Ron Haubrich was a great man. A mountain really. Very much also a mix of myth, legend, and reality in the stories he would spin for his grandchildren.
As with most types of mythic story-telling, and the larger than life figures they contain, they are often celebrated in song, as they have been from time immemorial. With your permission, I would like to take a look at this mythic hero of a man, my grandfather, through some of the lyrics of his favorite song, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s rendition of Merle Travis’s 1946 hit about the kind of man my grandfather was, “Sixteen Tons” — music he felt, I think, viscerally, even in the midst of a disease that robbed him of his mind, much of his dignity, and memory:
“Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s a-weak and a back that’s strong”
Muscle and blood indeed with plenty of mud. My grandfather was always the example of work ethic in my life — that I have tried for 30 years to live up to but often failed. A man hewn from the mud of the Earth the way only a select breed are — with a work ethic that was absolutely unimpeachable and without equal: whether working on presses, houses, in his wood shop — anything he did, my grandfather gave his all in its pursuit.
I had always been envious of the mechanical intelligence he had — a practical intellect quite unlike my theoretical one. Also one that saw remnants survive into the ravages of his disease — yes, I’m thinking of when he removed the wheels from his wheelchair at the home and the maintenance men couldn’t figure out how he did it. He would say he had a “weak mind” — especially in doting on me as an “intelligent person” in his sarcastic but always insightful way — but this was so far from the truth. Even in looking at how grandpa and I would often play devil’s advocate with each other — grandma can attest to that. My grandfather was the consummate arguer — he did it well and often with me for sport, a trait I picked up on.
Let us also never forget his impressive verbal dexterity. Whether reading the “destructions” on something (something he rarely needed to do anyway) or “killdacating” with a .22 those stupid squirrels that infested his yard. Need I even mention the mind-blowing speed and variety of dirty words and insults the man could string together? I will forever be in awe of that kind of intelligence.
“I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Can’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line”
“Trouble” certainly was grandpa’s middle name. Ron Haubrich had the unique gift of always being able to put a smile on so many faces through his humor and the quintessential gritty, often irreverent gravitas of his presence. I will forever miss and carry with me his one-of-a-kind humor that brought such joy to so many and often earned him the “trouble” moniker.
The man’s fight was legendary. Whether it was actual physical fights — yes, I’m thinking of how grandpa quit smoking, having had the mouthpiece of his pipe punched into his gums. Grandpa didn’t shy away from that kind of confrontation.
Even a fight with the laws of gravity — I remember one day, grandpa was trimming branches maybe 30 feet in the air in a tree, when one fell on his ladder, knocking it out from under him. As he hung there with a chainsaw in his free hand, grandpa really showed his stones in how he wanted to get down: he wanted one end of a rope tied to a hatchet, which one of us was to then throw up, over an existing branch, the other end was to be tied to the bumper of his SUV. He was then going to somehow take his belt off (with a third hand, perhaps?) and slide down the rope like a zip-line. Needless to say, after we stopped laughing, we didn’t go that route in getting him down.
Nor did he ever shy away from greater fights, whether in government, or his charitable endeavors with Camp Callahan, an organization very close to his heart because of the children there.
Lord knows grandma, his daughters, and his Lilly could make him walk the line. That sort of love is eternal and I know all the Haubrich women will carry that with them.
“Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul…”
Well, Saint Peter you did call a great man from the Earth to a new beginning. Sucks but I take solace in my grandfather — the man, the myth, the legend of Ron Haubrich. He was a man who owed his soul to no one but gave so freely of it to all.
Miss ya Grandpa.