Author’s note: On Monday, May 27th, 2019 (Memorial Day), James Charles Schroeder, my grandfather, passed away at the age of 86. As a young man fresh out of high school, he joined the Navy and was stationed in Foley, Alabama, where my father was born. Shortly after the family returned home, he began working at Crescent Plastics in Evansville, and retired at the age of 65 after 43 years with the company, most of it spent on the factory floor. He reportedly never called in sick during his entire tenure. As the oldest grandchild, I was blessed with countless experiences with him that not only formed me as a man, but also left me with a deep love for him. At his Mass of Christian Burial, my fellow cousins and brother brought seven items to the front of church that symbolized the values that he embodied. These items were a crucifix, symbolizing his faith, a picture of my Grandpa and Grandma on their wedding day (over 66 years ago) for his love/commitment, his metal lunch box for his work ethic, a lantern & fishing pole signifying his love of leisure & outdoors, a Mater Dei & Reitz shirt demonstrating his support of local athletics, and a calendar with pictures & birthdays of all his family members.
The prior evening at the showing, I delivered the following eulogy. It was my summation and reflection on more than 42 years of time spent with him as we all celebrated a life well lived and a legacy that carried on.
It was a bright, pleasant Saturday morning. We pulled into the Westside Sportman’s club, and we excitedly unloaded the contents from the massive trunk. With a slingshot, BB gun, minnow bucket, and a net in hand (among other assorted items), we took off alongside the railroad tracks towards a creek bed not far away. Not unlike many other mornings with Grandpa, you just never knew quite what lay in store. That day, the crawdads were elusive, but there were always other critters to find, and Mike and I were in heaven as we went in search of what the waterway and surrounding land would reveal. After a while, having exhausted our time at the creek, we walked back and were entertained by Grandpa’s marksmanship as he methodically took apart a tiny limb across the tracks.
From the youngest age, I was blessed to have parents who “kicked me” out the door into the natural world around. But long before I had the ability to go far from home on my own, it was Grandpa, who whose zealousness for the harvest of the woods and waterways, gave me an early lesson on just how bountiful nature could be. Whether it was the early morning rabbit hunts (that usually ended with hunting our beloved beagle, Jack, down somewhere), the trips to the river in search of perch and catfish (and hopefully not the gar), or a search for those coveted catalpa worms for fishing, it was a young boy’s outdoor classroom that would help create a man whose love of the natural world only grows more each day.
As Grandpa grew older, and so did I, these trips became less frequent, but it was clear that his curiosity and love for God’s gift of outdoors never waned. He always loved to hear a good fish story or just know about all the outdoor adventures we were taking. A few years ago, when we first got Mortis the tortoise, our kids were so excited to show Grandpa our new pet because somewhere I think they recognized the zealous youth in this 80+ year-old man.
Among many lessons of love, commitment, and resiliency, I learned two things from Grandpa. Life is fun and life is hard, and neither exists in isolation of each other. He was a man who grew up in the hardscrabble world of the mid-30’s and early 40’s, where many people literally lived hand to mouth without any security about how their needs would be met the following day. And although I was blessed to be raised in time where basic needs came more readily, in Grandpa I saw a man who could find joy and fun in the tough, uncertain straits of life. He was a man of simple faith, who loved God, but oh, did he love his family and friends and the great outdoors! And he loved life, even if ever unsure of what it would bring. Although my rabbit hunting & fishing trips with him were gradually replaced by Monday night Bear’s games and birthday parties, he always loved to be with the people he loved. And I knew he loved to be with me as I with him.
The measure of a man is how he plays the part he has been given in the stage of life, no matter how difficult it may be. It is one reason why the twilight of his life was so moving to me. Repeatedly, he was faced with situations in which his physical capabilities were failing and it seemed he might not make it another day. Still, like a true prizefighter, he kept coming back for more even as he could hardly walk anymore. In the final weeks, he seemed to have every reason to let go on multiple occasions, but he just kept persisting in writing his final chapter on this earth. And I am convinced that although he loved God, and had desired to unite with Him, he so loved this world and the people in it that he just wanted to hang on for a little bit longer to see what might occur. As St. Paul once said and Grandpa embodied, “he fought the good fight, he finished the course, he kept the faith.”
As my brother, Mike, once said, we all embody a part of the family members who have come before. As man with my own kids, who carries Grandpa’s namesake, his facial features, and apparently his upper body, shoulder-thrusting dance moves (great story for anyone interested in hearing), I have tried to be an astute student of what he has been teaching me for over 4 decades. Life is hard. Life is fun. Life is like an early morning romp by the railroad tracks. You never really know what you might find or what you might do, but there is always an adventure to be had and someone to share it with who cares.
God Bless You, Grandpa. We love you even more than you knew.