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Gilbert Hugh Ramage Memorial



 Gilbert Hugh Ramage Memorial

September 27, 2009
Written and presented by John D. Ramage

First of all, thank you all for coming today to help us celebrate the life of our father, Gib Ramage. And before we begin, on behalf of my sisters Carol and MaryBeth, and my brother Stephen, out deepest thanks to our sister Wendy, aka The Wendy Lady, or "She who must be obeyed," and her husband Tom who have been Pop's primary caretakers-errand-runners, doctor visit chauffeurs, emergency room waiters, etc.--these past several years, and who graciously opened their lovely home to all of us whenever we came to look in on him. I think my siblings and I would all agree that the greatest of the many gifts our parents passed on to us was each other. And I think we all felt a special sense of closeness yesterday afternoon as we stood together on the beach at Fogarty Creek and-in clear violation of several state and federal statutes-- cast our parents' ashes into the ocean they loved so dearly. The two young sea lions who came in to watch us perform the ceremony and then afterwards paddled happily out to sea may have been heavy-handed symbols or happy accidents, but in either case I wanted to thank them for coming.  

We also wanted to thank the staff at Avamere for the care and affection they showed our father and mother in their last years. My father's particular favorite Avamere staffer, Kate, is here today and we want to be sure and acknowledge her many acts of kindness over the years. And finally, thanks to my brother Steve for putting together today's slide and music show featuring so many of the many songs Pop loved so much. As he always used to say, "Anyone who can make music will never be alone." And how he loved to fill the house with music from his old collection of 78's and later his CD's-classical pieces, show tunes, operas, big band numbers, crooners' medleys. He loved it all, from Placido Domingo to Gilbert and Sullivan, from Hoagy Carmichael to Fiddler on the Roof. His favorite day of the week at Avamere was the day the pianist came to play some of his old favorites and talk about their history. As I listen to these songs I can almost hear him singing along. . . . In fact, maybe it's just me, but I could swear I heard someone a bit ago singing the Whiffenpoof Song, you know . . . "We are poor little lambs who have lost our way. . .", the very song that won Pop and his AGR brothers the Oregon Agricultural College glee club contest circa 1939. 

When I was wondering what I might say about Pop today, I found myself thinking a lot about our earliest years together, on the farm. And little wonder. It's what he loved doing, farming, what generations of Ramages had done before him.  Later, he would become, as he put it, "a pump peddler"-and a damned good one--for nearly twenty-five years before retiring; but during many of those years, particularly the later ones, I'm pretty sure he derived more satisfaction from his vegetable garden than he did his job. And his favorite part of his job was always the time he spent with other farmers, figuring out the best way to get water on their fields.  Those early years on the farm were also years I got to spend a lot of time with Pop, tagging along to take the berries into the North Marion, falling asleep on top of a hop bale while watching him work a second-or maybe third-- job for Louie Schwabauer, handing him tools while he got our old Ferguson back up and running, chasing down cows, sitting on the tractor while he plowed, moving pipe, and later hoeing corn and picking berries and beans. It was a gift to me, all the time I got to spend with my dad, working alongside him those years. Too few kids can do that today. 

But my favorite memories of Pop from those years revolve around baseball. No matter how busy he was--and he would be, as he liked to put it in his best politically incorrect manner, "busy as a one-armed paperhanger" most of those years, holding down a succession of part-time jobs to support the failing dairy farm that he worked at full time-there was always time to play, watch, listen to and talk about baseball. The first order of business each spring and summer morning was to open up The Oregonian and review the Beavers game that we'd listened to Rollie Truitt and Bob Blackburn describe the night before. Then we'd read L.H. Gregory to find out Greg's current thinking about our Beavers. Then we'd check the box scores to see if the dreaded Yankees had lost. Pop and I were of one mind that the finest way to start one's day was to savor a Yankee defeat. It may have been genetic. His father, my Grandpa John, was equally disdainful of the Bronx Bombers. "The f****ers lost last night," he'd chortle first thing when we'd run into him the morning after a Yankee defeat.  

Pop was also my first coach and stuck with me through my abysmal rookie year in the Woodburn City League when I was 1 for 22. That's not one hit in 22 at bats, that's one time making actual contact with a pitch in twenty two at bats. I think it was foul. Then he coached me up all winter, had me take a hundred swings a day under his watchful eye, and bought me Ted Williams booklet on the science of hitting. And he was there with me the day our little city league all-star team took on the eventual Oregon Little League champs from Salem. On the way to the game, he passed along to me one of those nuggets of Gibish wisdom, pieces of advice and exhortation that I thought for years he made up himself. "Remember, they're no different than you; they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do."  I pondered this matter briefly. Maybe it was the wisdom inherent in Gib's words--or maybe it was the picture those words conjured up of some twelve-year-old in his tidy whiteies struggling to pull his pants on, whatever the case I felt better about things. Then we got to the field. What Pop had neglected to tell me was that the pants my opponent that would be pulling on one leg at a time were sewn from gray flannel with red piping, to match the gray flannel with red lettering uniform tops. My teammates and I were all dressed in Sears & Roebuck jeans with white Penney's t-shirts. At that moment, I confess, I suffered a moment of doubt about my old man's egalitarian take on athletic competition. Then we went out thumped them 14-4 and my faith in Gibish wisdom was restored until the next crisis. 

I have a lot of other stories about Pop from those years. But for all those wonderful first hand experiences, I think the best way I know to tell you who my father was and how I feel about him is to tell you a story about him, a story that, like any story worth its salt, has other stories embedded in it. The story I'm about to tell is only partly mine, much of it is his.  In keeping with today's occasion, it's a story about a funeral. And in keeping with the spirit of the person we're honoring here today, it's not a completely reverent story.

It concerns the funeral of Pop's mother, my grandma Lora, or "Tote" as she was known to all the menfolk in the family. Like most Ramages down through the ages, Lora's record of church attendance was at best spotty. As in---Christmas and Easter if her grandkids happened to be in a pageant or one of her garden club friends had done the flowers for the service. Consequently, the minister who presided at her funeral, though somehow connected to the family in that mysterious way that everyone within a twenty mile radius of Woodburn, Oregon used to be connected to everyone else, was not personally close to my grandmother. He'd done some homework, gathered up a shallow hatful of facts about the deceased: she was an eighty-nine-year-old mother of six, grandmother of sixteen. While not a churchgoer, she was a teetotaler, a woman who neither smoked nor swore (at least not in the conventional sense), was renowned for her prize winning primroses and much admired vegetable gardens; and she was universally adored by her family. 

Facts in hand, he drew what I'm sure what he took to be several self-evident conclusions about [quote] "our deceased loved one. . . Lora," [unquote] always with that pause in the middle while he peered down to check his note cards. She was, he assured us a soul suffused in sweetness, a veritable Hallmark granny, warm and chuckly, a cookie baker and bedtime story teller, a woman who walked in the ways of the Lord, even if her steps, regrettably, may not always have led her to His house. Throughout this recitation, I could feel Pop growing increasingly agitated, red-faced and fidgety, muttering under his breath . . . . All ominous signs. 

Now there are two things you need to understand about my father and my grandmother at this point. First, they were very, very close. In his own written reminiscences of his childhood, my father fondly and proudly recalls serving as her chief "gofer," her assistant cook, garden caretaker and animal overseer, during sickly early years and my grandfather's frequent absences.  And they were both beach rats, always alert for any excuse to bolt to the Oregon coast. Grandma was also taken by my father's studious side (Lora was rare in her day for being college-educated at the Mt Angel Normal School and had taught for two years before marrying). She encouraged his love of school, and took great pleasure in listening to him read books plucked from Woodburn's little Carnegie Library; and together they shared a love of gathering and memorizing facts, like the Latin names of plants and the details of hybridizing flowers or the capitals of the forty-eight states that Lora regularly recited to test her mental acuity whenever she feared she might be "getting goofy." 

The second thing you need to understand here is that sweetness was not Lora's long suit. Oh, she could be, especially if caught unawares, capable of genuine moments of tenderness toward children and small animals; but such outbreaks were episodic, like the sun breaking through the low Willamette Valley sky in February. And were her family asked to name her most memorable virtues, sweetness would not have made many top five lists. If Lora could be said to have had a flavor, it would not have been sweet. It would have been . . . tart. Not sour, tart, that quick, bright, bracing taste that one needs to prepare oneself for. And little wonder. She was, after all, the eighth of eleven children and the family's first girl. And her older brothers were not widely known for their civility, let alone their gentility.  

Take, for example, her brother George.  Whenever his name came up, the first story recalled would be of the time he won the hundred yard dash at an annual town picnic and then proceeded to pummel the runner up senseless for having had the temerity to challenge him. In later life, she would ban several of her more objectionable brothers from her parlor, limiting their visits to the porch or the machine shed where they drank beer and ate limburger with her husband. It's probably from her upbringing among men of this ilk that she developed her taste for off color stories--I will spare you the one of the woman who swallowed razor blades that Pop delightedly recalls in his writings-plain speaking, and her unflinching discharge of the unseemliest duties of farm life. Indeed, one of my own most vivid memories of my grandmother involved the admirably efficient manner in which she dispatched her hens once they quit laying and were ready for boiling.  

I also recall with special clarity her aversion to idleness, particularly mine.  When I was eight or so, I often walked after school to my grandparents' house so I could watch television (we did not have one till I was 10), while sitting on my grandfather's lap, inhaling clouds of secondary smoke from one of his perpetually lit Pall Malls. We favored westerns, John and I, Wild Bill Hickock and The Cisco Kid were favorites. Lora could tolerate this sort of male lollygagging only so long. I would hear her clucking in the kitchen and sense trouble was brewing. When she passed briskly through the living room, wiping her hands on her apron, heading for the porch, I could tell things were escalating. When I heard the rattle of implements from the porch, I knew my goose was cooked. A moment later she'd reappear with a hoe held out in front of her. "Suppose you can finish off a row of corn before suppertime?" It was <i>not</i> a question. 

That was Pop's beloved mother Lora.  And here she was being memorialized by some doofus who seemed to have her confused with Opie's Aunt Bea. By the end of the service Pop was near his boiling point and several of us moved closer in hopes of avoiding any sort of scene. He managed to contain himself through the church doorway, even managed to shake the preacher's hand and offer him a thin-lipped smile. But before he got to the bottom of the steps he could contain himself no longer. "I don't know who that bird was talking about back there!" he loudly harrumphed, jerking his thumb in the direction of the hapless preacher. "But I can tell you one thing . . .  It sure as hell was not my mother."  

The most poignant, and surely truest thing said of Tote that day, according to Pop, occurred when Charlie Cornwall, the mortician and an old school chum, pointed out the huge spray of peonies next to Grandma's coffin. They were, he revealed, from Garnet Black, a dear friend of Tote's, who'd taken them from a peony plant that Tote had dug up from her own yard and given her thirty years earlier. That was Tote. She loved her flowers-no camellias thank you very much, she considered them prima donnas, and no prissy cut flowers, but shrubs and bushes of perennials with their roots planted deeply in her yard, flowers with a history, a connection to people and places, their Latin names duly noted on little stakes. Pop's poem to her on the occasion of her 75th birthday, in the year that my grandfather died captures her spirit nicely, I think, and says a lot about him in the process. 

TOTES SEVENTY FIFTH
By Gib Ramage
Written on the occasion of Tote's 75th birthday which would have been in
1962, in March after Dad died in January.

Now seventy five years
In this Vale of Tears
Is a heck of a lot of living.
I love you best 
As do all the rest
For the good things you've been giving.

To raise six kids
Midst the pots and lids
May never have gained you plaudits.
But we know you'll glide
To the profit side
When the good Lord runs his audits. 

the man knew his way around a feminine rhyme jr]

I recall quite well 
My rebel yell
As the pear sprout hit my fanny
Though it was no joy
It taught the boy
He'd better respect his Mammy.

You've seen things go
From the one-horse show
To the man in orbit round us.
And we hope you'll be
Till a hundred and three
with, amongst and about us.

You're high on cats
Not much for hats
But the key to you're pleasant hours
Will be we know
'Cause you let it show
Your grandkids and your flowers.

[abiding loves of Gib as well, substitute veggies for flowers jr]

So though this verse
Couldn't be much worse
I find it the easiest way
To send along
This little song
That says, "Mom, Happy Birthday".


CONCLUSION   By Gib ramage
Mom talked fondly of several of the girls she lived
With [in Mount Angel].  One of them was Toni Hassing.  I don't remember her maiden name but
she married Otto Hassing and they lived on the street that leads up to the
monastery.  They too had a flock of kids.  When I was but a pup Toni and
her family were visiting on a Sunday and I dug up a bunch of little maple
trees out of our yard for them.  Toni planted them in the parking strip and
several of them flourished.  I proudly pointed them out for many years. 
They finally got so big they were interfering with traffic and had to be
taken down.  When a guy outlives his maple trees he must be old enough to
die. 


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