Four score and thirteen years after the birth of Edwin Sturtevant, my grandfather, I found myself in the banquet room of one of his favorite restaurants in a small town in upstate New York with the rest of my family. He had passed away during the heart of winter, and the family had decided to wait until the ground had thawed for the burial. We gathered on a warm, spring day to celebrate his life and his legacy.
Grandpa Ted held many titles in life and was many things to many people: a pilot, a war veteran, a husband, a loyal member of the IBM workforce, a self-proclaimed tinkerer and inventor, famous bowler, infamous left-handed golfer, questionable cook, huge sports fan, caring roommate, friend, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and family legend.
I knew him best as just G-Ted.
He was a man of few words. Now in this day and age, communication in short form is commonplace—today’s world is overflowing with short talk. We have blog posts, emails, text messages, tweets, Snapchat, Facebook—in this digital age, we have all become ‘masters’ of small talk.
But Ted Sturtevant spoke short before it was cool.
Lean, clean, simple, direct and always straight from the heart . . . When Grandpa Ted spoke, all listened.
The family even shortened his name, perhaps in subconscious tribute to his linguistic efficiency. The overly verbose Edwin F. Sturtevant first became Ted Sturtevant, and then Ted Sturtevant became Grandpa Ted, and then Grandpa Ted became G-Ted and then G-Ted became just GT in his later years.
Such a tiny moniker for someone who grew so immense in stature.
My Grandpa had a collection of short sayings, the bulk of which made up nearly 95 percent of his daily speech, and like most of what he chose to orate; these sayings grew mythic in our family circle and among close friends. What follows, is a list of five of Grandpa’s most lasting lingual legacies, all of which would fit very comfortably today in the 140 character limitations of Tweet-dom.
Ted Speak #1 – “Atta boy!” or “Atta girl!” – My Grandfather used these small exclamations as a form of praise for anything from finishing your broccoli to scoring the winning basket in a championship game. This two word affirmation meant more to me than any trophy or front page newspaper article ever could. When I heard “Atta boy, Daniel!” it felt good to be alive . . .
Ted Speak #2 – “Oh, boy!” – There was always a slightly more serious tone to this interjection—my siblings and I heard “Oh, boy!” a lot, most often when one of us was injured playing outdoors. The worse the injury the longer Grandpa would hold the ‘Oh’ part of this utterance. For instance, if we fell running to first base in a whiffle ball game, grandpa would give it the routine ‘Oh, boy.’ If we took a whiffle ball line drive to the face it would be more like ‘Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, boy!’ The exclamation was often followed by medical attention from Grandpa – he would clap his hands together and move them back and forth quickly in front of himself, then rub the injured appendage. “You’re all right!” he’d say, confidently. I don’t know if it was some sort of Voodoo medicine practice or just the warmth of his hands, but I did feel better every single time.
I always felt better with Grandpa (and his warmth) around.
Ted Speak #3 – Edwin Sturtevant never chose to curse. Or at least I never heard him curse. Now we all know that it is impossible to get through this life without using the occasional curse word, especially if you play golf, like most members of my family do. These final three examples of Ted Talk are euphemisms that I believe Grandpa used in place of curse words. I’m convinced that if Grandpa did not have these catch phrases, we would have heard a lot more swears at family parties.
There were three levels to these euphemisms:
Level 1 – “What in Sam Hill?”
Grandpa would use this one when he was confused or exasperated as to what was comin’ off – as in, “What in Sam Hill is going on?” or “What in Sam Hill was that?” This one was relatively harmless and more about being confused than angry.
Level 2 – “Judas Priest!”
This was an exclamation of disgust. If we heard Judas Priest we knew that something had probably gone wrong or that Grandpa had been wronged in some way- double crossed. This one sounded more like a curse word and made me think of the Judas Priest album covers I had seen that scared me so much when I was young.
Level 3 – “Godfrey’s Cordial!!”
This was the white whale, the Holy Grail. It was so rare to hear a ‘Godfrey’s Cordial!!’ that when we did, we knew it was a special moment in time, one we should lock away for safekeeping. I was only able to hear this a handful of times while Grandpa was alive, but like everything Grandpa Ted chose to say, it is not easily ignored or forgotten and it was always larger than life.
With a wife and three kids now, I am proud to say that these words live on in my family. I catch myself using these phrases every day and I smile, knowing that through them I keep alive the spirit and the life of the man who once gave them voice.
Writers are said to be silent observers. We are sometimes accused of being shy, or quiet, or reserved. Writers often sit back and take it all in—we collect notes in our head for later use. If this be the case, I think Edwin Sturtevant may have secretly been a writer.
In my mind, I imagine that somewhere, stashed away, are thousands of hardcover journals, records of everything he ever thought; hundreds of thousands of words, all handwritten. Stories, and jokes, general musings and theories, cartoons, poetry and lyrics to songs, letters to loved ones and sketches of the next great duct tape invention, incredibly long winded speeches, and pages and pages and pages of curse words.
I imagine miles of ink and lead.
Maybe my Grandpa was a writer like me.
And maybe, if I stretch my fantasy a bit further, Grandpa loved words as much as I do, and if he loved words as much as I do than maybe he thought about his epitaph like I have thought about mine.
As a consummate lover of words I’ve always held the epitaph in high regard. It is, I think, the ultimate wordsmith’s puzzle; a three by three stone canvas in which to capture a life’s body of work. With just a few spare lines, a lasting tribute displayed for hundreds, maybe thousands of years—a final chiseled tweet to the world.
The epitaph, with its forced brevity, its wit, its polish, is such a perfect metaphor for my Grandfather and the life he chose to lead, a man so lingually efficient, a man of wit and polish, a man who moved so many just by being the best at who he was, the best at being Ted, the best at being Dad, the best at being Grandpa.
G-Ted, so famous to the family of which he helped create, a family he always put first, a family he loved with every ounce of his soul.
So I wonder, what would Edwin Sturtevant want to say to the world? What concise arrangement of words would Grandpa Ted, Grandpa, G-Ted want chiseled on his tombstone?
It’s difficult too, like I said, it’s one of the greatest and most challenging of all the wordsmith puzzles—such a small space to capture such a bounty of work, 93 years (in my Grandfather’s case) worth of beautiful, inspiring work in a scant couple of lines . . .
Grandpa could steal from some of the best (as many have done). He could lift some lines from Shakespeare who composed some of the greatest works of all time: Men of few words are the best men, Shakespeare wrote in Henry V. Or Grandpa might have chosen to take a few lines from Sonnet 18:
. . . thy eternal summer shall not fade . . .
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Maybe he would look to an Emily Dickenson poem, she one of the greatest short writers of all time, saying so much in so few words, leaving such an impact on the world, just like Grandpa.
If I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam
And noon should burn
As it has usual done
No. Those aren’t good enough. He would do better I feel—these examples are both too long to be Edwin Sturtevant’s epitaph and, What do others know of my man, my Ted, anyway? My grandfather, my GT?
And so I sit in quiet contemplation. I sit and wonder.
I sit like he sat.
And after much notion, much consideration, much silent, deliberate thinking, I arrive at what I imagine might be a more appropriate epitaph, an inscription I believe is etched onto one of the back pages of one of the open journals I so clearly see lying toward the back of my memory.
The epitaph reads:
Here rests G-Ted.
Photo: Getty Images