In April of 1961, Grandpa Rhode died.
Seymour Alfred Rhode had been born in 1884. After growing up on his father’s farm on the road to Independence, Seymour had graduated from Attica High School. Briefly, he had taught school. The remains of the one-room schoolhouse, nicknamed “Rock College,” stood in a gloomy tangle of weeds across the road from College Rock. Joe and Ida had taken Charles and Robert past Rock College on Sunday afternoon drives. The boards of the building were gray with age. For a time, Seymour had sold musical instruments in Lafayette. A few years after his marriage to Kosie Ruby Cobb in 1909, he had served on the Board of Directors of Standard Live Stock Insurance Company of Indianapolis.
Rue J. Alexander, born as James Ruevelle, had had a direct influence on Robert’s life because, before World War II, he had helped nudge Seymour into political posts in Indianapolis. Beginning in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Seymour had later become an examiner for the Indiana Department of Insurance. He had been named Chief Examiner after fifteen years in the department. When he had begun accepting what were largely political appointments, he had become much more successful than he had been previously.
The family of Grandpa Rhode’s beloved sister, Bertha, and her husband, John Claypool—who lived in New York—mourned the passing of Seymour and sent condolences to Joe. Over the years, they had made several excursions to visit the Rhode clan in Indiana, and they now planned another to keep the far-flung family as close together as possible.
Grandpa Rhode was to be buried in the Pine Village Cemetery after services at Shipps Funeral Home in Oxford. As Grandpa Rhode had been a Mason, he was to be given Masonic rites.
It was the first time Robert had seen the members of the Masonic Lodge wearing their aprons, and it was the first time that he had heard his father give the funeral oration.
Joe had memorized the entire oration, and he was nearly always the one who spoke it at a funeral for a Mason from Pine Village. In the years preceding Grandpa Rhode’s death, Robert had often heard Fred Holdcraft and Robert’s father conversing quietly in the living room. Fred and his wife, Glynalee, were members of the Euchre Club that Joe and Ida played in and the parents of Joy and Jenny, two of Robert’s friends. Fred was a Masonic Past Master and member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Indianapolis. The purpose of his talking in low tones with Joe was to make arrangements for Joe to present the funeral oration for a fellow Mason. For the next few evenings, Robert’s father was not to be bothered, so that he could practice, ensuring that his memory of the speech was perfect.
At the services for Grandpa Rhode, Joe and his fellow Masons wore over their suits the white aprons trimmed in blue with the all-seeing eye symbol above and the symbol of Freemasonry below. Robert found the aprons strange. They were so out of the ordinary as to make Robert doubly conscious of the solemnity of the occasion.
Robert knew that his father wanted to make no mistake in the oration, and, indeed, Joe made none. His sentences flowed effortlessly with perfect cadences and emphases.
Seymour’s brother Marshall C., who was born in 1888, was a 32nd Degree Mason in the Scottish Rite. Great Uncle Marshall stood near Joe during the ceremony.
The Masons had memberships in the Order of the Eastern Star, to which women could also belong. Ida was a member. Throughout the year, she attended Eastern Star meetings, which were held in lodge rooms on the second story of the Brick Block, a row of shops on the north side of Lafayette Street that had been built in 1902 and 1903.
At the funeral, Ida wore her five-pointed Eastern Star pin with its red, blue, yellow, white, and green triangles.
A few days after the funeral, Joe took his family in his GMC pickup to Indianapolis to attend to the apartment where Grandpa Rhode had lived for many years. Joe’s first cousin Jay, a son of Charles J. Rhode, Seymour’s older brother that was born in 1882, drove his own pickup so that there would be two trucks to haul furniture and boxes. Jay’s wife, Claire, who was a Cajun from New Orleans that Jay had met while he was in the Navy in World War II, remained at home.
It rained cats and dogs almost all day long!
Ida had given Charles and Robert strict instructions to be useful but not in the way. Robert stood quietly in corners of rooms until he was called upon to carry lightweight boxes to the trucks. When it was time to clear Grandpa Rhode’s desk, Ida asked Joe and Jay if the boys could have any of the small items that decorated the desktop. Jay nodded.
“You boys can pick out something for yourselves,” Joe said.
Robert took an iridescent conch shell, and Charles accepted a small metal horse that he later gave to Robert.
Robert clutched the seashell all the way home in the dark of night as the rain pelted the windshield and the tarp that had been tied down over the furniture and boxes in the bed of the pickup.
The death of Grandpa Rhode plunged Robert into a solemn frame of mind. Robert’s pensive mood lasted for a week. He overheard his mother asking his father what should be done. She said that, perhaps, Robert should not have attended the funeral. She added that, maybe, Robert should not have helped carry boxes from Grandpa Rhode’s apartment. Joe suggested giving Robert time to work out everything in his mind.
Robert held the shell in his hand. He was fascinated with the way the mother of pearl tones reflected the light. It was as if the shell were glowing while light was passing through it—as if he were holding the moving light itself in the palm of his hand. Suddenly, he felt that the shell pointed to something greater: a transcendent force just beyond what can be seen. His grandfather was still alive somewhere, sustained and protected by the same light. Were not angels portrayed as beings of light? Could the shell correspond to everlasting life in other dimensions linked to this world through light and its meaning? All at once, Robert thought he knew what was meant in First Corinthians when the Apostle Paul writes, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Robert emerged from his contemplative week a more cheerful boy. Ida could not figure out what had brought about the change.