Monday, August 18, 2008

Grandpa Pug

NATHAN GIFFORD U.S. Navy, Retired Nathan Bernarr Gifford (Pug) passed away peacefully at his home Thursday morning, Aug. 14, 2008, at the age of 81. He was born May 6, 1927, in St. George, Utah, to Cyrus Gifford and Ina Bundy. Nate grew up in LaVerkin, Utah. He joined the U.S. Navy on his 17th birthday in 1944. Nate was in the Navy for 22 years, serving through World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In 1949, he met Muriel Applegate while on a 10-day leave. Three months later, Muriel flew to Hawaii where they were married. Their first daughter, Nalani Stewart (Howard) was born in Hawaii. Their son, Steven was born in Cedar City, Utah; son, William Tell (Rebecca) was born in San Diego; another son was born and died in Guam; daughter, Marianne Schultz (Barry) was born in Mountain View, Calif.; daughter, Kathleen was born in Great Lakes, Ill. In 1966, Nate retired from the Navy and moved his family to Las Vegas, where he went to work for the Post Office. In 1969, Nate and Muriel and their children were sealed together for time and eternity in the St. George LDS Temple. In 1987, Nate retired with 20 years of service from the Post Office. He then worked for his brothers at Gifford Electric for five years until he had a major heart attack on Christmas eve 1991 that destroyed one third of his heart. After that, they sold their Las Vegas home and moved to LaVerkin, Utah, where they built a home in 1992. He just loved moving back to his home town. Within a few years, he got active in the local American Legion. He served as an officer in that organization and loved every minute of it. Nate made many friends everywhere he went. Everybody that met him, liked him, and he liked everybody. He loved his family and he was a faithful member of the LDS Church. Nate is survived by his wife; his five children; 12 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; one brother and four sisters. He was preceded in death by his parents; three brothers; one sister; and one son. A visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17, at the Hurricane Valley Mortuary, 140 N. Main St. in Hurricane, Utah, and from 9:30-10:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 18, with funeral services following at 11 a.m., both at the LaVerkin LDS Stake Center, 481 N. Main St., LaVerkin, Utah. A Military interment will be in the LaVerkin City Cemetery, immediately following services, under the direction of Metcalf Mortuary, (435) 673-4221. See Metcalf's website for condolences and full obituary and funeral listings. 

I am hesitant to even take this post on.  I don't have any faith in my ability to do it any justice.

Kierstin's Grandpa died this past Thursday.  He is quite simply one of the greatest men I have been blessed to know.

I cannot even attempt to tell a fraction of the story of his life.  Suffice it to say that his life was humble and great.  He doesn't leave any great earthly fortune behind, but his family has been blessed with a wealth of joy, humor, sincerity, and love.

As Pug put it himself, he was born at a very early age.  Joke aside, his birth was in what would seem pretty primitive circumstances.  His first home is in what is now Zion National Park.  The home is long gone, but not the flowers his mother planted over 70 years ago... you can still find those plants (or at least those plants' decendents) at the old homesite.

Grandpa grew up as a farmer/rancher all-around country boy.  He joined the Navy when he turned 17, 2 years into the United States' involvment in WWII.  He reported for duty on the first ship he ever laid eyes on and shipped out for work in the Pacific.  At one time, he volunteered to do special duty clearing mines.  He would swim in close to shore and cut mines free from their anchors so they would float to the surface and could be blown up to clear the way for the landing vessels.  Many of his friends died while performing this duty... and Pug learned that volunteering is not always a good thing.

Pug was with the Navy for many years.  His duties ranged from his days clearing mines, to working as the head cook providing meals for an entire ship.  One of his unique talents was being able to crack 8 eggs at once without breaking a single yoke.  He also spent time as a recruiter and a trainer.

A 2nd career as a Mail Carrier for the Postal Service followed.  His friendly and optimistic approach to life is shown in how he performed this job.  The people on his route new him... because he cared about people and made a point to get to know anyone he came in contact with.  While many mailmen carried dog spray to deal with aggressive or pesky animals, Pug carried dog treats.  At least one lady on his mail route was surprised to open her door one day to find that Pug had trained her unruly pet to sit, roll over, and play dead.

After retiring from the post office, Pug worked for a while at his brother's electrical contracting company.  This 3rd career was cut short when a heart attack destroyed a third of his heart.  That was 15 years ago.  He has been running on pure spirit ever since.

Pug and his wife, Muriel moved back home to La Verkin, Ut after his heart attack.  He was officially retired at this time... but he never stopped working.  He is one of those men that prompted Tom Brokaw to name them the Greatest Generation.  You could ask him how he was feeling... and he would tell you "great"!  Of course, he was lying through his teeth.  But to a man like Pug, there is no sense in complaining... it doesn't get anything done... and there is no sense lying around and feeling crummy... when you can get something productive done while feeling crummy.  Those men put most of us to shame.  Men like Pug don't have a to do list, because by the time they could write the task on the list, they have already finished it.

Pug is well known in Southern UT and Las Vegas.  He is too friendly not to like.  When he moved back to La Verkin, he got active in the American Legion.  And since he gets right to accomplishing whatever he sees that needs doing... he promptly went out and started recruiting every veteran he could get a hold of to come take part in the American Legion with him.  He was instrumental in making their post one of the most active posts around.  One of the services the Legion provides is honor guard duty at the funerals of veterans.  Pug served in countless honor guards and was usually the one that organized the guard for each of the funerals.  One of the most stirring tributes I have seen is the response of the American Legion to the news of Pug's passing.  On thursday, the flag at the post was lowered to half mast... and flew at half mast until after the funeral today.  Without being asked, 30 members of the post attended the viewing at the mortuary last night... all in uniform... and all standing at attention throughout the 2 hour viewing.  35 members were in attendance at the funeral today.  They presented the flag... performed the honor guard duties... and did a 21 gun salute in honor of their fallen comrade.  It was truly inspiring.

I have bitten off way more than I can chew with this post... I knew that was going to happen.

Let me put down a couple of more thoughts about this wonderful guy.

While in the Navy, Pug was stationed for a couple of years in Guam.  While there, he picked up a hobby... and when Pug picks up a hobby... he goes all the way.  He started to free dive (with some occasional scuba thrown in there) and began a shell collection.  He would dive as deep as 60-80 feet with no tank... just the air in his lungs.  His collection grew rather large.  When he was transfered out of Guam, the movers individually packed more than 4000 shells.  His remaining collection is displayed in a glass top coffee table that is amazing to see.

After leaving the Navy and while working in Las Vegas, Pug got into a new hobby... breeding fish.  In classic Pug fashion, he went on to successfully breed over 61 different breeds of fish... two of which had never been bred in captivity.

For the last 30 years, Pug has kept an almost daily journal.  It was an amazing experience to look through his collection of journals this weekend.  His journal was kept in a franklin day planner... one for each year... covering 3 shelves in his bedroom.  Looking through the journals, you are just as likely to find the details of a purchase, a list of people that got together for dinner... or a couple of lines about someone he loved.  In making the funeral arrangements (all of which were pre-planned and paid for many years ago to avoid leaving those difficult details for his family to deal with) there was some question about the services contracted and additional costs that came up.  It did not take long to find his file from the purchase of the prepaid funeral services that were arranged in 1994.  And a quick check of his journal written on the date that the contracts were signed showed line by line detail of what was to be included, the cost, and the name and phone number of the guy that sold them the plan.  

It amazes me the detail that is in those volumes.  But the real magic of that collection is found when you start looking at specific dates.  Like the days that each of my children were born.  All of them noted where they were when they heard the news... and how excited they were to have that new member of their family.  The day that Kierstin and I got engaged... we were actually at Pug's house for his father in law's 90th birthday.  His entry that day read something like this "It was a big day for my granddaughter Kierstin.  Josh Leavitt told her that he decided he would like to become part of this family and asked her to marry him.  She said "Well... OK."  Many happy tears were shed and everyone likes him."  We got a good laugh out of that one.  Another big day in my life was February 18th, 2005.  His entry that day said "Today we got the sad news that our grandson Josh has colon cancer."  The rest of the entry was touching... but the thing that caught me the most was that he did not call me his granddaughter's husband... or his grandson in law.  That is how he is.  

OK... now for some fun stuff... cause I am getting sad now and it has been a rollercoaster weekend.

We have a family reunion just east of Zion National Park every Labor Day weekend.  The first year we were married, we borrowed my Mom's popup trailer to use for the weekend.  Unfortunately, the crank you use to lift the top was missing, so I had to use a wrench.  This was a very difficult task and I must have been showing my exertion... because Pug came over to me and said "Josh, you are shaking like a dog shitting peach pits!"  By the way, that is not considered cussing by southern UT mormons over the age of 70.

Our very good friends came up to La Verkin today for the funeral.  They have been with us to our reunion for the last 3 years running and are definitely considered part of the family by everyone that knows them.  And those that don't know them probably just assume they are Aunt Sis's kids.  It is great to have friends that close.  And they were very helpful when our kids started to get restless during the services.  They took the twins during the funeral and our 4 year old, Kalan, during the graveside services.  Apparently Kalan was not really paying attention to the honor guard during the 21 gun salute and was taken by surprise when they fired their first volley.  His immediate reaction was to yell to his friend..."They are trying to kill us!" and head for cover behind a tree.  Ah... life as a 4 yr old.