When I think of my Grandpa, Harry F. Rehfeldt, I think of him in his cowboy hat with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. To this day the misty, stale scent of Salem Menthol cigarette smoke remains oddly familiar to me. It brings me back to the days at the Lombard house when it would be packed with all of our family and friends. Food would be piled up inside with people spilling out into the patio, lawn and carport. Music of Glenn Miller would play while colorful lantern lights would be strung along the patio fence as games of bean bags and horseshoes commenced in the yard. Somewhere in between Turkey Days and Lilac Day Parades my favorite memories were formed there, ones that I will never forget.
My Grandpa was a highly intelligent, charismatic, and articulate man. He was an amazing storyteller, regaling everyone with tales from his life full of mischief and mayhem, (including being a pallbearer for the wrong funeral, getting shot at in Oklahoma for bootlegging, and putting his infant daughter in the attic when she wouldn’t stop crying). He was also an avid reader and one of my biggest supporters for becoming a writer. When I was a child he would let me hijack his typewriter in the basement for hours at a time. I would produce story after story for him and he would sit and read each and every one of them. He would call me his Junior Author.
When I was little he intimidated me. He would tower over me with his booming baritone voice, trying to coax me out of my shyness. It didn’t take long and as I grew older my grandfather quickly became one of my favorite playmates. My Goofy Grandpa would make us giggle till our sides ached by reciting silly stories, games of chase in the pool and pushing us for hours out on the tire swing.
As a young woman, however, I began to see my grandpa as more than just a source of entertainment that would take us to the circus and allow us to take over his backyard with a slip-and- slide from dawn till dusk. My Goofy Grandpa turned into a human being, a man that I greatly respected and admired. He was flawed, as all humans are, but he refused to settle for anything less than greatness- And in my eyes he was not only great, he was grand.
He was larger than life, loud, pushy and resilient. Like his preference for drinks, he was strong. He lived life his way, by his own rules. If you didn’t like it than he was perfectly content to tell you to “go to hell”.
He had no qualms about holding up family games in order to read the directions. He had his own internal clock that never quite synched up with the rest of the world. He never failed to get lost while driving on family vacations, despite his supposed knowledge of a “shortcut”. He iced us all out with his overzealous love of the air conditioner and blinded us all with the light from his beta video camera that was often glued to his hand.
But as bullheaded as my Grandpa could be sometimes, I couldn’t help but admire his zest and zeal for the world around him. He had an energy that was palpable, a spirit that was untamable and a heart that will be unforgettable. He refused to ever slow down, and much like many a bar in his past I’m sure, life was going to have to throw him out- he wasn’t ever leaving voluntarily.
I owe many things to that man, including my own stubbornness, my temper and my tendency to speak without thinking. But he also passed down an immensely strong sense of tradition and a great devotion to my family.
Harry F. Rehfeldt was a son, a brother, a soldier, a husband and a father. He was a friend to many and a thorn to some. He was proud of his heritage and a patriot for this country. The dedication he had for his family was second only to the love and devotion he had for his wife. I am honored to have a man from the greatest generation as the world’s greatest Goofy Grandpa.
I love you more than words can express, Grandpa. You meant more to me than you’ll ever know.
You were the head of this family, the foundation it was built on, and now you are its legend that will be remembered forever.
Rest in peace.
Visitation will be Sunday, July 20, 2014, from 2 pm to 7 pm, at Brust Funeral Home, 135 S. Main St. Lombard. Lying in state at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 350 E. Madison, Lombard on Monday, July 21, 2014, from 10 am to 11 am, with the funeral service to immediately follow at 11 am. Interment will be in Oak Ridge Cemetery, in Hillside, Illinois.
In lieu of flowers, donations to Wounded Warrior Project, PO Box 758517, Topeka, KS 66675 appreciated.