Here I attempt to describe my admiration and adoration for a wonderful man who, among his myriad accomplishments in his 91 years, let me live in his basement for nearly half of my life to date, one 6th of his own productive life. This isn’t any sort of tribute, just things I’ve been thinking about, through the crying headache I’ve had since yesterday. I wish I could have held his hand one more time. I wish he had been able to kiss my cheek, just one last time.
As words escape me, I think of how kind Grandpa was in sharing his house with me and my family. I moved into the basement in 1993, my freshman year at BYU. I had many roommates over the course of the 8 years it took me to get my bachelor’s degree (something Grandpa never berated me for, though his own education had been thorough, and he didn’t dilly-dally like I did), including my cousin Liz and my best friend Sheila. We were in “the apartment,” which took up half of the basement, and was closed off from the rest of the house, with it’s own outside entrance.
When I got engaged, Grandpa and his second wife, Leah, offered to let me and Derek live there while Derek finished his BS. That was to take another 8 months. We kicked out the girls, who didn’t seem to mind. I was pregnant by the time Derek finished, but by then he had decided to continue on through a Master’s degree. Grandpa let us stay, and our first baby was born while we lived there. With the resulting increase in laundry, and the beating my body had been through, Grandpa let me start using his laundry room, and we unlocked the door to the other side of the house. This was a really big deal for me, as I understood that it meant I was intruding on his space, but he didn’t seem to mind. Or he didn’t let me see if he minded.
Grandpa’s wife died in the meantime, and he remarried again. His new wife was also very accommodating to us, and let us continue using the laundry. The, when Calvin got too big for the baby bath, we asked Grandpa if we could bring Calvin up to one of the main bathrooms for bath time. This began an almost daily ritual that I would not trade for anything, though I didn’t take advantage of it nearly enough. We would bring Calvin up in the evening, Derek would run the bath and watch Calvin, and I would go into Grandpa’s room and chat. Sometimes we watched the daily episode of Jeopardy that he had recorded an hour before. Sometimes I knew the answers, but Grandpa almost always did. He shared with me the books he was reading, the events in the paper; I told him of Calvin’s exploits, Derek’s successes, and any news I’d heard from the family or the neighborhood. Derek would bring Calvin in to say hi. When Calvin was walking, he would come in on his own, wrapped in a hooded towel, and jump on Grandpa’s bed. When Zeeb came along, there were two little boys streaking and jumping and cavorting in what they started calling “flying towels.”
Sometimes Grandpa would peek into the bathroom during bath time, and witness the destruction that was going on and smile.
For several years we sat with Grandpa at church, until the kids got so unruly that we had to find a spot with fewer opportunities for escape.
Grandpa was a gardener. He kept a large garden with tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, peas, and acorn squash. He always shared his bounty. After I got married, he offered me half of the garden to keep. I tried my hand at gardening, with a very unorthodox approach that was, I’m sure, an eyesore to Grandpa, whose garden was always orderly, in beautiful rows, free of weeds. I planted a bunch of tall wildflowers right in the middle. I divided my spot into smaller squares and planted as many things as I could think of: chard, green beans, peas, spinach, basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, sage, beets, 15 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, leeks, fava beans, strawberries, lettuces. It was a mess. I was never consistent about weeding, so my half was inevitably overgrown, like a forest. The last summer we were there, I tried to grow pole beans. I put in a trellis made of pipes and netting. It was ugly, and eyesore. It turned out that the beans I bought were bush beans.
Grandpa also let us put a sandbox under the cherry tree, in the shadiest part of the garden. My little boys would go out there, get naked, find the hose, and fill up the sandbox. They called it “mudbox.” Lots of sand mysteriously found its way into the garden.
When, after Derek finished his Master’s degree and we spent the summer of 2004 in Ohio, Derek decided to continue his education and pursue a PhD, we looked for another place to live in Provo. We felt like we had taken advantage of Grandpa for far too long, and with baby Zeeb, it seemed like we should graduate to a larger apartment. I don’t know what Grandpa really thought of that decision, but in the end, he asked us to stay, and remodeled the kitchen in the apartment so it resembled a real kitchen, and not the kitchen area of a mobile home. He had originally done the retrofitting in the apartment, installing the plumbing, some of the electricity, and the cabinets himself, but this time he hired a contractor, and let me draw up the plans. I felt like I could never deserve his generosity, but I’m glad we decided to stay, since we got to spend so much more time with him. Derek and I even tried to “improve” the apartment as well, replacing walls that had been damaged by water, covering the cinder block, painting, recarpeting, and adding new furniture. Most of our improvements backfired. The plaster on the cinder block peeled off, with the paint, the carpet was trashed by our little family, we ended up taking the furniture with us, unsure if Grandpa wanted to refurnish with items of his own choosing. Even the garden was left a disgrace after my continued lack of weeding resulted in a second lawn.
If Grandpa ever complained about us, I never heard about it. I was always, always deeply ashamed of how poorly I kept house, when his own house was so immaculate, so orderly. I sometimes did a load of laundry, then forgot about it for a week, leaving it in the dryer. If it bothered him, I never knew, though I would be filled with mortification each time this happened.
Grandpa and his wife would invite us upstairs for dinner, the ubiquitous roast beef, peeled tomatoes, and green beans. Grandpa sat at the head of the table and tried to participate in conversation, though his hearing aids didn’t give him nearly enough aid.
All three of my kids were born while we lived under Grandpa’s roof. He welcomed each one, and loved them. They loved him, and his bolo ties.
Edward L. Hart was born in Bloomington, Idaho, in 1916, on a farm.
He was a conference champion miler in 1939. (You all wondered where the running gene came from.)
He got a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Utah, a Master’s degree in English from Michigan, and a D. Phil. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar.
He married Eleanor May Coleman, with whom he had four children. He has nine grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
He taught 18th century English literature at the universities of Washington, Utah, California (Berkeley) and BYU.
He was the president of the Rocky Mountain MLA.
He was a poet. He published and won awards for his poetry, notably, his collection To Utah, which won the 1980 AML award for poetry.
He earned a Fulbright lecturing scholarship, and spent his year in Pakistan.
He loved and quoted Shakespeare.
He loved Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
During the depression, he went two weeks on eating only onions. He has not eaten an onion since.
He didn’t like to be alone. He married three times, in reverse order of when he met the women.
He had a heart attack in 1996, and after the surgery, drastically reduced his intake of red meat and fatty foods, and went on to live another 12 years.
He was a lifelong Democrat in a part of the country where his vote really never counted. He thought George W. Bush was an ignoramus who couldn’t be bothered to learn the correct pronunciation of nuclear.
He did a crossword puzzle every day.
He sat on the porch swing with my kids.
He fed the scrub jays out of his hand.
He always kissed me on the cheek.
One of his beautiful poems is widely loved by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
Our Savior’s Love shines like the sun, with perfect light,
as from above, it breaks through clouds of strife.
Lighting our way, it leads us back into His sight,
where we may stay to share eternal life.
The Spirit, voice of goodness, whispers to our hearts
a better choice than evil’s anguished cries.
Loud may the sound of hope ring till all doubt departs,
And we are bound to Him by loving ties.
Our Father, God of all creation, hear us pray
in reverence, awed by thy Son’s sacrifice.
Praises we sing. We love thy law; we will obey.
Our heavenly King, in thee our hearts rejoice!