The best I’ll ever know

August 30, 2016

Marcel Marquart died today. That’s the story he’d want me to write. No frills, no fame, no fuss. But he’s not the one telling it. So you’ll have to settle for my version.

The best man I have ever known died today. A man who, even when I was a young boy, I was able to realize was different than anyone I have ever met.

He was hardworking. He was a man’s man. If there was work to be done, he was doing it. Always had. In overalls nonetheless. From the time he was born in the room he slept in for over 50 years, in the house he lived in for over 80, he demonstrated what it meant to work hard and to provide for those you love. It’s how you showed them love. Picking rocks out in the field wasn’t any fun, but it had to be done. Plowing fields in 100 degree sun-drenched heat wasn’t easy, but it was necessary. Milking cows twice a day didn’t lend itself to many family excursions, but it did lead to clothes on their backs and food on their table. Work, was just that, work; and he was a man who knew how to do it. He was the hardest-working man I have ever seen.

He was strong. Not just in the ways you’d expect a life-long farmer to be, but in those ways too. Sure he impressed me by lifting heavy machinery and climbing up silos; but his strength was more evident to me in the ways the strength he showed in the most trying of times. In driving 45 minutes one way, two times a day to take my grandma to dialysis. In caring for her for nearly 7 years at the end of her life. In “holding it together” for everyone else, because that’s what the patriarch does, and that’s what he was. There when you needed him, because there was no chance he wouldn’t be. He was strongest man I have ever known.

He was generous. Sure lots of people with money, and many without, give it away; but it was more than that. It was his heart. If I had a dollar for every time I heard him say the words “I can’t take it with me” – I would’ve  have all his money. And he would’ve given it to me, freely. That’s the kind of person he was, the kind of generosity he believed in. That nothing was too precious to give away. That anyone who needed something was someone he could give to. That giving something to someone else meant offering them a piece of yourself – and there are pieces of Marcel Marquart all over this world.

He was accepting. The tattoos on my arms are proof. He hated them, I know it. But he loved me, and I know that too. “You got branded” he told me the first time he saw them, but without a hint of judgment in his voice. He opened his home, the most beautiful farm the world has ever seen, to me, my brother and ALL our friends, like it was some sort of spiritual retreat center. High School and College-aged boys are not known for their cleanliness, nor their consideration of others – but we stayed at his house more times than I can honestly recall. Every. Single. Time, involved a trip with him, to the local Ponderosa restaurant, since he didn’t cook, but “you boys can’t go hungry.” Band trips, summer get-aways, and the occasional over-night on the way to a sports game – all were “excuses” to stop at his place – and no one I know has ever objected. They were important to us, and so they were important to him. He let them all in, learned their names, and accepted them all.

He was faithful. Married to his wife for over 50 years, he loved her with a love that is lost on people of my generation. Devoted to a fault. He spent more time on shopping mall benches and cars in parking lots of churches than I fathom. He picked more weeds and harvested more vegetables in countless summers than entire villages I’m sure. He took over the family farm from his dad. He walked his daughters through divorces and despair. He became a nurse to his wife. He loved those close to him with a ferocity that can only be felt, not explained. If Marcel loved you, you knew it; and you never, not for one second doubted he’d be there for you when you needed him.

He loved his Lord. You could never spend too much time in his presence without hearing about how “the good Lord had blessed him” or hearing him sing an old spiritual song. He told stories of his preacher brother, singing in church quartets all over the state, and idolized his dad for being a man of the utmost integrity. “He never fought with anyone, EVER” he would say – and “I never heard him say a cross word in his life.” In the last decade of his life, he experienced little to be “happy” about. The loss of the love of his life, years alone on an empty farm, the decay of age on his body and mind, the selling of that beloved farm, the inability to continue his workman’s attitude, and much more I’m sure. Was he sad, of course. But he never gave up. Many of us may have, but he firmly believed that God was in control, and asked and depended on him for everything he desired, right up until the end. God loved him, and he loved God – that much I know.

He was fun. He wouldn’t want you to know it, but Marcel knew how to have a good time. He could make a “smart” comment with the best of them. He took my friends and I off a road that looked like it disappeared off a hill – “but you’ve gotta punch it” he said. He went with a friend and I to a baseball game one night and spent the whole thing talking to a drunk guy he’d never met – and laughing all the while. He stood out on his front porch and shot off his 12 gauge the night college boys were shooting off fireworks in his front yard and proudly declared, “I win.” He had a wry smile that always let you know, I’m enjoying myself, even if I try real hard to hide it. Make no mistake, Marcel knew how to have fun.

I could write a litany of pages to tell you about all of my experiences with this man. My respect and admiration for him. My desire to be half the man he was. I’d love to invite you join me in a car with him, as we drive around central and southern Wisconsin, letting him regale us with stories of the farms we’re passing, the people who’ve lived there, and how their lives had intersected with his. I’d love to have you come to a meal at his kitchen table, because you wouldn’t leave hungry. But I can’t. Because Marcel Marquart, my grandfather, “gramps”, the best man I have ever known died today. He is happy. He is whole. He is home.

And while I couldn’t be happier for him, I can’t help but tell you that our world feels a little heavier today. A little weaker than it used to be. Like something has been taken from us. Because it has, he has. And so I will do my best to uphold his legacy, pass on his values, and treat my family with the same kind of fierce love as he did. It is the only way I know how to move on.

I love you grandpa. I am so thankful for all that you taught me – even when you weren’t trying to. I am missing you so much tonight, but rejoicing, knowing that there will come a day when we sing and dance together again. I love you so much. Thank you for being the best man I’ll ever know.

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