A Blog Post For My Grandfather: Valery Sergei de Beausset

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I have not written since my grandfather died.  I have not let sadness overtake me either.  I've wallowed in nothingness, occupying myself mostly with movies and online television shows.  Writing it out, now, I realize that nothingness is worse than sadness.  It certainly is no way to honor a life that was so full.

I've long imagined writing something brilliant about my grandfather, or my whole family, for that matter.  As my grandfather's health deteriorated, I also imagined having something profound to say after his death.  Writing that out feels macabre and self-indulgent.  Weeks have passed and the words haven't come.
There is a hallowed tradition of writing about those that have passed away.  If this were an obituary I would start with: Valery Sergei de Beausset died on Oct. 18 in Grosse Ile, Michigan.  He was 94 years old.  Fortunately, The Ile Camera has already done an exemplary job of recounting the major facts of my grandfather's life in an obituary.  Here are my favorite parts:

From 1946 to 1948, Mr. de Beausset worked for Intercontinental Corp. in Travancore, India, building a fertilizer factory.

From 1948 to 1958 he was the director of the engineering division of J.G. White Engineering Corp. for the economic development of China.

When Shanghai fell to the communists, he moved his team to Taiwan and his family joined him there. He was decorated with the Order of the Brilliant Star from the government of Taiwan in 1957.

From 1967 to 1974, Mr. de Beausset was a consultant for the development of Mexico, Bolivia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica and adviser to the president of the Central American Bank of Economic Development.

From 1979 to 1988, he was a consultant for the Agency for International Development to the government of Honduras for rural development.

"His main thing was trying to help the people of the underdeveloped countries," [Lee-Tai] McKissack said. "Besides his family, that was pretty much what he lived for."

[...]

In 2007 a documentary film was produced by the National Taiwan University Library of Taipei, Taiwan, of his work in that country.
Lena Khzouz Magyar - The Ile Camera (23 October 2009)
I once applied for a job writing and editing obituaries for the Boston Herald.  I didn't get the job, but I remember walking away with the realization that an obituary is one place where you really don't want to get the facts wrong.

If this were an elegy, I would probably borrow a poem from someone else.  The poetry has been sucked out of my writing by a combination of academic papers, freelance and opinion journalism, and blogging, in that order of importance.  Fortunately, my aunt Lee-Tai already shared a beautiful poem with the family.  My aunt Valerie read it at the memorial service, and scouring the Internet, I cannot find out who authored it:

The Broken Chain

We little knew that day,
God was going to call your name.
In life we loved you dearly,
In death, we do the same.

It broke our hearts to lose you.
You did not go alone.
For part of us went with you,
The day God called you home.

You left us beautiful memories,
Your love is still our guide.
And although we cannot see you,
You are always at our side.

Our family chain is broken,
And nothing seems the same,
But as God calls us one by one,
The chain will link again.
I guess this is closest to a eulogy, but I don't want to call it that.  If this were a eulogy for my grandfather it would be better organized and every word would be well thought out.  The eulogies were spoken by my father and my aunt Lee-Tai at the memorial service. 

Instead, I'd like to call this a blog post for my grandfather.  I'm writing it as I would write an email: a diarrhea of thoughts.  After it is published, I will probably go back and change it as I notice typos and awkward turns of phrases.  If my vulgar metaphor isn't hint enough, I say this not to elevate a blog post onto the same plane as other venerated literary traditions, but to emphasize the inadequacy of my words as a form of remembrance.  Selfishly, writing about writing has also helped me to break my writer's block. 

Part of the reason it is so difficult to write about my grandfather because I'm claiming his legacy in the act of doing so.  I would be honored to claim all of my grandparents' legacies, but for now I feel that honor is best bestowed upon my parents, my aunts, and my living grandmother.  They knew my grandparents better than I did, and I still have much to learn before I can be faithful to their memory. 

For instance, one of the things that keeps coming to my mind when I think of my grandfather is the phrase "global citizen" which I hold so dear.  I always imagined calling my grandfather a "global citizen," maybe even one of the first global citizens, because of his work in India, China, Taiwan, and Latin America.  I'm not completely certain if "global citizen" accurately describes him, though, and I'm not sure if my grandmother, my father, and my four aunts would approve of that phrase.  Making things even more complicated, I'm also personally trying to work out what the term "global citizen" means, and even more important, what it should mean.  All that is left for me to do is to describe my grandfather as I knew him and hope that the rest works itself out.

I knew Valery Sergei de Beausset not as "Grandfather" or "Grandpa", but as "Voochie".  That is what my sister and my five cousins and I affectionately called him.  We also call our grandmother, Constance de Beausset, "Nana".  Exactly how we got the names Nana and Voochie, I'm still not sure, but to any careful observer, those names are one of the first clues that the de Beausset family is no ordinary family.

Growing up, I knew Voochie mostly as a towering, strong, and wise old man.  Towering, at almost 6 and a half feet tall, he's a major reason why my high school basketball coach recruited me at a young age.  Alas, at only 6'1'', I was a disappointment.  Strong, Voochie was still building and fixing things well into his 80s.  Early on, not only did he build things like hydroelectric dams and factories for the majority world, the joke was that he could fix anything with bubble gum and a paper clip.  My father takes after him in that way.  Unfortunately, I don't.  Wise, my iconic vision of Voochie is of him at his desk, always reading, writing, and coming up with solutions to the world's problems, large and small.  I like to think that he left a little bit of that to everyone in our family. 

I also remember how much he loved cookies.  Whenever I visited it was always a challenge to keep the cookies away from Voochie so that kids like me could get some. 

Those are the memories of the man I knew, but what inspired me most about him were the stories told of his past.  Some were probably embellished, as all good stories should be, and others are probably forgotten forever. 

There's stories of Voochie trekking through the Taiwanese jungle.  To keep him safe, a member of a local tribe gave him a knife.  The knife had stones on its side that were supposed to represent the amount of heads the knife had lopped off.  He used it to fend off the other tribes of headhunters.

Then there's the stories of Voochie in the Mexican desert.  When I was young, I remember distinctly trying to throw a knife into a palm tree when my father told me that Voochie was good at throwing knifes.  Supposedly, Voochie threw knives in the Sonoran desert to kill rattlesnakes and then stuck the tales of the rattlesnakes in the sand to hear them shake in the wind.  I remember Voochie disputing the details of that story later on.  My father was very young at the time.

There's the story of how Voochie unknowingly helped to make the atomic bomb.  There's the story of how he fled Russia as an infant just as communists were taking over, and the story of how decades he fled China just as communists were taking over.  There's the story of how he went to Latin America after checking Taiwan off his list of places that needed help.  There are stories of how he almost lost his life and the lives of all of his family members multiple times.  It's no small miracle that there are members of the de Beausset family still alive today.

There are countless stories like these.  I'm not even sure if I'm getting all the details right, and for once, I don't care.  These are the stories I heard and was inspired by as a child.  Most people hear these things in works of fiction, but these stories were alive for me in Voochie and my family. 

Voochie's stories were made all the more real by the old house in Grosse Ile, where my grandparents'  and aunt live.  The house is filled with souvenirs from my family's travels in faraway lands.  Everything in that house has a remarkable story.  Voochies stories were also made real by the adventures my immediate family lived in our home of Guatemala.  Headhunters and rattlesnakes seem farfetched in Suburbia, U.S.A., but not in war-torn Central America.  The things my grandparents went through make put my trip through Mexico to shame.

Writing this it occurs to me that I've lost a little bit of my sense of imagination and wonderment.  It's one of many lessons that I have to learn from Voochie.  Another thing about Voochie is that he built created things that you can touch and point to as progress.  There's a certain satisfaction to that tangibility.  I deal a lot in abstractions.  Even organizing, which is a little bit more tangible, is an abstraction.  I remember getting that sense from my father, recently, too.  There's something amazing about the aquaculture company my father helped build.  I remember getting this sense watching the tractors sculpt ponds.  In fact all of the men in my family build things.  They are carpenters, architects, and mechanics. I'm not.

Or maybe the most important thing I have to learn from Voochie is that I have many more lessons to learn and many more adventures to seek.  Maybe it's time I stepped away from the keyboard and started living more.  I think I'll try and start right now.

Before I do though, I would be remiss if I didn't end this blog post with an action, something tangible.  My grandmother, Nana, has asked that all donations in memory of Voochie be donated to El Hogar, an orphanage and school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, that my grandparents helped found.  You can read more about it here

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10 Comments

anja said:

Kyle,
I am very sorry for your loss, it has clearly been deeply affecting. Your grandfather is surely very very proud of the impact he made in your life, and proud of how you follow in his footsteps and work to build a better world. Que su memoria y su ejemplo traigan paz a tu corazon, amigo.
Love anja

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Gracias por tus palabras, Anja. Tu apoyo es una bendicion.

Dave Bennion said:

Your grandfather sounds like a remarkable man. I would like to have met him. My condolences to your family.

Pat Young said:

My condolences.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thank you Pat and Dave.

Thank you for sharing about the life of Voochie with us here. You have made our lives richer for doing so. May God bless you as your life continues the World Citizen ideal that your grandfather passed on to you. *Much love* to you and your family.

R. I. P, your grandpa.

My photo took on 2007 when your aunts (or your mon?) visiting Tainan, Taiwan (Formosa).

http://kaishao.idv.tw/PICS/2007/05/20/DSCN9436.JPG

http://kaishao.idv.tw/PICS/2007/05/20/DSCN9435.JPG

--
Kai-shao Chen

Mr. Lin's blog

Cherish the memory of Mr. Valery S. de Beausset
http://pylin.kaishao.idv.tw/?p=1958

Mr. Lin's blog's catalog about your grandpa:
美援(US aided Taiwan)
http://pylin.kaishao.idv.tw/?cat=4

pin_yen lin said:

By Lee-Tai e-mail to me now, and I feel pain in heart is still endless and did not return to normal condition. The most made me feel guilty that de Beausset manager then trust me, would take his precious collection to me, and I promised to donate to research units. In fact, I can put that information as a money tree, sold. But I did not do so in full accordance with de Beausset manager’s desire to donate to the tournament. Library of Taiwan University is not open to researchers to use, now it is recommended de Beausset family should be asked for a copy as a memento.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks to the Taiwanese commenters that have found there way here. It's nice to know my grandfather had an impact across the Pacific and that we're still connected by the internet.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on November 4, 2009 4:35 AM.

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