Monday, 11 October 2010

Remember Those Things You Never Knew

Eulogies can sometimes be difficult.

Well, they're always difficult, of course. You can divide them into two groups: those that are too personal to write without pain, and those so impersonal you struggle to say anything at all.

Usually, it is only those of a clerical persuasion that have to deal with the latter. When my grandmother died, it was obvious that the minister (from my mother's church, of the Methodist persuasion) didn't really know the deceased well enough to offer much more than general platitudes (that wasn't her fault, my grandmother wasn't much of a church-goer, and the last thing she told the minister when she visited her in hospital was "I don't really believe in God, but let's try praying just on the off chance it works"). It seemed a shame that the last word on my mother's mother was comparatively impersonal, but that's the way it goes sometimes, and I always think that those who give such speeches without feeling they really knew the subject must find that really difficult, and maybe quite upsetting as well.

It never really occurred to me that I'd find myself in the same position.

Yesterday afternoon we buried my grandfather's ashes. I've spoken before about the kind of man he was, and how much lessened Middlesbrough is by his absence, so I won't go over that again, save to say that it was a short but satisfying service, and my grandmother chose an excellent resting place for his remains - just beside the reservoir that he and my father went fishing on when Dad was just a child, and again more recently when their constant butting of heads abated somewhat.

So I won't go over all of that again. I'm not here to talk about my grandfather directly in any case, but rather his estranged son.

The Crossman men are complicated beasts. This is clearly not the place for the airing of dirty laundry, but suffice it to say we tend to have father issues that would make the writers of Lost raise their eyebrows. I have the honour of being, at minimum, a third generation screw-up on that front (my great-grandfather died too soon for anyone to quiz him on the issue). That's not to say I don't love my father, or there's any reason to think he's anything other than a wonderful man who went to superhuman lengths to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Still, though, it's enough of a common thread to make me worried about the hypothetical (very, very hypothetical) day that I might be prepared to have children of my own.

My uncle left his wife and his two year old son in 1979, for which I don't think my father or grandfather ever forgave him. He started up a new family, which lasted for a few years and a few children, before he left them too for a third woman. I know little about his second family, who I have never met, and nothing about his third, who I don't believe anyone in the family has ever met. At some point in the early 80's, he disappeared off the radar completely, and no-one (save, as I learned in January, my grandmother) ever heard from him again.

At present there are two schools of thought; one that says I never met him, and one that says I met him once, before I was old enough to speak. I've always been curious about our black sheep (and my currently-undetermined number of extra cousins). My father always maintained I would be better off never running into him, and my grandfather only mentioned him once as far as I can recall, some comment about being sure he was, at least, bound to be having fun somewhere (i.e. drunk past the point of all logic). It's easy to say "I wish I'd never met him", but I'm entirely aware that this is an opinion entirely borne from the fact that I never had to meet him.

In any case, it doesn't matter any more. With typical ornery Crossman timing, Alan Crossman passed away yesterday morning, just hours before we left to give my grandfather to the ground. I considered letting this pass without comment, under the circumstances, but it felt wrong to have noted the loss of my father's father and not mention the passing of his eldest child. What's more, I think my grandfather - despite the rows and the heartbreak and the years of bitter silence - would agree with me on this. That's one of the many, many reasons I loved him as much as I did.

Type "Walter Crossman" into Google, and the very first hit is my grandfather. Alan, I cannot find at all. But he was still one of us. However much he tried not to be, he was one of us. I hope some part of him was OK with that.

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