After his retirement from the Port of The Dalles, he kept himself busy by finishing his dream home, building a two-story barn, two carports, and finally a home for his daughter. He restored a 1963 Chrysler New Yorker to pristine condition, insisting that everything was original, right down to the radio. Those were just the big projects. There were a million little projects too. Antiques he refinished, dog houses he built, cars he fixed, trees planted, neighbors’ driveways he plowed. He could do it all.
As he got older, his greatest struggle became the limitations of his body. First his hearing all but left him, and then his sight started to go too. Finally his heart started to show signs of strain, but despite these limitations (or perhaps in spite of them) he continued working. Even when his legs wouldn’t hold him up, he set up a strategic system of chairs around the property and used his four-wheeler to get around for longer distances. “I’m just not worth a damn,” he’d say on his way out to water the two hundred trees he and Jerry had planted in the fields behind his home.
“You’re still worth more than most people,” his family would say.
He was just as proud of his family as they were of him. He was proud of his marriage that lasted sixty years. Of his son who literally followed in his footsteps. He would marvel at the work Jerry could do and the things he could build. Similarly, he bragged about Jackie’s strength. He liked to tell people that she could work as hard as any man, but the truth is she often worked much harder. Despite his long standing feud with institutions of learning, he still managed to be proud of his granddaughter when she earned a couple of college degrees and went to work in, of all places, a library.
In his last years, he seemed positively delighted by his great-grandson, no doubt owning to Killian’s remarkable resemblance to a young Bob Rundell. Killian was smitten with him too, at least partially owing to all the lawn-mower rides with Boppa at the farm. Sometimes he’d watch Killian playing with his dad and he would say, “I wish I’d done more of that.”
Maybe he didn’t play with his kids, but he was always teaching them. He didn’t play with me either, but he took me for many hikes around the property pointing out interesting plants or animals tucked among the brush that I hadn’t noticed. Once he woke me up on a Saturday, and beckoned me out to his workshop where he had built, just that morning, a working incubator that held twelve recently abandoned goose eggs. Together the two of us sat and watched the goslings hatch, and later even though I was the one that fed and cared for the flock, it was him that they would follow around (to his chagrin) like a waddling trail of honking and fluffy groupies.
You didn’t often see him smiling, but he did have a sense of humor and every now and then he couldn’t help but let that wry grin peek out from the corners of his mouth.
“What are you grinning at?” I once asked him when I caught him watching me cook dinner.
“Just admiring how broad your shoulders are,” he replied.
“Oh, jeez, Gramps is that supposed to be a compliment?” I asked.
He laughed. Of course it was a compliment. When a man who once held up a thousand pound safe tells you that you have broad shoulders, that’s probably the highest compliment he can pay.