Today I attended the funeral of my grandfather, Levi Ralph Stockton. He lived 88 years. At the funeral, I didn’t really speak up about him or share any of my memories because I don’t remember too much about him from when I was a child—mostly him yelling at me and my cousins because we were being mischievous. My memories are all of the last ten years or so and I didn’t visit him nearly as much as I should have. Luckily, I made those visits count and really talked to him about his past and his observations of history.
He wasn’t an important man—at least conventionally. He drove a bus for Phoenix Transit—now Valley Metro—from 1946 to 1971. He raised seven kids and took care of his wife on that income. I don’t know how he did it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I know exactly how he did it: he never moved from his home, pinched every penny he got, and lived a frugal life. He was a child of the Depression and it showed in his every action
In the last years of his life, I had many conversations with him about his life. I spoke to him at length about Phoenix’s growth that he had witnessed and his reminisces as a long-time Phoenician. I asked about his childhood and his riding of the trains as a youth during the Great Depression. He told me everything I wanted to know, but I never spent enough time delving. That is my biggest regret regarding him. I’d listen to him and take in every word, but I always had other things to do and could only spare so much time. He wasn’t a special witness to history, but he carried with him something just as important: nostalgia.
It is said that old people live in their memories and my grandfather was no exception. This isn’t a bad thing—in fact, the past is what defines us in the present. Listening to him reminisce, I was always struck by how alive he became. He lit up and you could see him reliving the best times of his life, no matter what his physical condition was in the present. While I was definitely pursuing selfish ends in asking about his past, I think he was also benefitting from the experience.
The history he would relate was more valuable than the grand history important figures witness because their experiences are inevitably captured for posterity in books or other artifacts of history. The more mundane history of Levi Stockton is lost to eternity and the world will never know what it was like to drive a bus in a booming town.
The past of Levi Stockton that I heard at the ceremony and experienced only peripherally suggests that though uneducated he was wise and though parsimonious he was generous. I am better for having grown up under his watchful eye and sharing in the gruff love he exuded.
In his memory, I extend a silent thank you: you were part of what made me what I am today.