The Legendary Barney Smith

My family has lost so much in the past year.  As we remember our loved ones I’ve made habit to post their eulogies here, so they can be shared with those who wish to remember with us.  Please hold us close in prayer as we continue to mourn.  We miss you Grandpa.  

On behalf of the family I want to thank all of you for being here today. I will be reading this today, not because this isn’t worthy of memorizing, but because these words are so terribly hard.

Grandpa loved to gather those he loved and I know he and Grandma are both smiling down on all of us. Though my head is reeling that they aren’t here with us, my heart knows that they absolutely are. I see so much of them in each and every one of you. Our great inheritance is the love they so freely gave to each of us. Somehow, out of all the men in the span of time, God chose him to love and lead us. He was our father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. None of us deserve that kind of extravagance, but God was showing off when he gave him to us, and for that I will forever be thankful.

The words spoken here today will fall terribly short. Despite my best efforts there is simply nothing I can say that could begin to capture the legendary Barney Smith. He was larger than life, and the pain of his absence is a testament to the magnitude of his presence.

My Grandfather tried to prepare all of us for this day. Though we are wrecked, he has been made whole. The moment our Grandmother left this place, a piece of his heart went with her. They truly were made one, their bond transcending both time and space. Wherever she went, he followed. From the moment he laid eyes on her for the first time, he knew that she would always be “Barney’s Girl”. Edith and Barney were a love story for the ages.

Grandpa was a hopeless romantic. His love for my Grandmother came from the depths of his soul.   He delighted in her. As her memory began to fade and she often wasn’t herself, he was unwavering in his devotion. He protected and loved her with everything he had. The depths of their bond became even more apparent in her absence. He curated his own memorial for her at the dining room table, carefully laying out photos and cards for him to look at each day. Even in death, he adored her.

He loved our family with that same intensity. He was deeply proud of all of us.   We are the culmination of his life’s work. I was constantly in awe of the love that he had for me, forever in my corner not because of anything I had done, but simply because I was his. That was just how he loved each of us. Fully. Without question or hesitation because we were his and that was more than enough.

When I was in College I remember a professor asking our class to think about a person who embodied Jesus to us. He wanted us to journal through how that person impacted us. The first person I thought of was Grandpa. How could I possibly capture the impact he had on me? Though he came to faith later in life he had been modeling what it meant to follow Jesus for all of mine. His humility, integrity, faithfulness and deep goodness had shaped the person I am today. He showed me what it meant to love and serve others unconditionally. He was slow to anger and quick to extend grace. When I was in high school he and Grandma began attending church regularly and hosted Guy Brown at their home several times to study the bible and grow in their faith. I was at the house one day after they had just had dinner with Guy and Laura. They were so excited to share with me what they had been learning. “Harmony have you heard about Noah’s ark? Would you believe that God flooded the whole earth? And Noah built that huge boat! How about that?” He recounted the story with child like wonder, likely because he had stumbled upon a storyline that involved a retired guy and an over the top carpentry project. We spent the evening talking about God’s promises. I remember going to sleep that night being completely dumb founded that this was all new information to him and to my Grandma. Much of my faith came from what they modeled and here they were experiencing so much of the gospel for the very first time, reminding me that God makes all things new and uses all things for the good of his people. And they were HIS people. Grandpa loved Jesus and he was more than ready to meet his maker in all the good and right ways. He was at peace and ready to go home.

Grandpa was strong. The man was a tank. Without a doubt he was the toughest guy any of us knew. My mom would often tell the story of a time that Grandpa was working in the garage and hurt him self while using the router. He came into the house with his hand bleeding and calmly decided it best to take a shower and then call Grandma to take him to get it looked at. Mom was alarmed at the amount of blood and the extent of the injury, but not Grandpa.   He was as steady as the day is long. Always.

On my 18th birthday he went in for triple bypass heart surgery. It was a scary procedure and I was so afraid that we would lose him. I was the last one to give him a hug and a kiss before they took him back to surgery. I told him he better pull through or I would never celebrate my birthday again. He grinned and told me he would be back in time for ice cream and cake. (and he was NEVER one to miss ice cream and cake)

In the weeks that followed, as he recovered at home, Grandma had her hands full trying to keep him out of his garage. He was convinced that the post op protocol didn’t apply to him and that it was perfectly reasonable for him to want to go work on a cabinet he was building. He was unstoppable. Our very own Energizer Bunny.

Over the past few years my Mom would take Grandpa to his various Doctors appointments. When the Doctors would ask him questions he would always deflect to Mom, telling them “just ask my daughter, she knows everything about me.” Though the doctors often made him nervous he made sure to tell the nurses that they “did good work” and thanked them for their care. He exuded gratitude in all things, an example for all of us to be sure.

His player piano, jukebox, record players, and wire recorder hold the soundtrack of our memories as he delighted in sharing his passion for good, LOUD music with those he loved. In his final days our family held vigil as he journeyed home, showering him in love, laughter, gratitude and tears. We played music for him because we know it always brought him such joy. As each song played we shared precious memories of a life well lived.

My brother and I spent much of our childhood elbow deep in sawdust and piano parts, completely captivated by the genius of our Grandfather. His curiosity and confidence was contagious. He taught us to run headlong into hard things and made us believe that we could do anything if we simply tried. If something didn’t work that wasn’t cause for dismissal, but an invitation to innovation. He had surround sound in his home long before it was available to the rest of the world. He made the first “can light” in a cabinet for Grandma with a discarded chicken can. He is the only person I’ve ever heard of who decided to build his own motor home from scratch. He scavenged bits of scrap to create the infamous Barney-bago. Who does that? The Legendary Barney Smith. That’s who.

I remember sitting in the basement at the kitchen table with Grandpa and Andy, huddled over the guts of a player piano, entranced with spools of olive green Christmas ribbon, a disassembled vacuum cleaner he snagged at a garage sale, a cigar box full of piano parts, and a bucket of wood glue, ready to breathe life into what was once lost. With surgical precision he would talk Andy through the inner workings of each hammer and ballast as they masterfully restored what the world had cast curbside. He made forgotten things sing and brought beauty from ashes in a way that only he could. He saw potential where the world saw refuse and I will be unpacking that lesson for the rest of my life.

Though my Grandfather only finished the seventh grade, having left school to help support his family during the depression, he was brilliant. He was a problem solver, fascinated by the world around him. He was constantly building, repairing, mending, creating. If my Grandma so much as mentioned she might like something, he set work to manifest her wishes. If it was a cabinet she wanted, then a cabinet she would have, built to whatever specifications she liked. He shared this gift with all who knew him, always eager to lend a hand. A few years ago he helped install flooring at my cousin Lisa’s house. He had never installed laminate flooring before but had complete confidence in his ability to do so. He was the epitome of the “no lessons – self taught” mindset. When Grandpa got to Lisa’s house, Uncle Denny was already there, “your Dad didn’t want to start until I was here did he?” he told her. Admittedly, he was right. Grandpa set the tone and when there were new things to be tackled we all fell in line behind him, ready to follow his lead.

He was a family man who delighted in being with those he held dear. Each holiday he and Grandma would sit perched at the head of the long make shift table he kept in the basement. A collection of dining tables and card tables pieced together with bright red tablecloths and an army of mismatched chairs to hold each of us. At Grandpa’s table there was ALWAYS room for more. I swear he could manifest an extra table or half a dozen chairs at the mere mention of more people on the way. He loved a party and the more people the merrier. Though Grandma was certainly the head Hostess, New Years was Grandpa’s party. Pop Snyder started the tradition and tapped Grandpa to be the one to keep the family tradition alive. Though he had no desire or need to learn to cook, he always helped Grandma make a giant pot of chili every year. He was so committed to this gathering that he would go pick up friends or family who didn’t think they could make it there on their own, often having several family members stay the night and join them for the traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage on New Years Day. He would spend the evening sitting in front of the player piano playing all of his favorite songs, sometimes shifting to the juke box to toss things up a bit. He played the Liechtensteiner Polka as Mary danced Mom around the living room beneath the glow of his disco ball. Without fail, as the clock struck midnight he would bust out his antique wooden noisemaker shouting “HAPPY NEW YEAR SWEETIE” as he kissed Grandma.

They say still waters run deep and that was true of Grandpa. He was not a man of many words, but when he spoke you leaned in. You listened because there was always wisdom there. He saw more heartache in his life than many could bear but you wouldn’t know it to look at him. From having lost his father when he was just a baby, to burying a son who he lost to war. He had a deep understanding of grief and pain. When life got hard and many would retreat he and Grandma would lean in to the dark places, bringing their light and love with them. They knew what it was to grieve and they would never allow those they loved to walk that path alone. Armed with a casserole and kindness they had a ministry of presence that was unmatched. They were close to the broken hearted and stayed the course until the clouds lifted. They were the best kinds of friends, there through thick or thin. They modeled well what it is to do life with one another for better or worse, in good times and bad – they were there, ever present, and always together, a unified front. When life knocked them down, they got back up, and carried us with them.

To know my Grandpa was to be seen. To be remembered and regarded. He had a knack for befriending himself to those he encountered in every aspect of his life. From the guys at the shop where he made windows, to the bank tellers, the barber, the people at the hardware store. Just Saturday he was talking about popping some popcorn to take to the guys at the shop so he could see how they were doing. He’s been retired from window making for years, but they were still his people. He would go to the bank to visit his friends, often neglecting to do his own banking while there. When the ladies would offer to help him he would tell them “my daughter can do that for me I just stopped to visit”.

I have dreaded this day my entire life. The day that they would both be gone.

Over the years I would often have bad dreams that something happened to Grandma and Grandpa and I would call in the morning on my way to work just to hear their voices. Grandma would answer the phone, as she always did, “Did you have a bad dream again sweetie? I’ll get Grandpa. We’re both here and we are all right. We always will be.”

Oh how I wish this were one of those dreams; that I could wake from this new reality. What I wouldn’t give to pick up the phone and hear them tell me all is well.

I don’t know how to navigate this new terrain.

Legends aren’t supposed to die, and I suppose they never really do. Though he is gone, his legacy lives on in each of us. I see him in Denny’s ornery grin, in Mary’s eyes as they sparkle when she giggles, I hear him in my Mother’s laugh, in the way she winks when she smiles. He lives in our memories, forever a part of our story. What a priceless gift; an inheritance worth more than any earthly fortune.

Grandpa, thank you for teaching me to find the magic in everyday moments, to look for deer eyes in the dark, mushrooms among the May apples, and to love with reckless abandon. You taught me that I can do hard things. I will spend the rest of my life trying to live up to your incredible example.

Rest easy, we’ll take it from here. I love you.





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