7/30/2017 Eric's Memorial Service
Sarah and I testing setup for Eric's service
The memorial service, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, was in a big wedding tent at the Eagle. John
arranged for an open bar starting half an hour before the service and for heavy hors d'oeuvres
afterwards. We planned for about 150 people since we knew we had almost 50 family members present.
Heather and Nick, Uncle Nathan's granddaughter and son, both came along with Nancy and all of the
Banham cousins. Most of them I hadn't seen since Gram's service back in 2004. Our cousins on
John's side, Rob with his wife BG and Randy with her daughter Paige and family, came from
Florida and Maine respectively, and my cousin Sally came up from Marblehead. Jamie and Jennifer
drove down from Newfoundland for the occasion while Maizie stayed home with the kids
Altogether about 300 people showed up, the biggest crowd the Eagle had seen all summer. From
Marblehead Donna and Stacy drove up and stayed at the Eagle, and Diana's brother David whom I hadn't
seen for decades drove up from central New Hampshire. John and Carol came by on Saturday afternoon
but couldn't stay for the service. It was good to see them and to hang out with Donna and
Stacy, though I was too busy at the time to recognize the comfort these long-time friends brought
Sarah opened the service, then Bridget read a modified version of a poem Gram wrote and which we had
read at her service. Sarah then played a fiddle piece accompanied by Whit on the guitar. I gave
my remarks next and have written here what I for the most part intended to say:
Eric was probably in second grade when he came home from school one day. Apparently he was acting
up because Mom asked him why he was misbehaving. "I used up all my good in school, Mommy," Eric
replied. Now I can picture Eric at the pearly gates where Saint Peter asks him, "So Eric, what are
you doing here?". I can picture Eric replying, "Well, all that good you gave me, I used it all up
down there. I lived my life to the fullest and did the best I could." And I hope and expect Saint Peter
to respond "Well done, Eric! Come on in and have a beer! It's on the house."
We in Eric's family had a particular picture of Eric and it was a pretty narrow picture. We saw him
couple times a week, when he came to dinner or when he came down to mow the lawn; we saw him pretty
regularly for the last couple of decades but we only saw one side of him. He could be kind of
cranky at times, like at Christmas when we'd try to take a picture of him. At best he would make a
face; at worst he might threaten to grab the camera and throw it out the window. Amazingly enough,
we did get a few pictures of him.
He was just kind of a crotchety younger brother. We knew there were other sides to Eric, but we
didn't see them as well as some of you did. So there's a time on the program called open mic, and
we really hope that you will feel free to come up and share your stories and your memories of Eric
with us. You know, I didn't mean the story about Saint Peter and the pearly gates literally. I
used to think I knew what happened after death, but I don't anymore. What I do know is that we have
him alive in our memories.
When Sarah and Roger and I were walking over here to check out the tent and plan the service, we
were talking about who would do what and I was about to say to Sarah, "We have a part for different
family members to play, but we left out Eric. What is he going to do?", then I realized he does
have a part to play. He's the star of the show. So we really want to make Eric the star today.
Well I think at this point I'll turn it back over to Sarah to invite people to share their stories,
while I try to remember my own stories to share.
Jennifer, accompanied by Jamie, came up to the microphone next and shared her experience as an only
child living in Newfoundland far from her half-brothers and half-sister, and how she got to know
Eric only as an adult, when she was delighted to discover that her brother liked her. He had a
goofy sense of humor, a common interest in philosophical things, and connected quite well with her
young children. Not until this visit, after he died, did she learn of his interest in Tibetan
Buddhism and realized that they were reading the same books at the same time. (The rest of his
family likewise learned of that interest only after Eric died.)
The grandchildren came up next, Eric's nieces and nephews. Kirsten spoke first, and after observing
that Eric was part of the fabric of their lives, went on to say:
"I spent a lot of my life experiencing sadness and guilt that, for example, I didn't come by more
and that I didn't keep in touch with him during my long stays away from the Valley. Now I'm aware
of how Eric was a constant and loving witness to our lives.
The other day at his house my mother found a trove of postcards that Eric had written as journals on
our family vacations. One recounts our trip to Idaho to watch Silas at the Junior Olympics. There
were about five postcards, gushing about the great powder skiing we did, Silas's results, the food,
the awards ceremonies, the Nordic skiing we did - so much joy in everything, in all of us and what
we were doing. One of them ends with a sentence that resonates with this quiet joy in our presence.
He writes "It's the end of a long day. I'm alone with the three girls. They're reading quietly."
We were the three girls, quiet readers oblivious to the very ordinary significance of that moment,
and many others.
I was intrigued that Kirsten shared some of that sense of debt to Eric that we all felt, that each
of us neglected him or failed him in some way, and that had we done more for him at one point or
another during his life, he would have been happier or more successful. The implication of our
shared assumption is that Eric's life was not as happy or as successful as we expected of him. Who
can say how that expectation affected our respective relationships with him? At any rate, I think
that through his memorial service we all came to understand a little more the richness of the life
Eric built for himself in the Valley and perhaps we can therefore forgive ourselves that debt. By
one metric at least, the number of people attending his memorial service, Eric will undoubtedly
exceed us all.
David came up next and introduced himself, "Hi I'm David. Uncle Eric was my uncle." People laughed.
David explained that a condition called Dupuytren's Contracture runs in the family and that it
caused Eric's fingers to curl into his palm. He remembered Eric telling him how at the annual ski
club end of season graduation he couldn't really clap for the kids. His kids would ask him about it
and he would explained that he had this condition but that he would appreciate it if they would
straighten out his fingers for him. The kids would grab his fingers and pull and pull but of course
the fingers remained curled. For David it indicated how Eric must've been with him and his cousins
when they were young, that he could even use his disability as a way of engaging with the kids he
coached for the ski club.
Daniel told a story about a saying the family has long attributed to Eric, "Little do we realize
that it seems that we are going uphill." As I recall, we were somewhere in the middle of the long
gradual climb on the trail up to Mount Carrigan when Eric made that announcement. He was probably
six at the time. Anyhow, Daniel dusts it off and reuses it from time to time during the rush at the
restaurant where he works. He will announce "Little do we realize that it seems that things are
quite busy at the moment", and enjoy watching someone take him seriously and try to reason it out,
"Yeah. No. Wait, I do realize we are busy. Wait, what you mean?" and Daniel will explain, "It's
just something my uncle used to say."
"For a number of years the only time most of us saw Eric was at Christmas. We didn't see as much
of him as other times as we probably should have but we saw him at Christmas. We all had a lot of
people to buy presents for so we had this somewhat informal agreement with Eric where we would shake
hands and agree "All right, I won't get you a present if you don't get me a present." Some years
that worked and some years it didn't. I remember that one of the years the deal fell apart, Eric
bought me a bicycle repair stand and he said "You better use that." The next year he got me a tow
rope for my truck and he said "You better not use that."
I think we all have these snapshots of Uncle Eric, because we didn't get to see him as much as we
would've wanted to.
Bridget reminisced about the trivia games that grandpa would play with them over dinner and how Eric
would usually win the prize of the fur-lined bathtub, a virtual award that sounded to her as though
it might actually rather nice. She appreciated how Eric would engage with her in conversation about
almost any topic. In closing, she read another postcard journal Eric had written, this one at the
close of a family vacation in Florida. "Oh well... Kroger and Doucette kids got all their
classmates gifts from their vacations. Sarah got NOTHING for Bridget and Rowan to give. We are
going to look for something in Philly International Airport."