On July 6, 2022, my family gathered to mourn the loss of my Grandpa and lay him to rest. This is the eulogy I delivered.
Last Friday I went to see my Grandpa, not knowing that I was there to say goodbye. He took his last breath as my dad and I stood on either side of him and told him that we love him. Since then, I have struggled to find the right words to share that would somehow describe my Grandpa, C. Keith McCormick. I’m using an initial for his first name because he hated his first name so much, he might just jump out of that coffin and scold me for using it.
Once his father described Keith as a man of extremes and he could be that. He was fun-loving with a sort of mischievous pull to his smile and laugh, always willing to bend or break a rule or two. I remember “breaking the law” with him when he let my sister and me ride in the bed of his pickup truck to get ice cream to make me feel better after a horsefly swelled up my ankle. He could always make me feel like I was conspiring with him to break some sort of rule, even if it was just taking him on a drive to the wildlife refuge when I visited Valentine as an adult. And my favorite was when he would tell the stories he wasn’t supposed to. Marilyn would click her tongue and “oh honey, they don’t want to hear that,” but walk away as he’d share how he hid old Cop Kelley’s car in the Doctor’s garage one childhood spring and that it wasn’t until winter when they found it again. He told his stories so well, that you would find yourself starting to get that anxious sort of ache when he described Cop Kelley coming to the school and choosing my Grandpa, the thief!, to help post fliers for the missing car around.
He also had a curiosity and thirst for life. Visiting Valentine meant picking raspberries in his backyard, admiring his incredible flower garden with stargazer lilies and irises, and maybe getting to see the baby bunnies living in an old stump or a tree filled with migrating monarchs. He savored the little delights of life, like his Aunt Edith’s fudge, which admittedly was so good that the one cold perfect bite his mom snuck my sister and me as small children is still a vivid memory to this day. And every visit, I would stand in his airplane room, enchanted by his spinning display of little model planes and the ones he had positioned so they looked frozen midair, soaring around the room.
I don’t think that anything describes my grandpa better than flight. He fell madly in love with flying and airplanes in high school. He built his own plane and flew everywhere, including to school, then he’d race his friend’s truck home. When the Fosters were snowed in, he airdropped supplies including coffee and cigarettes. My Aunt Kathy remembers riding with him and my Aunt Linda when he’d buzz his parents’ ranch and dive-bombing them in the fields. And my dad remembers opening the window and dropping his banana peel out into the sky. He was so small on that trip that he couldn’t hold the brakes down and after starting the engine my grandpa had to grab and swing himself into the plane as it started to drive by him. He was a daring, fun man with a passion for the freedom of flight.
Once while visiting his parents’ graves, he shared with me his favorite poem, High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr. When I first read it again on Saturday, I wept for it so perfectly captures what I wish for my grandpa now and what I know that his heaven would be.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air ….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.