Morgonstund har guld i mun.

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - Blog Posts.

Yesterday I drove out west of Maple Plain to attend a 95th birthday party. The honored guest was my grandfather’s girlfriend in the years before his death. The party was festive, filled with congratulatory speeches and the singing of songs from the Great American Songbook. Mimosas were served. Christmas sweaters were worn without irony. The atmosphere crackled with prosperity. Had there been a roaring fire, it would not have surprised me to learn it had been started with a fifty dollar bill. The birthday girl sat in a comfortable chair, surrounded by her children and grandchildren, near a large, handsomely decorated Christmas tree. My place was a usual one, behind the piano, weakly plunking out the bass notes to a lot of songs I didn’t know.

I like December birthdays. There is an extant merriness in the air all month as people shop for gifts, dine out with old friends and make the regular (or annual) pilgrimage to church. Lights trim the trees and roofs, gaudy decorations dot the yards. My birthday comes in the first week of December and I’ve always quietly delighted in the idea that all of those trees strapped to all of those vans are being brought home to celebrate my birthday, not His. I’ve never felt short-changed when receiving a combined birthday-Christmas gift, as goes the common complaint I’ve heard from other December babies. Though it is the very end of the year, it feels like a new beginning. From today onward, the days grow longer. It is the perfect time to have a birthday. That must be why the early Christians adopted December 25th for Jesus’s birth. The pagans were already celebrating the birth of the sun at that time. Why not also the birth of the Son?

I do not like December deaths. Six years ago this Christmas Eve my grandfather, aged 92, died in his bed, as his oldest grandson (and my brother) rested in a chair by his side. I had been to see him the night before. He was unconscious and unable to swallow and removed from all forms of life support. He shuddered frequently and paused between breaths. His eyes were closed. His fingers played with the edges of his blanket. My mother and I sat near him, comforting him. We told him everything was going to be okay. We wet a sponge with water and dabbed at his lips. A member of his church came to see him. He was an old man, and had known my grandfather for many years. He told him that he admired him, and that he’d been a good friend. He told him how much he’d appreciated his leadership in the church, and what a wonderful family he had. He said everything that an old man wants to hear before he dies. He placed his right hand inside my grandfather’s right hand and said goodbye. My mother and I remained until about ten, when my brother arrived to stay through the night. The last image I have of my grandpa is out of the corner of my eye, as I shook hands with my brother before leaving. I got the call that he was dead at about seven-thirty the next morning.

When I was a boy, my grandfather and I would go fishing at his cabin in Wisconsin almost every summer weekend. We would leave early for the bait shop to buy minnows and a newspaper. The sun would be barely peaking over the corn and soybean fields. Sometimes I would complain about the early hour. My grandfather would always reply, in Swedish, “Morgonstund har guld i mun.” The morning has gold in its mouth. The mysterious wording of that phrase would quiet me down.

When I was very young, we fished in the old fashioned way. I would sit in the stern of Grandpa’s rowboat and cast a jig, tipped with a minnow, as far as I could. He would begin to row. We would work our way along a weed line and, more often than not, crappies would tap my lure. He taught me to set the hook with a turn of my wrist. “Got ‘em!” I’d say, as I reeled as quickly as I could. We would spend the good part of a morning on the lake, never out of sight of the cabin. He rowed with long strokes, and occasionally water would splash up from the oar’s blade and wet my neck. I’d squirm and he’d laugh. By morning’s end, we usually had a five-gallon bucket filled with the green and black-spotted fish. They’d be turned on their sides, their gills reflexively flapping for the diminished oxygen in the bucket’s water. Most would revive themselves as they splashed into the live-well at the end of our dock. That was their final home before being cleaned and served as part of a great summertime fish-fry.

Because we’d gotten up so early to fish, we’d often nap in the afternoons. My grandfather was a champion napper. He’d always lie on his back with his hands on his chest, and a wool blanket pulled up to just above his belly-button. His mouth would droop open and he’d occasionally make a sighing noise. He would never move an inch. When he slept, he remained perfectly still.

I, on the other hand, am a terrible napper. I thrash around in whatever bed I’m in, alternating between sleeping on my stomach or my side. I kick the blankets off and smack my lips together in such a way that it sounds like I’m chewing tobacco. I sleep hard, but not pretty.

In the evening we’d play cribbage or Scrabble, and sometimes have a fire by the lakeshore as the long summer sun splashed the lake with streaks of orange and amber.

Christmas Eve was my grandfather’s favorite day of the year. He loved it for the same reasons I love December birthdays. The anticipation of the coming celebration. The nearing of a brand new year. He would have loved to stay on earth for another 92 years. He would have loved to come with me to the birthday party in Maple Plain. But it is altogether fitting that he died on his favorite day. It was the final gift he gave himself during this season of generosity. I can still see exactly how he looked when I saw him last, the night before his death, from the corner of my eye – on his back, with his hands on his chest, his mouth open, perfectly still. Taking one last nap, before waking up to the morning’s golden mouth.

Merry Christmas,

–Grant Dawson

One Comment to “Morgonstund har guld i mun.”

  • Matt Dolan
    2 January 2015 at 8:25 am #

    Fishing, cribbage, naps…special memories we hold so dear to our hearts!! Thanks for sharing this wonderful message of life’s true gems.

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