Gran: On Death and a Eulogy

Wow.

Talk about things you never thought you’d actually have to do.

Talk about times of life you knew were coming but you didn’t actually think you’d have to live through.

Talk about a sad, though therapeutic, experience at a funeral home.

Death is such a strange thing. It’s a reality for us all and we all have different opinions of it. I know people who are afraid of dying and I don’t really know why. I mean, after death you’re done — your part is over. The only pain is felt by those who loved you and depended on you. You can be concerned for the well being of your loved ones after you die, but for you to be afraid of death? I don’t get it.

Frequently those I know who are afraid to pass are self-professed Christians and when I practiced that faith, my opinion of death drastically changed. What fear of death I did have was squashed because I was fully sold on the idea of being welcomed into the arms of a savior who’d made the ultimate sacrifice for me. I viewed death as something that, while sad, should be celebrated — the body is a prison, but the soul had been set free in a land of milk and honey. So I half think the Christians who are afraid of death aren’t too certain about their faith as they claim to be. They aren’t as certain of their savior.

They aren’t as certain of the afterlife they’ve tried so hard to believe in.

And that’s the only thing I think can be possibly alarming — that unknown. Do we meet Jesus and our loved ones in Heaven where we rejoice and praise until the day of the Second Coming? Are we in Odin’s beautiful hall of Valhalla where we fight and feast until the Ragnarok? Are we immediately reborn as a person — or even animal — whose life is greatly affected by the choices we made in our previous life (lives)?

What if the reality is based on what you believed the whole time, regardless of what it was?

Or what if it’s just black?

Personally, I don’t know. And I’m comfortable with that. I don’t fear it. I hate death, but I don’t fear it. It’s coming, I don’t know what it means and I’ve accepted that.

Someone else who didn’t fear death was my Gran. She wasn’t one of those annoying evangelicals that bark on street corners, leave BS posts on Facebook or drop off pamphlets at the local post office. She believed in the Christian God, believed Jesus lived, that he died with her in mind and that the Bible was the All-Mighty-inspired word of God.

She read the Good Book every day, often with a new devotional accompaniment and for years she never missed Sunday School and Church service. She loved her family and she had beautiful things to say about people. She was a lovely soul and the exact reflection of Christ that most Christians should aspire to be.

With that said, when my Gran passed away on Sunday, January 12, I had no doubt that she immediately went into the warm embrace of Jesus. A true beauty and believer in the Word. A shining example of how to be a follower after God’s own heart.

Cara and I got back from her funeral service last night. It was a difficult day for me and having her by my side was a great help. Seeing Gran in the coffin was one of the hardest sights. I told her that I would’ve corrected the typos on her flowers had I seen them. I told her that the image they were using of her wasn’t the one I submitted. I told her that I was so, so glad to have gotten to cook for her in my life. I told her that I loved her.

The final, crushing blow was when family was let out to begin the funeral and the lid on her coffin had been shut. I’d never hear her voice again. I’d never see her face again.

I’m a very fortunate grandson, though. I’m fortunate to have had her for a grandmother. I was fortunate to have been raised partly in her home, fortunate to have eaten her food, shared in her hilarious stories, that I’d gotten to cook for her several times and that she trusted me as much as she did all the way to the end.

I was honored to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, and I’m sharing it below.

I loved my Gran so, so much. If it’s Jesus or Odin or just darkness after this life, I know she has put a good word in for me. Regardless, I’ll be striving to meet her expectations in this life.


In the hours and days after my sweet, sweet Gran passed away on Sunday, each time I passed someone in the hall at work or at the gym who expressed their condolences, I’d say You know, she’s been progressively going downhill for the last several years. After a while you kind of see it coming and you’re able to make peace with it.

And it’s true, really. Gran had been on a steady decline in health for the last several years and with each passing year I was more and more prepared for her to slip out of this world and run into the open arms of both her Lord and my Paps. She had a laundry list of health issues and was often unable to take any preventative measures toward combating them. Frequent doctor visits, accidents and days of full-on depression and loneliness plagued her in the last few years.

So yes. I was very well prepared for Gran to let go and move on towards whatever awaits us after this life. But I learned this week that no matter how well prepared one is, one is never actually well prepared for when the reality sinks in.

For me it was Monday at 5:30pm. I had to work a little late at the office, which was acceptable since I didn’t have class or clients until 7:00. Before I left for the day, I activated Spotlight on my Macbook and began to type something, though I don’t remember what, it was due to a simple typo where I had began to type “G-R-A” — that Granny Carver popped up from my contacts list.

Harmless though that may have been, it was an immediate reminder that it was 5:30pm on Monday, one of two times a week I usually called her. But on this day, I wouldn’t be. I held it together long enough to shut my computer down and walk out to my car before I burst into tears. Gran had been gone for about 28 hours or so at that point but it was in that moment that the reality finally hit me.

My sweet, beautiful, incredibly innocent Gran was gone. And I’d never be able to call her again.

For years she asked me if I’d mind writing something for her when the day of her funeral arrived and I promised her I would. I always told her, though, that it’d be a long, long time before I ever wrote it and I wouldn’t even think about it until it was time. I kept my promise and I’m proud to be delivering this eulogy for her today. And I’m sharing it with you all with hopes that anyone who hears it will share in the laughter and understand the emotions that went into writing it.

I love you, Gran. I hope you like this.

“I’m going to mop in here soon so don’t come through the kitchen!” she yelled out the back door on that summer day. Summer was the best when I was growing up because it meant extra time at Gran and Paps’ house. Their couches were so comfortable, there was always a basket of snack cakes on the table … and there was that swimming pool.

“I’m about to start! Don’t come through the kitchen!” she yelled a few minutes later. I was just a little boy, I don’t remember how old … and I loved being in that pool. Sometimes it was volleyball, roughhousing with Paps or just continuously jumping off the diving board. I was a (mostly) innocent little boy who didn’t have a care in the world, least of all that Gran was about to mop the kitchen floor.

But I did care shortly after getting out of the pool, drying off and heading inside to use the bathroom. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time out of the water so I decided it was a good idea to sprint to the bathroom and back as fast as I could. And so I did! In through the back door! Through the dining room! And across the kitchen floor when …

SMACK!

… halfway across the kitchen floor I slipped. Fell. And bumped my head on the floor. Hard. I didn’t go to the bathroom. I didn’t get back in the pool. Instead, I curled up on the living room chair and cried my eyes out. I was hurt, yeah, but it was mostly just really embarrassing. My sweet, loving Gran was there, though …

… and she thought it was hysterical. She sat across the room from me laughing herself to tears at my well-deserved misfortune.

So many of my memories involve that same heartfelt and bright laughter of hers. She was a funny lady and had a unique and interesting way of looking at the world. And while she was certainly capable of getting agitated, frustrated or even downright angry, one thing I’ve always admired about her is that she lived as long as she did yet maintained a certain untainted innocence that most of us can’t even imagine given the broken world in which we live.

When you think of grandmothers you usually think about all the classic grandmother stuff — great cooking, a nurturing hand, a warm embrace and a funny sense of humor. And my Gran checked off all the boxes.

She was a fabulous cook whose potato filling was the star of holiday dinners, her open-face turkey sandwiches were to die for, her beer-battered fried fish was magical and her meatloaf was … well, terrible honestly, but Paps loved it for some reason so she frequently made it and I (usually) politely ate a single serving.

She was always kind to everyone she met and rarely ever had a harsh word to say to anyone unless they were flirting with Paps, of course. And I love hearing stories about her from my mom and uncles — about the young former Marine who worked hard to raise three kids. The lessons she either taught or at least tried to teach them. About the strong, loving relationship she had with Paps.

I grew up knowing her as Paps’ counterpart who loved reading, going on vacations, was an incredible cook, had a strange fascination with Denny’s, had exceptional skills with a basket of clothes and an iron, was a fixture at her church and was the Belle of the Beauty Salon every Friday morning.

Her humor was unmatched, even though we frequently told the same stories over and over again. A lot of our conversations revolved around family vacations and some of the funny one-liners that either she or Paps came up with — trying to talk Paps into crossing the highway for lunch, Paps not needing anything from Lowes (paraphrased, of course) and that first cruise where the server dumped an entire tray of water all over her on formal night.

We’d tell each other these stories like we’d never heard them before or weren’t there to begin with. And we’d laugh like it was the first time we’d ever heard them. And though she maybe wasn’t cooking as much anymore, we certainly talked about food a lot — what I was cooking, what I wanted to cook, what she recently took to the church luncheon or a recipe she’d found in a magazine. We’d also sometimes talk about deep subjects from philosophy and religion to politics … or sometimes more trivial stuff like “Why’d they take that Pimple Popper show off TV again?”

When I heard sadness in her voice, I made it my mission to make her laugh and to encourage her. We’d laugh together and end each conversation on a happy note. That’s just the relationship we had and I treasured it; I think she did, too.

Though she may have hurt and had bouts of loneliness, she was still the same sweet and untarnished soul she’d always been. The same beautiful woman who loved her Lord and her family more than anything else. The same precious Gran I’d known and appreciated my entire life.

I’m going to miss her badly and I know you will, too. But it fills me with so much joy to know she’s back with Paps and Jack. And we should all take comfort in knowing that each time one of us watches Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy back-to-back … each time we order the fried fish sandwich at our local diner … or every time we take a “Shaher” (Shower) and come back in an “haher”(hour) … she’s still with us, gracing us with the beauty that was her life and her sweet, sweet heart.

Thank you so much.

[FOOD POST] Venison Pizza, Two Ways

Trust Fall is an organization in Knoxville that has one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever heard of. It’s a secret dinner party. Top secret, even. Ultra exclusive.

But to get in, you needn’t be one of the Knoxville elite or have an in with the local foodies and hipsters (maybe these are the same people, I’m out of touch so I don’t know). No, to attend a Trust Fall event, one only needs to provide their email address on the website.

And you wait.

You wait until there’s an event scheduled at which point they’ll email you to let you know when the event is and when the tickets will go on sale. Frequently the on-sale time is something very specific — like 3:57pm or something — and tickets are frequently between $100-$200 each. Regardless of the price and the oddball sale times, tickets sell out every time, sometimes within seconds.

It’s at this point that I say that I’ve never secured tickets. My real-life knowledge of these events ends here but it’s my understanding that after you secure tickets, you then must figure out where the event is. They won’t tell you, but they’ll send you hints and riddles that indicate where the event will be held. The only concrete information you have is the date and who the chef is. The guest chef is usually from one of Knoxville’s many artisan eateries and for them, these Trust Fall events are a free-for-all. “Here’s your budget — go ham,” and the chef will then design a menu that’s way outside of their usual box and is frequently quite experimental.

On the evening of the event, the lucky diners who were able to secure tickets meet up for dinner and drinks at the secret location — usually the backroom of a restaurant, the courtyard of a local business or even a hidden underground meeting space. The menu is then revealed and it’s set — no substitutions, no special requests allowed. It’s a memorable event for everyone in attendance and definitely a gem among our Scruffy City’s many unique offerings.


A few years ago I had a brilliant plan to do something similar only the menu would be pizza and the location would be my house. No secrets there but the pizza menu would be highly experimental and my guests wouldn’t know the pizza styles until each pie was delivered to the table. I would design and develop as many as seven or eight pizzas and keep my oven hot the night of the event as I deliver each pie and briefly explain to my guests what they were about to eat, where I sourced each ingredient and what inspired me to combine them. I would introduce my guests to pizza toppings they’d never had before and even ingredients that they’d never considered putting on a pizza to begin with.

(After proofing that last paragraph I realize how much I sound like Bob Belcher. I’m not mad about it.)

In those early days, I designed about six unique pies, wrote out the full ingredient list and made each of them. I snapped photos of them and took extensive notes about what worked and what didn’t about each so I could adjust and try again — I needed these pies to be perfect before serving them to a group of friends. I was taking this WAY seriously.

Unfortunately, this party never materialized. I keep it in my back pocket, though, and each time I make a homemade pizza I keep notes about what I’ve made just in case the opportunity ever presents itself again. It won’t be in the near future or anything — I can’t host more than one or two extra people at my townhouse — but when I have the space to entertain, that’s going to be one of the first things I plan for.

With that in mind, let’s talk about this past weekend’s pizza experiment: Venison Pizza.

My dad has been a hunter for as long as I’ve known him. He’s secured a great place to hunt and regularly brings home a couple of deer whose horns get mounted and whose meat goes into the freezer. The problem with that, however, is that mom doesn’t like the gamey flavor of wild deer meat and usually won’t cook it. That’s great for me, though, because I LOVE wild game but I’m not a hunter, myself. So Chuck gets to hunt deer and I get fresh deer meat. Everybody wins!

Over the last year, especially, I’ve gone through pounds and pounds of venison steaks, ground, tenderloin, jerky, roast and chopped.

Last weekend I decided to take some of the steak out of the freezer and in doing so saw that I still had two homemade pizza doughs wrapped up and frozen — I had a brilliant idea.

I took an earthy approach to these pies, each one with nods to pies Cara and I both like but with a venison twist. First of all, there’s this guy:

  • Homemade crust
  • homemade sauce (also batched, portioned and frozen for future use)
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled onions
  • roasted sweet potatoes
  • mozzarella
  • fresh thyme

I didn’t do much to the venison — I sliced in thinly then seared it up in a skillet with a bit of fat. Garlic powder, salt, pepper, done. No marinades, no sauces. Ever. The onions were caramelized in a skillet with some butter and the sweet potatoes were diced and roasted with garlic powder. Thyme can sometimes be overpowering so I kept it light and I feel like I used just the right amount to come through without overpowering and it complimented the flavor of that venison perfectly.

So far I was on a roll. Next came pie two:

  • Homemade crust
  • Homemade sauce
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled wild mushrooms
  • roasted garlic cloves
  • mozzarella
  • shaved parmesan
  • truffle oil

One of mine and Cara’s favorite frozen pizzas is the mushroom-and-truffle flatbread sold by Trader Joe’s. Mushrooms are my favorite pizza topping so I wasn’t about to make two pizzas and not use them! These “wild” mushrooms were an assortment of mushrooms bought at my local Kroger that I fried up in some oil until they were nice and soft. Roasting garlic is somewhat of a new obsession of mine since it’s relatively easy to do and, I mean, who doesn’t love roasted garlic cloves? The shaved parmesan was the perfect consistency — sharp flavor and slightly melty. Finally, the drizzle of truffle oil was the flavor finisher that made this pie shine. It was unanimous, this pizza was the best one of the night.


Now that I’ve shared photos of these pizzas as well as the ingredient list, I don’t guess these will ever be included on my secret pizza party night but if you get an invite, don’t be surprised if I still serve up a venison pizza of some kind because these were so, so, so good!

Shoutout to anyone still reading despite this blog being so quiet lately.

Level Up: I Got a Motorcycle

Figured I’d revive the ol’ blog for the first time all year. Better be something good, yeah?

Well, it is.

Let’s talk.

We’ll go back to when I was but a wee lad. Dickerson street in the Model City. My dad had some kind of Suzuki motorcycle — a cruiser. I don’t remember a lot about it other than it was black and had a seat that was peeling apart. It stayed parked outside, uncovered, and he would often take me for rides on it. I was small enough to sit in front of him and lay my head down on the gas tank — it was THAT long ago.

He had a couple of cousins who each had Kawasaki Ninjas. I’d later learn these were crotch rockets and the muse of energy-drink-chugging, tribal-tatted bros who apparently enjoy being uncomfortable while operating a motor vehicle. While I’d later go on to hate these bikes, I thought they were the shit when I was a kid. Dad and I got to ride one of them in a parade in Hawkins County but I don’t remember why. I just remember it was early in the morning and our motorcycle was turquoise.

It wasn’t long after that my dad got rid of his bike and it was never spoken of again. I always thought they were cool but never had much interest in ever having one. When my dad and I had our falling out, my interest in motorcycles lessened even more — if he had one, I sure as hell didn’t want one. Ever.

As I got a little older, my opinion on the motorcycle didn’t change (yet) but my rule of “if dad did it, I’m not doing it” was broken because other things my dad did include:

  • Growing a beard
  • Wearing tanktops in public
  • Sometimes craving pinto-bean-and-mayo sandwiches

Bet you didn’t know that last part about me but it’s true.

Anyway, when I turned 30 it’s like some weird switch flipped in my mind and suddenly things changed. I yearned for a different lifestyle, a new look and, you guessed it, a motorcycle.

But being an adult is hard so saving up for a motorcycle wasn’t easy and I didn’t exactly have all the support in the world at home at the time.

Oh, boo-hoo.

Fast-forward to age 34. Life looks a lot different now, for better or worse. Things I wasn’t allowed to do for a long time — like owning a drumset or getting skull tattoos — are suddenly possible. So long as I had a plan and was responsible about it, anything was possible.

Fortunately for me, I like following through with plans and I’m a pretty responsible guy.

So on May 22, 2019, I registered for the New Rider Course at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. The course wasn’t scheduled until a month later but that would give me plenty of time to buy the necessary gear, research motorcycles and go ahead and stress myself out real well beforehand.

I want to take this time to give a big shoutout to the folks at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. I’ve been to several Harley shops around the southeast and most of the time I walk in, look around and walk out without anyone saying a word to me. Not so at Smoky Mountain. They proudly tout how they’re the #1 dealership in the world and they back it up 100% of the time. My main contact, Justin, was patient with me the first day I walked in and he talked to me about bikes, life and life on bikes while I tried out various sporters and Dynas. For 45 minutes he hung out with me, never once made me feel pressured to buy anything and never once made me feel like an idiot for being such a n00b.

When I told him I also wanted to look at gear for my class, he personally walked me over to the retail area, introduced me to one of the specialists who then stood by my side while I considered different jackets and tried on a variety of helmets. She hung out with me, assuring proper fit and reminding me of important things to consider when purchasing it. My custom-ordred helmet was delivered two days later and the dealership promptly alerted me that it was ready for pickup.

On June 24 I arrived at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson where I was introduced to eight other people who had registered for our class as well as our head instructor, Maggie. Our first night was spent going over some basics, getting to know each other, doing some paperwork, getting a tour of the dealership and beginning our reading assignments. Over the next two days we saddled up on some Harley Street 500s to learn the basics of clutching, gear-shifting, braking, turning and all the other stuff that seems damn-near impossible if you have zero experience on a motorcycle.

By the end of the third day most of us had passed the riding test and written test. I say most because while 10 people had signed up, only nine showed, only eight made it through the riding exercises, only seven passed the riding test. It was like a weird Willy Wonka situation only no one got sucked into a chocolate river (that I’m aware of).

The survivors posed in front of the big fireplace at the dealership, exhausted from riding eight hours in the blazing summer sun but full of pride that we were on our way to becoming licensed motorcycle riders.

It took four attempts and an equal number of weeks at the DMV to get my motorcycle endorsement. By the time I got the endorsement, had my ID updated and had the new “Real ID” star put on my license, I had a collection of personal identification that included everything I’ve ever owned to identify myself save for my college photo IDs, though I’m surprised they didn’t require one of those.

Now a licensed rider, I needed to get a ride. Back to Smoky Mountain Harley!

With a little guidance from some friends and my HD bro Justin, I settled on this little beauty:

She’s a 2013 Harley Davidson XL 1200X Forty-Eight and she’s sexy. as. hell.

Possible names include Rhonda, Teeth Grinder and Adrian.

Shoutout to my Viking Queen Cara for the photos and for driving me to the dealership to pick it up … and for riding behind me to make sure I didn’t die on the way home :-)

Expect more posts this year that are mostly related to this little lady as well as a damn-near 100% Instagram takeover.