My grandfather, Dennison Bancroft, passed away this morning at 10:45,
surrounded by family.  I'd been up with him and much of our very extended
family the last several weekends and most of last night before coming back
down to Boston.  The last week has been a constant stream of people he
loves and who love him.  My mother says that his dying was peaceful, that
everyone present had been able to say to him all they needed to, that the
room was full of light.  

Den taught me to sail, to tie knots, to cut wood, to scrape boat-bottoms,
and to feather my oars when I rowed.  His ability to take star-sights, to
navigate small boats across open sea, to machine his own parts and mend his
own clothes with duct tape, left me with the still unshakable impression
that his knowledge tapped into fundamental forces within the earth --
forces that I, as an awestruck whelp of a grandson, would certainly never
touch as deeply nor wield as well as this unstoppable man.  Becalmed and
fogged in, one day, with my grandmother and several cousins, I remember
seeing Den come looking for us, motoring out of the thick grey wall we were
drifting near, Dovekie's white prow appearing first, then her jib,
staysail, mainmast, and finally Grandpa himself, his hat limp on his head
and his hands firm on the wheel.  His humor yielded groans and rolled eyes,
there was never a democrat he liked (except, perhaps, for Mr. Clinton,
about whom he said, "Well, any man of honor would lie under oath about
something like *that*"), and he ate more bacon and scrambled eggs with
cream than I can comfortably recall.  He loved being able to shut off his
hearing aids and nap in the midst of chaos.  Though he would vociferously
deny it, astute observers could see him showing affection to the Yorkshire
terriers he and my grandmother had in the last years.  He sang off-color
songs to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, pronounced startling
non sequiturs, and loved Gilbert and Sullivan.  Rule #1 on his boats was
that the captain was always right; Rule #2 directed the reader to re-read
Rule #1.  He married my grandmother some 29 years ago around
Christmas-time, as they were too much in love to wait for their planned
spring wedding date.  They were each other's second marriages.  They sailed
to Europe together, built several houses, and are dearly renowned by
sailors the world over for their hospitality and excellent anchorage.  He
taught physics for many years at Colby College, kept 3 basements full of
tools and paintbrushes soaking in thinner, and many, many years ago managed
to explain to my father and I just why electricity doesn't run out of the
waffle-iron cord when you unplug it.  He was 87.

He had always been the epitome of gruff affection, of bad puns and
inexhaustible charm (even last week, teetering into the dining room, four
teenage waitresses fawned over him, rumpled his hair, called him by name,
and mentioned to each other "He's just so *cute*!" when they thought he was
out of earshot), of a particular Den-look as he raised one eyebrow to me.
I will be carrying his memories and the skills he taught me in very dear
places in my heart.

© 2006 Adam Hirsch.
back: <-