What A Wonderful World
One thing I never got around to asking my great-grandfather was, “Why is this your favorite; why is this your go-to?” His favorite song to sing was “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. And he sang it with such gusto and fervent belief in the lyrics and their meaning, up until the end of his days. Singing meant a lot to him, and his singing meant a lot to all of his family. But that wasn’t all he had to give or show us.
My great-grandpa’s name is Gustave Harder. He was born to Henry and Anna Harder on November 15, 1919. Married to his loving wife Elsie since 1943 (73 years!). Father to my grandmother Cheryl and her sisters. Grandfather to my mother and her sisters and brothers. Great-grandfather to a wealth of children. And great-great grandfather to the new fifth generation of my nieces and many more. He had truly lived in a wonderful world.
Gus — as he was (and still is) known to those around him who didn’t call him “grandpa” or “great-grandpa” — was raised in Queens, New York. He had a sister and two brothers. I had the chance to meet his brother Emil on two occasions as a child. The last of which was in the early 90’s. Emil passed in 1999 at eighty-eight years old, a short while after his wife had passed. His sister, Mildred, I still do not know if she is still living or passed. Their brother, Hermie, had passed as a child. William and Frank are two others who I did not know. There are still so many things I wanted to ask and know to help carry on his legacy. So many questions I wanted to ask, but never could get around to due to the distance. But more than anything, I wanted more time with him. However, what I am happiest about is that my nieces and sister were able to see him and spend so much more time with he and Elsie.
He had done many things that you see from his time. He served in the Army, played football and boxed. He spent his time and life working hard to provide the best for his family, all while instilling good values to live by, which every one of his children and grandchildren exhibit today. He was an excellent teacher.
I remember the last time I had made the trip to see great-grandpa, it was last March. He and my great-grandmother, Elsie, were at their nursing home in Florida, and both eyes were blackened from falling out of bed. Elsie had started to fall into dementia, which was fun, in its own way, for Gus. During our visit she kept commenting on his blackened eyes, “Gus, what happened to your face? You look like a raccoon!” To which he would reply with the truth that he fell out of the bed, or a tale such as, “Oh, I fought this guy last night, but I gave him a knuckle sandwich.” He knew how to make the best of every occasion, and had a great sense of humor.
As soon as we showed up though, he immediately wanted to know what we were doing. How we were doing. He asked how the magazine I was working for was doing, and wanted to see each one that I had completed. He was proud to see what we have all done and have been doing. I can safely say that he’s lived the most fulfilled life out of any person I have ever met.
Gus thanked the Lord for everything that he ever had. And it’s not hard to see why. As he has proven, his faith was not without its work. With every single visit I had made to see him (or anyone, for that matter), I had never seen him without a smile on his face or love in his heart. And that’s what he has left for us in his family. That will always be my greatest memory and his legacy — his love for everyone. And that comes back to him singing. My questions were answered about my great-grandfather with one song alone: “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. It captivated him, and it said everything he needed to say about the world and the family he has and the love that he felt for those there with him.
My great-grandfather went home to the Lord peacefully and at rest on February 18, 2016 at the age of ninety-six, loved and loving. He fulfilled his mission here on this earth. And he couldn’t have left on better terms with it. It’s my truest desire that, when the time comes, you and I both will find that we lived in a wonderful world and that we were able to love every bit of it and leave something behind us just as powerful.
This write-up is not meant to be an obituary, moreso to be something to honor and to share with you the man I knew and still know today. With all of this said, I leave you with a music video. It was made with my great-grandfather Gustave a few years ago back down in Florida, before he moved, singing “What a Wonderful World” with John Michael and Lauren O’Leary at Osprey Lodge. This song carries more weight for me than it used to, and I know it will for generations to come.