Eulogy for my grandfather
The following is the piece I wrote to honor my grandfather at his funeral on March 19.
My grandfather, Joseph T. Karaffa, was a teacher, a principal and a superintendent, so this should come as no surprise to anyone: He loved to give lectures. Pappy was famous for his lectures. He wasn’t a yeller — didn’t raise his voice — but if you stepped out of line he’d let you know by sitting you down and speaking to you — at LENGTH — about what was right and what was wrong. And it didn’t matter who you were — his children, his grandchildren, even his wife, my grandma — you couldn’t escape a Pappy lecture. There were many occasions for us grandchildren where we could be heard saying, “Awww, not another lecture!!!”
This fierce belief in right and wrong was just a small part of the disciplined nature that defined my grandfather. He never drank; he never swore. I grew up hearing stories about his legendary paddling of wayward students in the Toronto, Ohio, school system. When I was really little, he delighted in showing us he could still do push-ups like he did when he was in the Army. As he aged, he had a very specific exercise routine that he did every single day — a series of flexes of the joints in his hands, which he took pride in counting off. Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, he carved our turkey in perfect little turkey pieces — didn’t miss a single piece of meat on those birds. And speaking of Christmas, he was the easiest person on the planet to buy gifts for — all you had to do was either get him candy, or something with an Ohio State logo on it. Bonus points if you could find a gift that covered both.
But if it seems like this discipline made him cold or distant, nothing could be further from the truth. Pappy loved being a grandfather, something that was made evident to us in a variety of ways. One of the first things my sister Annie and I would do every time we visited Toronto was slip down to my grandparents’ basement, where they kept all their canned goods, and we’d play “store.” We’d set up a bench like a store counter, and then we’d pull every single one of those cans off the shelf and onto the counter where we would “sell” them to each other until we got called upstairs for bed or a late-night ham salad sandwich. We routinely left those cans in total disarray. You might imagine a man who meticulously labeled every single can with the date he purchased it to be miffed at the mess we made, but Pappy just quietly put the cans back so we could do it all over again the next day. I have a vivid memory of sitting at my grandparents’ kitchen table writing a poem, and Pappy sitting with me helping me make sure it rhymed. And of course, who could forget just how slow he drove — at the time, it drove me nuts, but I eventually understood he was doing it on purpose to keep us all safe.
While I might not have learned anything about how to drive from him, Pappy did teach the value of showing up for your family. My grandparents were fixtures in my life. There’s not a band show, choir concert or other performance I can think of where they weren’t in the audience. Every birthday, every holiday, and even random weekends in between — they were there, even if it took longer for them to get there with Pappy behind the wheel. The Karaffas always showed up, and we knew how much they loved us.
And of course, I loved my grandfather too. As I’ve been thinking of what I would say about Pappy today and how best I could honor him, I came up with one idea, and if you could all bear with me, I’d like to do that right now:
*At this point in the service, I put on an Ohio State hat and played the OSU fight song.*
Rest in peace, Pappy. I hope you’re with Grandma.
Joseph T. Karaffa
Feb. 21, 1925 - March 13, 2019