I have a file of random "important papers" that I've taken with me to every place I've moved. It contains my middle school and high school diplomas, various awards and certificates, my unopened recommendations, a duplicate copy of my car's title, and other stuff that doesn't fit with the rest of my papers. In the back of the file is a professional-looking crayon drawing of a 3-masted schooner. On the back is a year that puts me at about 5, with a later note that says "GF did this!". I remember that GF dashed this picture off in about a minute, and I'm sure he put it out of his head once he handed it to me. I had always meant to show him that I'd kept it all this time.
GF met my dad in college. I've mentioned before how alike my dad and I are, to my chagrin. My dad was miserable when he started college, lost in a big university and a big city, and desperately lonely. GF befriended my dad, dragged him around in all his adventures, and introduced him to my mother. My dad is high-strung and awkward in social situations, and GF was the one person who he could relax with. GF and my dad were the best man in each other's weddings three months apart, and our families were inseparable from then on.
GF always had the best stories, and I think the only way to explain who he was is to tell some of my own.
GF lived with his wife in the same 3-bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch they bought 30 years ago, even after having 3 kids and after the company he founded took off. In the booming 90s, he took the entire company, their families, and several babysitters to Disney World for two weeks. Twice. They didn't get around to updating or renovating the house, so the youngest ended up sleeping in the basement as a teenager. When GF received the cancer diagnosis, they decided to finally build the dream house they'd been designing for years, and they imploded the old house because really, what could be a better send-off?
I thought GF could survive anything.
He had a ridiculous, bloody chainsaw accident miles from anywhere (this is part of a really long story that only GF could tell properly) and his brother doused the gaping wound with gasoline (the only liquid they had) to rinse it and bound it in duct tape to keep it closed.
He was coming home late at night when he rounded a curve and got tangled up with a bunch of kids who were street racing. GF blacked out and woke up with a mangled left leg (almost every bone from the knee down was broken, including his toes) and his car in the bushes. He mistook the steam rising from the crumpled engine compartment to be smoke. Convinced the car was about to explode, and in an adrenaline-fueled daze, he hauled himself into the back seat, I guess because his door was pretty much destroyed, and crawled out the back window and fell into the bushes, where he wasn't found for a while. The emergency crew was mystified - how did the car get there with nobody in it and the doors locked?
As long as I can remember, GF was my favorite person; infinitely patient, passionate about a million oddball things from pirate ships to barbecueing to flying to maple sugaring (hence the chainsaw accident), and utterly selfless. And he lit up a room, even when he was yellow with jaundice, painfully bloated, and exhausted from the chemo.
I dropped everything and drove the hundreds of miles to come home for the memorial service. Not as much for his widow and their kids, who are closer to me than the rest of my family. Not even for my poor devastated dad, who took the loss so hard. But for GF.