On My Grandfather

Right before I left for ALA Midwinter yesterday, I found out my grandfather died in his sleep last night. It’s amazing how quickly you can shift gears when big things like that happen. By the time I made it to Boston, my tickets to Salt Lake were purchased. I’ll be heading out right after my conference on Monday. There will be a viewing Tuesday evening and the funeral will be held on Wednesday.

My Facebook feed today has been filled with my family members reminiscing about Bobba. (Didn’t realize everyone else spelled his name with just one B. Boba. Maybe that’s how he preferred it to be spelled? Maybe it’s the geek in me, but that just looks like the name of a Star Wars bounty hunter. I’m sticking to the double-b.) It’s been nice to see all those posts, and I’ve been pretty reflective myself. I’m sitting in a hotel room at the moment, alone, with nothing else really on my plate this evening, so I thought I’d get some of those memories down on virtual paper.

Every summer, my grandmother and grandfather would have all their grandchildren for a week up at our family cabin in the Uintah Mountains. We had a blast there every year. While things changed some as time went on, to me, I’ll always remember it the way it was when I was around 12.

Bobba would come by in his blue truck, picking up all the grandkids and letting us all hop in the back. (It had a camper shell on the back, so it was enclosed. We’d all jam in there for the hour or so ride up, telling ghost stories and having a blast. (And violating many safety rules these days, no doubt.) Once at the cabin, there would be fishing, salamander hunting, swimming, horse riding, spudnut eating, taffy pulling, tons of games, and movies galore. I looked forward to it every year, and I’ve been close friends with my cousins ever since because of it.

In the winter, we’d head up and have sledding, snow mobile riding, more games, and more movies. The Cundick side of my family has always done an awful lot together. Sundays at Grammie’s, holidays together, Christmas Eves were a perennial favorite. While my grandmother has always been the more assertive of the pair, Bobba was a calming, solid force to be relied on at all times. You’d find him in the background (assuming there wasn’t a card game going on at the moment), fixing things, improving things and helping people. While in public he was always impeccably dressed, up at the cabin he preferred cowboy hats and jeans, and that’s always how I’ll remember him.

My whole life in the church, whenever I’ve introduced myself, there was a fair chance someone would recognize the Cundick name. Even in Germany, I’d have members immediately know it from Bobba’s many years as Tabernacle organist. He took me on tours of the organ, and I even had the chance to sit inside it during one of his recitals. Early on, I didn’t quite understand exactly how talented a musician he was. The yearly tradition on Christmas Eve was to have each grandchild come and perform something. One year I had my bassoon out with me to practice during vacation, so I was asked to play it. I had a solo I’d been working on with an accompaniment, and I handed it to him skeptically. It was (I thought) a pretty difficult piece. I reassured him that if he couldn’t play it, I could just play without accompaniment. He smiled, took the piece, and sight read it perfectly.

I didn’t make that mistake again.

I actually named a character after Bobba in OUR LADY. The grandfather of the main character, to be precise. Of course, that grandfather is an expert thief and con man (very different from the real life Bobba), but I did keep one thing true to him: he originally wanted to be a jazz musician. Bobba talked to me about that once, and our conversation appears in the book. He explained that the reason he had to give it up was that his finger span wasn’t wide enough. It’s a conversation that’s stuck with me: sometimes we can have dreams, but reality gets in the way. Bobba took his dream, pivoted, and still ended up doing marvelous things.

I’ve been to many of his concerts and performances of his pieces. He’s composed everything from hymns (my favorite is That Easter Morn) to oratorios. My favorite is He is the Root and the Offspring of David. Here’s a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir of it:

Bobba’s favorite phrase was always “not to worry.” He’d say it all the time. If he were on the Titanic, heading for the abyss, he’d calmly be walking around, reminding everyone “Not to worry” as he went about trying to make sense of the life boat instructions. It’s just who he was. He was also extremely persistent. If he got an idea that he thought was a good one, he’d never stop until that idea was realized. It’s how he managed to get so much done in his life. We Cundicks are known to get pretty focused on projects, and he was the epitome of that. He just couldn’t rest until it was finished.

He was a stickler for grammar and pronunciation. We got into a long debate one year over how to pronounce the word “err,” and he wouldn’t let it drop until he’d looked it up in the dictionary and proved his point.

In the few years Denisa and I lived in Utah after we were married, we’d go up to the cabin with Grammie and Bobba every six months for General Conference. It was usually just us and some of my cousins. A grown up cabin week, so to speak. We loved it.

Bobba worked hard to set up a continuing concert series at the BYU Jerusalem Center, and I was lucky enough to go to several of them when I did my semester abroad there. I loved to sit in the auditorium, which looks out over the Old City, listening to the music and soaking it all in.

That’s the thing with Bobba. I have a ton of memories of time with him and the rest of my family, and I think that would really make him happy. To see all these posts by everyone, and to know that he made an impact. That he helped us become better people and be closer as a family.

I’ll be forever grateful to him.

2 thoughts on “On My Grandfather”

  1. I had wondered if you were related to the tabernacle organist. Now I know the connection. My aunt, who was a musician, was allowed to play the organ in the tabernacle in about 1950 or ’51, and it was one of the big thrills of her life; she spoke of it often. I extend my sympathies to you. What a gentle death, to die in your sleep. What a blessing.

  2. Your grandfather was a great friend and inspiration. He was never too busy to lend an ear or to read something I wrote. I will miss him but I know he is still very busy.

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