I came into the family about eighteen years ago, which makes me a relative newcomer. From the beginning, and throughout the years, John always made me feel so welcome. “How’s Jeff?” he would say, with his double-handed hearty hand shake, and that warm smile, and those tender eyes.
The John I knew was always glad to be alive, happy to be in the company of others, never in a hurry to be anywhere else than in the present moment. I marveled at his remarkable story-telling ability – how he always had a tale to tell if you asked for remembrances of years past. You weren’t always sure which part of the stories were fact and which were creative embellishment arising from the charm of his imagination, but the stories always succeeded in holding one’s attention. He liked simple things: a good meal, a good laugh, a good story, a good dog. He had stories to tell of all the good dogs he had known, including the powerful one named Queenie he had as a child that would pull him and his brother Bob around on a sled in the winter; the one named Cindy he had in the navy that the general coveted, so faithful standing guard at the door of the mess hall, waiting for a command from John; and of course, his late in life friend – little, sweet Suzie.
He gave the impression of having extraordinary equanimity – always even keeled. I never heard him complain about anything. He seemed to take life in stride.
But of course, every life has its share of struggles, and John’s life was no exception. It is out of the forge of sufferings mixed with faith that character is shaped. For the back story of John’s life I am reliant upon my wife Sarah and to Kathy.
John had a happy childhood, but at age 19 he suffered heart-wrenching grief along with the rest of the family when his kid sister Katherine suddenly died from an infection at the tender age of 17.
He went off to fight for his country in the Navy during World War II, nearly losing his life from injuries suffered in the explosion of his ship.
John married Ruth early on in his adult years, and though it was a happy marriage, they weren’t able to have children, and John had always wanted children of his own. And so John found other places to express the love he had hoped to shower upon his own children: On his nephews and nieces, on good dogs, in his church work, and in a making a home with Ruth where guests would always be welcomed.
He also loved his work, where he enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make something work. He devoted himself to his work, perhaps at times more than he should have. One time his finger got caught in some machinery resulting in the loss of that finger. In his telling of the story, John mostly remembered being annoyed with the fact that he hadn’t been able to finish the particular job he was working on.
John bought a camper, and looked forward to the day when he would retire, and he and Ruth could leisurely travel. But when that time finally came to leave the work behind, Ruth had become very sick. Leisurely travel wasn’t possible. John would always regret he hadn’t taken the time when he had it; a lesson I suspect we all learn too late in life. Surely this lesson had a hand in shaping the serenity he expressed so strongly in his latter years.
The death of his beloved Ruth rocked John, and to family members it seemed as though the light in him had nearly been extinguished. It looked as though John was ready to pack it in.
But he decided to make one more trip down to Durham, North Carolina to see the part of the family located there. And there was Helen, widowed from his youngest uncle, sharing the family history that he treasured so, and love bloomed, life began again, and the joy returned. With Helen at his side, the camper did get put to use after all. Helen, full of courage, said goodbye to her home in North Carolina, returning with John to make a home together in Ohio, and share with one another the adventures of the latter years of their lives. John loved Helen’s children, Joan and Dick, as his own. Indeed, they shared the same McGranahan blood.
John and Helen happily spent two decades together, never missing an opportunity to get together with family.
On a visit to Durham in 1999, John was driving with Helen when somebody in too much of a hurry came up from behind and side-swiped their car. Their car flipped; Helen was injured, but fortunately not severely; John’s body, however was broken nearly to the point of death. It was an injury that would have taken many a younger man, and John wasn’t expected to live, but with his dogged determination and fierce love of life, he began to recover, amazing us all. Kathy and Sarah remember sneaking Suzie into the intensive care unit so John could get a nuzzle of encouragement from the good dog.
Before long, John was back on his feet, but he realized he needed to be closer to family. So five and a half years ago Helen and John said good bye to so much that was familiar, and like Abraham and Sarah long before them, set off once more trusting in the graciousness of God. They moved to Mount Holly, New Jersey to be close to his beloved brother Bob and his family. In his last years John became a fixture in Kathy and Thad’s home, who loved him well.