Sam Houston Brown, my wife’s grandpa, and I met only once. It was at his supernaturally beautiful little house on the water at Gig Harbor. The family was gathered around a lovely brunch spread at the table and he was mostly quiet but smiled (my wife’s smile!) when I shook his hand. He didn’t break out his harmonica or his tuba or offer everyone “nips” from a bottle as he was often said to do. But he seemed happy and peaceful that morning as the silver peaks of Mount Rainier shone across the waters. I’m sad that I never got the chance to meet Nathalie, Sam’s wife of 64 years.
The church wasn’t large enough to hold all the mourners when he died. It was there, at his funeral, that I met most of the Brown clan. I saw Sam’s life rippling outward in strange and spectacular ways through that multitude. One of my wife’s cousins stood up and said that Sam was still with them, illuminated in the faces of all those who had loved him. It was a strange, sad and beautiful way to get to know Sam and the whole family, including six children, 15 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
When Sam passed, they found him at his desk. He had been in the midst of writing his holiday epiphany letter, as was his tradition. His last words are so astonishing and so fitting that they make me want to cry. Here’s the entirety of Sam Brown’s last epiphany letter…
January 19, 2009
How say ye? Is the e-mail allowed to replace the handwritten Christmas card nowadays because of its ease and spread? Or is it too impersonal and limited, seeing as you lose the little extra comments to the recipients that show you really care about them? Also, what about folks who don’t have computers anyway? Thus this Epiphany letter is in the old pattern, but maybe for the last time.
So greetings to you all, fellow voyagers in 2009. It is so good to hear from you as you live this chapter in the book of your life. What variety we encounter! What courage we show! What witness we bear to what we believe!
I have started to move out of our beloved old house in Lakewood in favor of a retirement community apartment in the north of town.
The old dog is trying new tricks…