This Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that my grandfather’s absence has been felt without the need to try to pretend otherwise. His love of cooking and hosting and dinner partying was well-known, and that flowed into holidays well. As a little boy, a grandson, that was one thing I knew my granddad valued: throwing a good party.
This year, my mom had gotten the bright yellow aluminum dish that my granddad has made dressing in for Thanksgiving every year I have been alive. She made his dressing recipe in it, and there it sat on the counter. His presence was in the room. A party. Drinks. Laughter. Tears. Family. His legacy was strong in the room, even in his first absence.
Much has gone on since we lost him in March. My life has changed. The life of other friends has changed. And interestingly enough, with each shift, I think of my grandfather. When I was in that surreal position of standing during visitation talking to people I knew well and people I didn’t know at all, who my grandfather was became solidified. People didn’t have generic things to say; they said the same thing from different points of view. The refrain was always the same.
Whoever you are, you are worth something. The men he served on board of directors with said he treated them like they were somebody. The man who ran the press at the printing company said to me in the line: “You know how your granddad treated you and your cousin when you were in the shop? Like you were the most important person on earth? That’s how he treated all of us. He treated everyone that way.”
Whether board president of a major bank, or press operator of a small printing company, his legacy was that of treating people with dignity and respect.
I’m thankful for a legacy. His wise planning and generosity has sent me around the world. His encouragement has taught me to believe in myself. But now, in his physical absence, he is teaching me the most important lesson. Whoever you are, you are somebody. Whoever they are, whatever role they play in your world, they are worth all your attention and all your respect.
Thanks, Dabo. In your absence, you are present. And in our lives, you will continue to teach us to live bravely, compassionately, humbly and generously. Thanks to God for you.
Pine Tree Dr.
My comments at Dabo’s funeral in March 2011 are listed below:
On behalf of the grandchildren––Jamey, my older brother, and Katie and Suzanne, my first cousins, we wanted to share with you only a few of the things we think make Donald Laycook, or Dabo as we have all always called him, such an incredible man and the perfect grandfather to all of us. It seems as if a time of sharing these moments would be more appropriate were he to be here sitting with us, listening to us brag about him to all of you. There are other ways, however, that he would not have stood for that. He was a man of incredible talent, knowledge, wisdom, graciousness and fun, but he was not proud. With a list of things that make up only a slice of his legacy, he would have directed your attention to what you had to offer, and to what he saw in you.
But, since he can’t much fight with us today for bragging on him, that is just what we will do.
Last night, as the grandkids sat around a patio table for a good meal and good drinks, we reminisced on the things that Dabo taught us. One of those things was, in fact, to sit around a patio table with good drinks, gourmet food, close family and deep laughter. We all remember seeing Dabo on the other side of the kitchen counter, standing over the stove, explaining what recipe he was trying for the first time, or what family favorite he was cooking for Sunday lunch. I remember sitting pulled up to the coffee table in Mama Two and Dabo’s den as he would set appetizers in front of me and the twenty other family friends who were gathered around for dinner or a party. His newest album would be playing on his Bose sound system, and we would laugh and eat until it was all we could do to fall asleep. Whether in his house, at the beach, or out to eat in Chicago, Memphis, New York City, or even Jackson…he knew how to make a kind of kingdom hospitality come to life.
We have all, now, fallen in love with good food, good drinks, and sitting around patio tables full of deep laughter. Thank you for teaching us to enjoy hospitality like it will be enjoyed in the kingdom of heaven.
As we were picking out pictures and reminiscing about the moments they attempted to capture, we also remembered his love for travel. We saw pictures of mom and Carol sitting in Acapulco in their middle school years with Dabo bearing that trademark sideways grin, camera over his shoulder. We saw pictures of Mama Two and Dabo in front of Big Ben, holding each other and again grinning like they knew exactly the kind of good time they were having. There are albums and albums that capture a family trip to beach every single summer until only a few years ago with all ten of us, Mama Two and Dabo, Mom and Dad, Carol and Van and all the grandkids standing on the deck with the beach behind us. We talked last night about the time Dabo came out to dinner at the beach with a ball cap that had a gray pony tail sewed into its seams hanging out the back. “You like it?” he would say, and laugh. After wearing that hat out to dinner had given him all the fun it could, we remembered him coming back into the condo one afternoon showing my grandmother his brand new nose-ring, a magnetic silver stud that he had put right on the edge of his nostril. “What?” He would say…”You don’t like it?”
His love of traveling not only filled pictures of his photo albums with trips, but that love paired with the generosity of Mama Two and Dabo has made it possible for us to enjoy the world with him. Through his planning and hard work, I’ve already been able to travel all over the world and see the kinds of places I had once only seen in his albums. Even this past Sunday at his house, he asked me where I was going next. “Cape Town,” I said. He asked me who I was going with, what I would do, and not to forget to tell him all about it.
We have all, now, fallen in love with traveling. Brazil, Japan, Nicaragua, Cape Town, Israel, Indonesia, Europe, Kenya. Thank you, Dabo, for teaching us all to do and enjoy the exploration of God’s good earth like it will be enjoyed in the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, and probably most importantly to me, Dabo taught us to value learning over knowing. I remember Mama Two saying that whenever she would open to the door at her home to be greeted by an encyclopedia salesman, the she would apologize, saying that she wouldn’t be needing any encyclopedias because she was married to Don. He could quote Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, pick out Chopin and Beethoven, and tell you the latest Hollywood film and its current reviews. He knew the history of everything, and probably had a few books on the shelf that he could point to without looking. Valedictorian and Latin tutor from what I heard from some of you yesterday, he taught us to study hard. But more than teaching us to be smart, he taught us to consider learning itself as the goal. We talked last night about how he would always pick out the most magical, techno-saavy Christmas gifts that we, his grandchildren, didn’t even know existed. The memory of those gifts now seem to have embedded in them for me the kind of wonder and humility that a value of learning over knowing is wrapped up in. He taught us to anticipate learning from those we work with, those that work for us, those that we serve, and those that we laugh, eat and travel with. If anyone could value knowing, it was Dabo. And yet he was always learning.
Thank you, Dabo, for teaching us to walk in wonder and humility at all the world and its people can teach us through their culture, their food, their literature, their music, and their art. It is a kind of wonder and humility that I suspect we will move within in greater ways in the kindom of heaven.
The four of us learned a great deal from Dabo, and in a commitment to his legacy we will move forward learning from those around us as we eat well, laugh hard, and walk humbly. You were always ahead of your time, Dabo. And as the four of us toasted to you last night at dinner, I felt overwhelmed as I do now, and as I did in those last moments by your bedside, to whisper, “Thank you for everything.” Even today, you are ahead of your time, and closer to the already, not yet kingdom. I pray that we can walk humbly in your legacy.
We love you, Dabo. And we thank God for you.