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A Man Who Lived

November 19, 2016

On Friday November 18, I spoke at the funeral of my uncle, Tandy R. “Ted” Graff in Coeur d’Alene, ID. This is a copy of what I said.

On behalf of the family, I would like to thank you for coming today. My name is Rodney Bliss and I’ve been asked to say a few words on behalf of the family. 

The man that many you knew as Ted Graff, my cousins and I knew as Uncle Tandy. Except for my cousin Colleen, who for some reason that none of us remember, called him Uncle Honey. I just this week learned that it was a name that he didn’t like: Tandy that is, he was disappointed when Colleen stopped calling him Uncle Honey. But, it was like him to simply not say anything. 

I’m actually a little uncertain how to refer to him through the rest of these remarks. I think I’ll stick with Tandy because that’s how I knew him. 

He died of a heart attack while out on his last ride of the year on his Harley Davidson motorcycle. And it became the last ride of his life. Harley Davidson owners, more than any other group of motorcycle owners or even car owners for that matter, adopt a unique perspective on life. That perspective can be summed up by the motto, “Live to Ride. Ride to Live.” That motto is particularly poignant considering how he died. My uncle was a man who lived.

His daughter Connie described him as living like a rock star. He had high blood pressure and diabetes and he still insisted on eating whatever he wanted and living life on his terms. He didn’t let it keep him from living life exactly as he chose. Even if it killed him. 

My uncle was many things. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, an uncle, a sailor, a welder, a mechanic, a Mason, a Shriner, a state trooper and a small town sheriff. He was a dam builder and a jeweler. And he could fix anything. He was a man who lived.

He joined the navy right out of his school. He finished up in 1963, which was a short time before I met him considering I was born in 1964. I know his service was very important to him. I’ve seen his discharge papers and it’s not clear, but it appears the record was amended to secure him his honorable discharge. Service was important to him. 

I will never forget that he died on veterans day. . .and on his sisters birthday. 

He was my uncle. And my friend. He also had a great sense of humor. He often told his wife Candy that he only had one grey hair. If you’ve seen him you know that is not true. When she pressed him, he’d pull out a gray rabbit’s foot and say “This is my only one.” 

We all believed he had a magical talent to fix stuff. I took my family to visit him one time. I have 13 children. At that point they were all younger than age 12. When we arrived there were three of those push-cars. Just the perfect size for my 3 young boys. When I asked where they were from he proudly announced that he got them at the pick-n-save. I grew up in Washington and now I live in Utah. I figured pick-n-save was an Idaho thing. It’s not. It’s a Tandy Graff thing. It took me 20 minutes of talking to him before I figured out that the pick-n-save was the stuff that people left at the community dumpster. Nothing was truly broken if he decided to work on it. He lived to help people.

He came by his great mechanical ability naturally. I say he was a dam builder. Actually he was a mechanic fixing the heavy equipment that was used to build the dams. Any of you who have sent him email in the past twenty years or so, know that his email addresses included icatmechanic. 

I remember on one visit we started talking about tools, specifically Craftsman tools. I love Craftsman tools. I told him how stupid it was that Craftsman was trying bring out a professional line of tools to compete with Snap-On. I carried on at some length about how no one would pay to buy high end Craftsman tools. He offered his opinion as he does, but I was unconvinced. 

“Come with me,” he said. Out of the bottom of the moterhome he pulled a 200 piece Craftsman professional tool set; wrenches, sockets, screw drivers. He won that argument.

That motorhome was the subject of a story my cousin Colleen remembers. She and her husband, Joe, were thinking about getting a new piece of jewelry and of course, they asked Uncle Tandy. “Come with me,” he said. He took her to the big queen sized bed in the moterhome and reaching down he lifted up the bed. There in boxes was his jewelry collection. With one hand he held up the bed and with the other he started pulling out boxes of merchandise. 

I remember visiting with him when he lived in Oceanside, CA. And he showed me “The Gold Room.” He didn’t have his jewelry in the motorhome at this point. He’d built a bunker in his house and called it the “Gold Room.” The house was built on a hill and in the basebment he cut through the wall and dug out an entire room to store the jewelery and gold. He then disguised the entrance as a bookshelf. I wonder if the people living there now know they have a vault. 

He replaced the blue center stone that my wife and I, as poor college students, put in her ring. For our tenth anniversary, I stole her wedding ring and sent it to Uncle Tandy. He replaced the center stone which was colored glass with a genuine blue saphire

He gave me this ring, and that’s  the last thing I want to talk about. For the last 46 years of his life, Tandy was a Mason and for much of that a Shriner.

I guess I always knew he was a Mason, but I didn’t know a lot about it. He never mentioned it. To me, it was just something he did. At one point I became interested in joining the Masons.  I sent him an email one day, “Hey, could you tell me a little about the Masons?” I see some smiles from the Masons and Shriners here. See, Tandy was an old school Mason. You didn’t talk about it much until you were asked. I got back 3 pages. 

He came down to Utah when I entered the fraternity and presented me with my Masonic apron. I think he was more excited about it than I was. . .and I was plenty excited. He told me one time the goal of Masonry was to make good men better. 

He did question me when I first talked to him about it. “Are you sure those Mormons are going to be okay with you joining the Masons?”

“I don’t know, I’d better ask.”

 The Mormons replied, “Are you sure the Masons are going to be okay with a Mormon joining them?” It all worked out. When I became a Master Mason, he sent me this ring. Being the sentimental type he is, he said, “If the ring falls apart. . .sell the gold.”

He loved the fraternity and the Shrine. I have a daughter who was born with an oversized birth mark on her forehead. Insurance said correcting it was a cosmetic surgery and therefor not covered. So, my wife and I looked for some other options. 

I mentioned it to my uncle one time. A a few days later and she had a surgery appointment at Shriners hospital of Northern California. That’s just what he did. 

He was so excited to be the Potentate of the Shrine. Through all his years in Masonry, he never “sat in the chairs,” which is what the leadership of the lodge does. Masonry is a brotherhood and there was never any disrespect for someone who wasn’t in leadership. But, being Potentate was really important to him. 

He maintained the go karts for the Shrine. He told me about building the go karts and fixing up the trailer. He also got the Shrine to buy a big van to carry the men and pull the trailer. He insisted that the van have the darkest possible tinted windows. . . .because the Shriners occasionally wanted to enjoy a beverage out of view of the kids at the parade.

My uncle warned me that men in our family don’t live long. His father, my grandfather went to bed on night saying he wasn’t feeling well and never woke up in the morning. Tandy knew that you can cheat death foror a time, but that he was really living on borrowed time. After his last serious health scare a few years ago, I used to start our phone calls with “I’m so glad you’re not dead.” He’d laugh and say, “Yeah, me too.” 

The Harley riders say “Live to ride. Ride to live.” I think that’s how he would like to be remembered. Tandy R “Ted” Graff was a man who lived. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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