Essays / s /

Goodbye, Opa

Franz could speak at least four different languages, and there are plenty of words in those languages that could describe him. However, there is one word he used to express everything from surprise, to disappointment, to incredulity, to awe—unbelievable. He would say it with an emphasis on the third syllable, unbelievable, which spread across his face like a smile, and although he would use the word to describe a variety of people, ideas, and events around him, it seems that unbelievable, most aptly, described Franz himself.

Franz was unbelievably creative. He loved gardening and had a good eye for choosing and arranging various plants and flowers. He also enjoyed painting. He would spend hours in the garage, often completely losing track of time and making sure the colors and shading were just right. He also loved to write poetry. It was not uncommon to receive a birthday card with an additional surprise of one of his verses. He even used that creativity around the house to solve annoying little problems--like the rubber cable to keep the door to the garage from slamming or the elastic strap around the trash can to keep the bag from falling in.

Franz was unbelievably nostalgic; he would save trinkets such as letters and silly drawings from Elen when she was young. He continued to commemorate significant dates in family history by writing it down in his calendar every year: birthdays of those family members who had long since passed--his parents, brother Willie, and sister Hilde; the years since Elen and Franz Jørgen had graduated from college, and the anniversary of his retirement. Perhaps it was his way of making the past unforgettable, tangible, eternal. 

 He lived his life with an unbelievably dogged sense of perseverance (although Lajla might call it stubbornness). He left Germany at the age of eighteen and came to the United States, and even though he considered returning, he persisted and epitomized the American Dream. He met Lajla, wrote her a letter every day for a year (actual pen and paper), and they would go on to spend over 46 years together. He taught high school foreign language for 36 years (four years of high school is more than enough for most of us). Even in the face of a devastating disease, Franz remained steadfast in the belief that he would do everything he could to fight, and he did--with courage, with hope, and with grace until he was called to be with the Lord. 

 Franz also possessed an unbelievable sense of humor. He loved puns (just not as much as Uncle Fritz), and had a witty sense of timing. He enjoyed making us laugh, whether it was imitating his fellow soldiers from his time in the army (much to Lajla's chagrin), or a well-placed one liner that would catch us off guard. It is also impossible to forget how entire containers of cookies Lajla baked would disappear, only for Franz to be betrayed by his own impish grin, feigning ignorance or blaming some imaginary sugar-addicted rodent. Whenever we were fortunate enough to have Lajla and Franz housesit for us, without fail we would find a bulletin from the local church in our house upon our return. However, it would never be in plain sight. Instead, we would find it under a pillow, or mixed in with mail, or in some kind of welcome back care package. It was like a Where’s Waldo? with church bulletins, a game of faith. His faith, however, was no game.

 Franz had an unbelievably deep and genuine sense of faith. So deep, he didn't wear it upon his sleeve, but in his heart. So genuine he didn't need to preach it, he lived it. Through his inimitable sense of fairness and his unwavering generosity, he professed his faith with his deeds. Whether it was donating to charitable causes, stocking up on supplies to bring to his brother Herman in San Diego, contributing to home improvement funds in Yorba Linda or Long Beach, paying for any meal we ate out together regardless of who invited whom, or making sure we had a full tank of gas, Franz gave—willingly, without expectation, without qualification, with only love (and with the thought that all this charity was racking up serious points on his Capital One Rewards card). 

 To us, it may seem hard to believe that he is gone, but if we can be a fraction as unbelievable as he was, the man we knew as Schatz, Papa, Opa, Franz will also be unforgettable, tangible, and eternal in our hearts and minds. So commemorate this day, and from here on out try to be just a little more unbelievable (even if you don't get any points).


There were no bunnies, but there there were colorful eggs, some candy, and (most importantly) family. The weather cooperated, and we were able to sit in the backyard as Tobias and Isabella foraged around the backyard at Bestemor's and Opa's in search of Easter goodies. What could be more symbolic of spring than young children enjoying an egg hunt and Easter baskets? Life is good.