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Gramps' Heaven: A Eulogy for John Willis Blemler | Travels With Carly

Gramps’ Heaven

I have a secret to tell you. My name isn’t Carly. My grandfather called me Carly from the moment we first met, and to this day my brothers-in-law and nephews call me Carly.

Gramps and I both loved the book Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. So when the time came to name my blog, I though it fitting to honor Steinbeck AND Gramps with the title Travels with Carly.

Gramps passed away in February and my sisters nominated me to write and delivery the eulogy. I suppose it was only fitting. In the corner of Gramps’ bedroom he hung every poem I ever wrote for him. The good, the bad and the ugly – all framed and nailed to the wall where he could see them from his bed. So after a rough couple of days, filled with tears and smiles and fond memories, I walked up to the lectern at the front of the Church of the Lakes and celebrated Gramps’ life.

Before I created this post, I thought about tweaking the eulogy, making it better than what I could come up with in the days after he died. But then I decided to just post it as I wrote it – a snapshot in time of how I felt about Gramps.

This one’s for you, Gramps. I love you.



john blemler, alice blemler, carly

Granny and Gramps holding a very young Carly.



Thank you all for joining us today. It means the world to us that you are here to help us celebrate the life of John Willis Blemler – better known to his family as Gramps.

Gramps was a pretty multi-faceted guy. He was a craftsman. A traveler. A student. But above all else, he loved Granny.


It was 1945 and Granny threw a New Year’s Eve party. Granny invited her friend Mary Blemler, who brought her two brothers, Don and John.

As soon as Gramps walked in the door, Granny said, “Whoo hoo, who is THAT?” At the time, Gramps was very dapper and used VO5 gel in his hair. He spent the evening playing it cool, sitting on a hassock in the corner of the room, leaning his head against the wall. He unknowingly left a giant grease spot on the wallpaper.

On the car ride home after the party, Gramps told his brother, “I really like that girl. I am going to marry her.” Granny, of course, didn’t know this. So for the next three days every time she passed that grease spot on the wall, she asked it, “Why haven’t you called me?”

Gramps called on Tuesday and they fell madly in love. By February they were engaged and married in August. Lee was born in June of the following year. They were married for 65 years.


Gramps was an avid woodworker. Each of his granddaughters has several pieces of Gramps’ hand-crafted furniture: a hat rack, an end table and a plant stand. Each piece is adorned with a plaque that reads “Made Especially for You by “Gramps.” The plant stands are copies of the piece that stood in Gramps’ parlor growing up. And on those plant stands, each of us has a piece of a fern that belonged to my great, great Grandma Harvey. That fern represents the growth of six generations, sitting atop a plant stand lovingly carved by Gramps.

As our family grew, the granddaughters started to bring home boys, and Gramps decided that we should have one big table where we could all sit together, boyfriends and all. Gramps built a huge oak table big enough to fit the entire Mann Clan. It is sturdy and strong and will host generations of marriages and children and laughter.

The smell of lumber will always make me think of Gramps. Freshly cut two-by-fours and sawdust make me think of building, and creation and progress. Just like Gramps.


Gramps really loved to travel and he had a long standing belief that he should see the United States before he saw the rest of the world. However, all that flew out the window when Lee and Hanly moved to Rome, Italy.

Granny and Gramps visited them several times, traveling with them throughout Italy, Germany, Austria, and France. But their most memorable trip happened after I was born.

To hear Mom tell it, I was QUITE the colicky baby, and nothing she did could stop me from crying. Nothing, that is, until Gramps came to visit us in Rome.

Gramps would cradle me against his shoulder and let my feet dangle. He walked for hours throughout the house. From the kitchen, to the living room, through the dining room and back to the kitchen, whispering, “Poor Carly.” I was finally content and mom finally got some rest.

At the airport when Granny and Gramps were leaving to go back to America, Lee cried and cried, saying, “Daddy, you are taking your shoulder with you.”

For Gramps’ 85th birthday, we surprised him with a cruise through the Panama Canal – a lifelong dream of his. He sat on his balcony with his 18-month-old great-grandson, Hayden, marveling at the engineering masterpiece that is the Panama Canal.

From Freeport to Cadiz, Cadiz to Canton, Canton to the Panama Canal, Gramps loved a good adventure. It is one of the traits that he passed on to his daughter and granddaughters.


Two weeks ago the whole family came back to Canton before Gramps’ surgery. We went over to Granny and Gramps’ house for a visit on a Sunday afternoon. We sat in their living room, and as his great-grandsons, Hayden and Isaac, played on the floor, the rest of the family engaged in a spirited discussion about mohair.

Gramps extolled the virtues of mohair – he was a big fan. And Gramps set me straight when I asked if mohair came from an animal called a Mo.

Mohair does not come from a Mo.

But that’s what I really treasured about Gramps. He loved to learn, no matter the topic. He constantly read books, about anything really. From the Founding Fathers to Harry S. Truman, Gramps was a student of history who never stopped learning. Even when that learning concerned mohair.


I live in Chicago and on Thursday as I drove home to Canton I had quite a lot of time to think. I found myself wondering what heaven would look like for Gramps.

Maybe Gramps is
Walking through the silent woods
On a snowy winters day.
A hunting rifle slung over his shoulder
A pack of Springer Spaniels by his side.
Communing with nature in his Chapel in the Woods

But I don’t think that is Gramps’ heaven.

Perhaps Gramps is
Working quietly in his garage.
Painstakingly, methodically,
Planing down a board of cherry wood
Until it is smooth as satin.
Finding peace in life’s small perfections.

But that isn’t quite right either.

I think Gramps’ heaven is
Sitting on the back porch
In the silky summer twilight.
Listening to the buzz
of the late August locusts.
Holding Granny’s hand.

THAT is Gramps’ heaven.

I love you Gramps. We’ll take care of Granny for you.

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