Please Join the Family and Friends
On January 11, 2003
From 4 to 7 P.M.
At Barbara's house
For me, the 20th century has now ended. Finally. Walter S. Roessler, my Grandpa, you were a 20th century man. Your life stretched from the Wright Brothers and the dawn of human flight, a time when horse-drawn carriages were still common transportation, through a century of unrivaled revolution that has thoroughly transformed the world. Through good times and bad, you remained true to yourself. You knew who you were. You were modest, kind, and gentle. Qualities that are much too rare in human beings. You were a good man.
Late at night, rather, very early on the morning of December 23, it was time for you to go, Grandpa, and so you left. You were one tough old guy, and I hope that you didn't suffer long in silence (If you were going to suffer, that's the only way you would have done it). Almost 99 years without visiting a hospital, (In the capacity of patient, despite having made your living, and providing for your family through many years of hospital employment), I am so glad that when you had to go there, it was only for those last few days. I'm sad today, for myself and for our family, because we are sure going to miss you. It's never going to be the same, but our traditions, and the bonds of love that have always held this family together will endure. Grandpa, you will never be forgotten as we go forward with our lives. Now it is official: you are our esteemed family ancestor.
There are so many memories vivid in my mind. I am reaching way back to recall my first ever backpack trip, before I was even five, with you and Bebe and John O. I made a big fuss, when for some reason you didn't think I should eat an orange. Or the summer when I was 9, and you drove us down to Disneyland. Grandma was navigating, Bebe and her friend were teenagers (In a total sense), and I was carting around my ventriloquist dummy! It took a lot of courage, for you to lead a trip like that.
Of course, many memories are of Christmas Eve, and all of us crowded into your front room. One year there was a heated argument about the exact color of your tie, which you ended with an emphatic proclamation: "It's GOLDEN!" Or the year that you received an enormous box inside of which was a brick, curiously painted golden, attached to which was a promissory note for gardening supplies. The actual gift was not as important as the golden brick, which made you laugh harder and longer than I have ever seen anyone laugh upon opening a present.
And, of course, there were your jokes. I will always, as long as I live, know the difference between a herring and a hand towel (You don't wipe your hands on a herring).
As I grew up, I spent a lot of time with you. In your garden, on walks, at family functions. It adds up to a lot of time, but I wish it had been a whole lot more. I always understood and appreciated your concern for me and how I was coming along in the world. I can feel that today, and that is so comforting.
This past Thanksgiving was your last family party. You were more talkative then in quite a long while. Now I see that you knew you were leaving. You were particularly concerned about this generation of children. When I told Betsy that you have gone, she cried, and said that the last thing you said to her on Thanksgiving was, "I love you very much."
In the last few weeks, your strong old body finally wore out, and so you wisely discarded it. I can only compliment you on your timing, even as I blink back tears. You have always been such an example of easy moderation. Your view of life appeared to mellow as you grew older. I sense that your internal life, and your love and compassion for others grew deeper, even as your sight and hearing dimmed with age, and the world outside became more difficult for you to apprehend. You were always very deliberate and exact at expressing yourself, and it was noticeably frustrating for you, in your advanced old age, finding the words difficult to recall. It might have taken a long time to convey your thoughts, but I'm glad you made the effort to speak, and I was always glad, honored, to listen. I'm going to miss sitting close to you and listening, and maybe now and then helping you with finding just the right word.
You were a practical man. The world is as it is, and you hadn't any need of mysticism that I ever saw. You were impeccably decent, and not because you felt you must be. That was your nature, and as a practical man, you knew that it was in your best interests to support a civil world, organized on principles of kindness. It was best for you, your family, and the community. You saw clearly, having learned through hard experience, that the world is often not decent, that evil and greed are powerful forces in human society, and when you saw hurts great or small, caused by meanness or stupidity, you were forceful in declaring that they were wrong and a damn shame. That set a good example for me, a boy who grew into a man. I try and live a life of kindness even as you did. It feels good, and is ultimately the only practical way to live, with others and with one's self.
As far as I could tell, you accepted death as a mystery beyond knowledge of the living, and so it wasn't necessary to worry about it. I know that you were tired the last years of your life, amazed, perhaps a trifle annoyed, to have lived so long. Once you told me that had you known you were going to live so long, you would have structured your retirement differently! Another practical side of you, financial planning. I'm still not up to speed on that, despite your good example. Maybe I still can be. I just have a sense that now that you have given up your dear old body, that a tremendous burden has been lifted from you, that you are at peace, free, and able to truly rest.
I have known for a long time that, in all likelihood, I would have to write this tribute. I even thought about some of the stuff I'd need to include, which I have, as that sad day has arrived. I feel self-conscious writing now. I have decided to write to you, rather than about you. My peculiar talent is for telling stories that express real emotion that an audience can share. Let me say that you, Walter S. Roessler, were a gentleman in the truest sense. Sure, you could be grouchy at times, and unbelievably stubborn. You could (and did) get mad at times. But you were never mean. You were interested in this world and you observed it closely, and then formed strong opinions about it (and often I didn't share your conclusions, but that was fine). You were funny, and had a very sharp wit. I believe that, all in all, you were happy with life. You had friends and a family that loved you, and you didn't do so bad at planning your retirement, even though you lived to be 98.
So many shirts and coats you passed my way over the years. You gave them to me with lots of wear left in them, and most often I quickly wore them out. On Sunday I wore my London Fog raincoat (Formerly yours). I have been told I look good in it, and it still has lots of wear left. I'm going to treat it well, because I want to wear it for many years to come.
I grieve, for myself, and for the family, because you have always been here and now you're gone, and we won't get you back again. But I am not at all worried about you, I know that you are absolutely fine, and that this worked out perfectly for you.
You were a very dignified man. When I saw you on Saturday, you had lost none of that dignity, even though you were dying. You were kind and polite to the strangers in the hospital who were annoying, even as they tried to help you. You looked me in the eye when I said goodbye, and told you that I love you.
A week of big storms has passed. Monday, December 23: a beautiful day of bright skies, the air is fresh and clean. Tuesday night, perhaps more rain, but the family will gather for Christmas Eve. We will await the arrival of Santa Claus. In the jolly tinkling of the sleigh bells, I'll be listening for you, and I know that you'll be there.
David Andrew Wilson
December 23-24, 2002
It is hard to believe
That five years have passed
Since we gathered to pay tribute
to my grandpa
Mr. Walter S. Roessler
on his ninetieth birthday.
That day I read lines
verses I had written
about his life
and our afternoons spent gardening.
Little Betsy Wilson
was a few weeks old baby then.
Today she is a big strappin' kid.
Where did those years go?
Tonight, we are gathered once again
to celebrate this remarkable man.
A true twentieth century man.
Born with the airplane
the motion picture and the telephone,
and here with us now
in these times of space satellites
and instant transfers of information
of people and goods
moving all around the world.
And grandpa takes it in.
Listening to his tapes,
his information loaded books,
always learning more
about the world.
It's a great privilege
to be able to visit
with you, Mr. Roessler.
To take a meal, to walk,
to sit and talk.
No matter what the conversation
it resonates somewhere in your life.
Sometime, some place,
you were there and did that,
whether rowing with a team on the Rhine,
drinking Octoberfest brews
and avoiding fisticuffs,
cross-country train rides
on two continents,
or first class accommodations
on military leave
where the shortest guy
had to sleep
in the bath tub.
A thousand stories,
and I have been privileged
to hear so many of them.
I encourage each of you
gathered here tonight
as often as you can
buy this man a drink
and get him spinning yarns!
You will be well rewarded
with amazing wit and lore.
Thank you, grandpa.
And I wish you
a very Happy Birthday.
-- D. A. Wilson
GARDENING WITH GRANDPA
In 1993 when you were 89,
I spent a lot of time
Gardening with you Grandpa.
We talked leaves and weeds
And pruning your old trees.
I always a bit quicker with the clippers
And the electric hedge trimmer
Than you wanted me to be,
But I only made a few major blunders,
And these you, apparently, forgave me.
Between mowing the back lawn
And trimming back
The ever persistent ivy,
We talked stories.
Iíll not repeat them all here now,
But Iím glad to have heard them.
Stories about your youth
In Frankfurt with your family.
In 1930 you came to this country,
Arriving in Cincinnati
In time for the Great Depression.
You worked through that
At any and all kinds of jobs,
Served as a warrant officer
In the United States Air Force
(Which you later called
The "Chair" Force)
During World War II.
On January 5, 1951,
You and Lisbeth married in Cincinnati,
Moved west to Rio Vista, then Sacramento,
Eventually settled in Richmond
Where you worked at Brookside Hospital
For many years.
All the while raising three daughters
Who grew up, left home
To lead full and successful lives
Of their own.
Every Christmas Eve
The entire family gathered,
including two rambunctious grandsons,
I can still hear you getting mad:
"You boys! Stop swirling around in that chair!
Youíre going to knock over the lamp!"
And then when the whole family
Had been shunted off to the middle room,
Giggling, and listening at the door,
You alone remaining in the front of the house,
Then we would hear the sleigh bells,
Your happy greeting, and Santa Clausí
Resounding "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Once, I asked
"Why does Grandpa get to see Santa Claus?"
"Because Grandpa is the oldest of us all,
And he has known Santa for a long long time."
Santa Clausí visit is still
A moment of pure magic
That occurs for our family
When we get together
Every Christmas Eve.
After you retired from Brookside,
You had more time to enjoy your garden,
Daily walks, books, music and travel.
A granddaughter arrived and then a great-granddaughter.
And today, I am proud, to introduce you to,
For the very first time, a second great-granddaughter,
Born very early Christmas Day, while Santa Claus
Still made his yearly rounds.
Today, your family and friends
Have gathered here with you
To celebrate your 90th birthday.
90 years is a long time
And the world has been transformed
Since you were born in 1904.
Today, we congratulate you
For the long road you have traveled
Stretching back to before the rest of us were born
(In the babyís case nearly 90 years).
From you we have learned that common sense,
A practical view of life, diligent husbandry
And careful conservation of oneís resources,
Can take one a very long way indeed.
I am looking forward to joining you again
In your garden for more hard and honest work,
And hopefully more stories over morning coffee,
And at lunch time when "the boss rings the bell,"
Or while pruning the trees, clearing out the weeds,
And cutting back the ivy.
-- D. A. Wilson
For Walter S. Roessler
Born January 11, 1904
January 9, 1994, Lafayette, CA