Your grandmother has gone to the hospital and you need to come before you leave.” We rushed over, and as I held my grandmotherʼs hand in the little room in the ER, she began to cry and tried to apologize for “ruining” my moving day, in that sweet and loving tone that only she could. It was then that I had noticed Granddaddy, just kind of there to the side. He didnʼt recognize me. “Gib, itʼs Josh.” At the time I had written it off as him being flustered by the sudden rush to the hospital.
We moved to Jackson, and came back a year later for the birth of our daughter. Iʼm so thankful that we were able to share our wonderful little girl with them both in their home, albeit just once or twice. In the weeks that followed many difficult decisions had to be made. I stood in the doorway as my grandparents embraced each other for the last time in their home the day Granddaddy was moved to Booneville. In all the confusion that had begun to cloud his mind, it seemed like he always knew her. It was very difficult for me to see these two wonderful people that I had loved so much slip away.
I stopped by the hospital in Booneville to see granddaddy quite a bit, as the visiting hours there worked really well with my work schedule. As many of you know first hand, there were good days and bad days. Several times Iʼd slip in, visit with the staff, and just watch as he ate his meal. One of the last times I visited him there I had gotten to take him in his chair up and down the hall. I talked, and he just sat quietly and listened. Time was ending, and I had wheeled him back to his room. I leaned down, kissed the top of his head, and he reached out to grab my hand. “Hey there, boy. Howʼs that baby?” I proudly showed him every picture on my phone that I had. As we said goodbye that day I could see that sparkle in his eye that I had known all of my life. “You tell Momma Iʼll be home soon.”
The journey over the last year has been rough and hard to bear for all of us, moves to nursing facilities, and a couple of trips in and out of the hospital. As this day approached it seemed harder and harder to imagine that we would have to say our final goodbyes.
But the man that weʼve come to celebrate today would expect us all to leave this place in love, joy, and hope.
Heʼd be proud to know that his two sonʼs were steadfast and faithful to their mother when he was not able. Heʼd laugh with us through all of our joy, and love us all, even when we didnʼt give as much in return.
He has given each and every one of us a memory or a thought that weʼll always hold near to our hearts as we remember how he changed our lives.
For me, Iʼll close my eyes, go up those backdoor stairs, into the kitchen, through the dinning room, and around the corner, and there heʼll be in that rocking chair smiling at me. “Hey there, boy.”
I am proud to say today that I am the grandson of Gilbert Norris Steen. I am charismatic, bold, stubborn, fiery, and compassionate all rolled into one.