Gramps was 90 years old but I think I expected him to live forever. He was the silly, old grandpa who is pictured in my mind as wearing a toupee, khaki pants with a fanny pack, a jacket with political buttons, and a camera around his neck. This wardrobe didn’t change even if he was going to the beach where he would sift through the sand in velcro dress shoes carting a sun umbrella, reading material, and beach toys for the grandkids.
Grandpa Berger collected interesting things and his presidential library is a treasure trove of books, videocassette tapes in alphabetical order, and his stuffed animal bats and rubber snakes. He had many quirks that could make us laugh but he was also someone to be admired for his commitment to service as a pastor for over 30 years for St. Lucas Lutheran Church and then a volunteer pastor for the Ascension Lutheran Church for another 20 years after his retirement. He retired for the second time recently but never stopped volunteering in his community.
Because John outlived his older brother, Bob, I think that Gramps looked at every birthday as another gift from God, another year to live life. That might be one reason why Grandpa and Grandma always celebrated birthday phone calls with such joy for their children and grandchildren. Each song was dramatically proclaimed, such as “thirty-two years ago, a little friend joined our family circle…and her name was Ashley.” They would then continue to sing happy birthday to me sometimes accompanied by what sounded like a children’s xylophone.
Grandpa was so proud of his sons and their families. Every time we visited, he would walk us through the rubber-banded stacks of photos labeled “Mark,” “Tim,” “Matt,” and “Phil” that he photographed while attending the recent current events of his sons’ families. His favorite shot was the candid photo taken of yourself in a natural state, caught unaware by the camera. It wouldn’t be odd at all to get a letter typed with a typewriter or handwritten in all-CAPS with a few photos of myself from the last family gathering in the mail. The summer vacation spot at Owl’s Head, Maine was Grandpa’s chance to pose the annual family portrait with the Wawenock or Misti Mon sign. There was pride in keeping tradition in the Berger house and nothing made him happier than accompanying his sons on their chosen instruments while he played piano and sang his way through the Christmas carol book from cover to cover every Thanksgiving.
There are almost too many stories to retell about Gramps at this moment but all of us Bergers have memories that we share of our own. It was a shock to hear that Grandpa had died the day before Father’s Day, but I’m so glad to have had the Reverend John E Berger as my grandpa for the time that I did. He got to live independently in the light blue house at 204 W. Broadway and continue an active lifestyle traveling to visit his children at the ripe old age of 90.
At the memorial service, we gathered together at the Riverside Cemetery united as the “Berger Tribe” to grieve and celebrate the life of our patriarch, Grandpa Berger, through stories, hymns, and bible verses. While I am sad today to have lost both of my grandfathers, their lives are examples of joy and purpose. I keep the memory of my Gramps trotting down the tow path trail on Maumee River with his favorite walking stick, trusty fanny pack, and always, with a camera.