My Granpy Clyde Oberg died a few days ago.
As a father of six, grandfather of 32, and great-grandfather of 79, he left behind many people who loved him. Within a few hours of his passing, there were countless tributes written on social media that touched my heart. I’ve struggled to add anything meaningful to the things that have already been said about him: World War II veteran, dairy farmer, do-it-yourself-er, loving, devoted father and wonderful friend. While I can’t elaborate on many areas of his life, I was one of a lucky few who got to grow up as his neighbor, and I would like to share this simple story.
When I was five or six years old, I somehow became the owner of a hand-me-down American Girl “Molly” doll that had seen better days. She rocked a disturbingly short haircut, Sharpie scars, and before long, one of her legs fell off. (Or was viciously torn off by my Toy Story “Sid” older brothers—that’s my recollection).
Well, despite her many other flaws, a doll with only one leg cannot walk, obviously. So I decided that my doll needed a miniature wheelchair. I lacked the funds necessary to purchase one, but I was able to procure a small chair and a bike, thus having the requisite “wheels” and “chair.” Now all I needed was my resident handyman.
Anyone who had the pleasure to know my Grandpy Oberg, and most of the Valley did, knew that he could make, or fix, or at least jerry-rig just about anything. And even at five years old, I knew it too. So I slung that little chair over my shoulder and walked the bike next door to Grandpy’s shop, where I would inevitably find him.
I did not wonder that day what he was working on; to me it was irrelevant. I simply waltzed in with my wheels and my chair and asked him to make me a doll wheelchair. And that’s what he did. Within an hour, he had dissembled the chair, cut down the legs, added an axel and the bike wheels, and hammered in a scrap piece of metal to serve as a push bar. Then I happily pushed my brand new doll wheelchair back to my house.
As I remember, my mom seemed somewhat confused about my new toy and asked where I got it. I explained about the bike and the chair and how I’d asked Grandpy to make it for me, and he had done so (duh).
It wasn’t until years later that I realized how special this little memory was. I never knew that not all Grandpys could make you a doll wheelchair just like that, nor did I realize that not all Grandpys would. I always wonder now what project he was working on before I trundled in. Whatever it was, he set it aside immediately in favor of his granddaughter’s request.
In the KJV Bible, John 15:13 reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
I have never connected much with that scripture, because other than Jesus Christ himself and that character from A Tale of Two Cities, who do I know who has actually sacrificed their life for anyone else?
But now I understand that verse differently. You see, nowhere on Grandpy’s to-do list was written, “Make Rachel a doll wheelchair.” I’m not sure what Grandpy had planned for that day, but it was probably a project that was important to him. Yet when I came knocking at his door, he laid down his “life,” so to speak, and picked up mine. He never suggested I come back at a more convenient time, or took my parts and said he’d “get around to it.” He lovingly sacrificed his afternoon to make his little granddaughter happy.
Reflecting on that makes me realize that Grandpy was “laying down his life,” constantly, for countless people and in many situations throughout the years. He laid his life aside to travel abroad as a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, alongside my dear Granny, not once, but twice. He laid down his life doing service as a member of the Palmer Lions club for nearly 50 years.
He and Granny opened their basement apartment to anyone who might need it for any length of time. He welcomed friends and neighbors to paddle his boat on his pond. He shared produce from his garden and loved to give little kids rides around the property in his little red car (even after he was very old and very blind and probably shouldn’t have done that anymore). He embodied the spirit of this quote by Latter-day prophet Spencer W. Kimball, “My life is like my shoes, to be worn out in service.”
Even in the last few months, when his health forced him to slow down considerably, he was always willing to serve by telling you a story. I never regretted sitting down next to him and hearing him talk about growing up in Wyoming or courting Granny or running his dairy farm.
He had so much to give, and he gave it all, for nearly 95 years. We will miss him, so much, but I am grateful for all he gave me. While the doll wheelchair is a long-gone historical artifact, his legacy of selfless service and love remains in my heart, and in the hearts of all who knew him.
Rachel Kenley Fry is a third-generation Alaskan, mother of three, piano teacher, writer, and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.