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Grandpa's Hills

July 3, 2009

This is my eulogy to my maternal grandfather, Gerald Scotton, who died Sunday, June 28, 2009, at the age of 96. He farmed near Northboro, Iowa, nearly all his life. In 2001, he moved to a care center in nearby Shenandoah and in 2007, he moved to a care center in Columbus Junction to be closer to his daughter, my mom.

His funeral was at the Northboro United Methodist Church on July 1. I read the eulogy as an introduction to a song I sang and played on guitar:

I have lived in the same house, the same city for seven years now. That's an eternity for me. I spent much of the '80s and '90s and early oh-ohs moving from place to place, from town to town, from state to state. At one point, I counted 20- or 30-some places I had lived after leaving for college.

By contrast, my grandfather, Gerald Scotton, lived in one place for nearly his entire life—the hills of Page County. And I admire that.

He was born on his father's farm on September 11, the same day as me, although 52 years earlier. 

It was there where he grew up. 

It was there where he brought his wife, Jean. 

It was there where he started a family with two girls, Bonnie and Connie. 

It was there where he took over his father's farm. 

It was there where years later, his three grandchildren, Jodie, Shawn, and Andy would come to visit. 

It was there where we'd help Grandma with the chickens. 

It was there where one grandchild would spin in the tire swing until he became sick. 

It was there where a grandchild would watch Grandpa open a history book and before getting up, turn to the last page of the book and close it. Did he just read the entire book in one sitting? 

It was there where Grandpa watched the cattle come in to the yard down the hill in the evening. 

It was there where he navigated his dark green GMC pickup with the grinding gearshift through tight spaces in the fence: These were the squeeze gates. Or to a 4-year-old grandchild, they seemed so tight that they were the "ska-weeeeeze gates." (I understand it was a lot more adorable when I did that 40 years ago.)

It was there where even more years later, Great Grandpa Jerry would be visited by his grandkids' own kids.

It was there on these hills of Page County where Grandpa did just about everything he did in his life. 

It was there. It was there. It was there.

Back in 2001, when Grandpa moved to the care center in Shenandoah, I think he was reluctant to go. And who could blame him for wanting to stay on the farm?

I was there with my family last night on a perfect summer evening. The hills were green and lush. Giant oak trees cast dark, cool shadows. The crops were healthy. The meadowlarks were singing. Trees Grandma and Grandpa planted were bearing fruit. It was quiet and isolated. When it was perfect like this, it is no wonder that Grandpa chose this spot as the center of his universe—or maybe the universe chose Grandpa for this spot.

I was worried about taking Grandpa out of the hills—HIS hills. I figured it was like taking an astronaut out of his space suit. But my mother—who deserves substantial credit for Grandpa's care and well-being these last several years—took panoramic photographs of his hills and put them up in his room. Each day, he was still able to look up and see where he was from. Those photos moved with him when he made his long trip to eastern Iowa two years ago. The hills where he made his living, provided sustenance for his family and his community, continued to sustain him.

For a few years, he may have left the hills, but of course, the hills never left him.

About a decade ago, I first heard this song, "These Hills" by folk singer and songwriter Iris Dement. I know she wasn't writing about Grandpa's hills, but I can't hear this song without thinking of him and where he came from:

THESE HILLS (Iris DeMent)

(c) 1992 Songs of Iris/Forerunner Music, Inc. ASCAP

Far away I've traveled

to stand once more alone

and hear my memories echo

through these hills that I call home

 

As a child I roamed this valley

I watched the seasons come and go

I spent many hours dreaming

on these hills that I call home

 

The wind is rushing through the valley

and I don't feel so all alone

When I see the dandelions blowing

across the hills that I call home

 

Like the flowers I am fading

into my setting sun

Brother and sister passed before me

Mama and Daddy they've long since gone

 

The wind is rushing through the valley

and I don't feel so all alone

When I see the dandelions blowing

across the hills that I call home

These are the hills that I call home

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