Thursday, July 14, 2016

perfect bliss

My grampa's name was Marzo P. Bliss, and he always told me the P stood for "perfect". He might have been right about that.  Marzo lived in his home that he shared first with his family of four kids, then with his wife, Eliza, and finally on his own, for almost seventy years.  He wanted to stay until he died, and he did the next best thing: he lived with my aunt for the last few months, surrounded by people who loved him, and holding onto his sense of humor until he passed away two weeks ago.  We gathered this weekend to do our best at saying goodbye.

The funeral service reminded me that he was not just ours; there were many people who could claim him as their brother/father/grampa/friend.  He was unassuming and kind, with a dry sense of humor and a straight delivery. 

Marzo was a calm in the nutty chaos of our family; he was a carpenter with Habitat for Humanity, a sergeant in the US army during WWII, and a gymnast with his sister Jean.

He was ready to go, tired of saying goodbye to his friends, and there is peace in that for us.  The weekend was also about saying goodbye to the house his kids grew up in; the only family house left from my childhood of moving around.  We filled it with the sounds of relationship and story this weekend, the silliness I remember from family gatherings when I was a kid, and the occasional burst of tears.

Ani and Carol trimming the weeds

Little sister Jean, the matriarch, at age 96, found a photo of her first love.
She slipped it in her pocket.

Cousins in Papa's "office"
Siblings, taking a break. Me, listening.

And we took some breaks. Madison is beautiful any time of year, and a person needs the lake, and the frozen custard and concentrated time with beloveds...

photo by Auntissie

Sunday evening, after the service, after the visiting at the church, after the pizza and a house so full of people and dogs, we went into the backyard to scatter papa in the garden with gramma. That's as formal as it gets for us, and we shared more memories and a lot of chuckles before the mosquitoes shooed us back inside.

The weekend was intense, dusty, exhausting, and I am filled with gratitude for the family I have, for the many ways in which we love each other.  We come from some good people, and that is something to celebrate and be so thankful for.

Siblings. It's like herding cats.

little brother photo-bomber

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My cousin wrote the most beautiful obituary for Papa; he captured his life and his being so well. Thank you, Ben!

Madison - Marzo Porter Bliss led a life characterized by an abundance of love. He possessed an unassuming but unshakeable commitment to his family and the community that surrounded him, and his presence was an abiding comfort to those around him. We had 98 years of Marzo; we wish we had more. He passed away peacefully on June 30, 2016.

Born downtown in 1918 to Hugh and Erminie Bliss, Marzo was Madisonian to his core. The family had five children; the oldest named Hugh, followed by Anita, then Marzo, his younger sister Jean, and the youngest, Clint. During the Great Depression, his family rented out their apartment in the city, and stayed in a cottage on a hill above Lake Waubesa. The children slept on the porch; Erminie draped a canvas tarp over them to keep the snow off when autumn began to turn. They hitchhiked to school because the family car couldn't make it all the way in.

He attended West High, where he met the love of his life, Eliza Caswell, and they both enrolled at the University of Wisconsin. Eliza had a lot of pluck, and she asked him to marry her on Bascom hill. They had their wedding on graduation day 1939; they'd go on to enjoy 60 years of life together.

Marzo was drafted into the army the year he was married. He was a sergeant in the Army, and constructed Bailey Bridges throughout France: these were portable truss bridges that allowed tanks to cross rivers. It was a dangerous job, and one that he didn't talk much about for a long time. When the war ended in 1945, he was offered a promotion to stay in Europe, but he was desperate to return home to Eliza, who had given birth to his first child Merry while he was away.

Marzo and Eliza had three more children: David, Carol, and John. The Blisses lived in a postwar house in the Westmorland neighborhood, with a little garden and a shop in the basement. They attended the First Congregational Church, and sang in the choir. For 35 years Marzo worked for an upscale menswear store, selling suits to the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Oscar Mayer, until retiring in 1983, after which he didn't do much dressing up.

Marzo and Eliza had a busy retirement. There were years and years of companionship, and Scrabble after lunch, in their back room where they could watch birds at the feeder. They traveled, visited children and grandchildren, camped, rode bikes in France, and hosted endless Christmas dinners.

What they did more than anything else, however, was volunteer: with Volunteers in Mission and Habitat for Humanity. Beginning in 1985, Marzo devoted countless hours to building houses with Habitat for Humanity. Marzo pounded nails right to the end, helping to build over 200 homes: he was full of vigor and loved being useful. In recognition of his service, Habitat named a street after him, and he was invited by Jimmy Carter to participate in an international build in Thailand. Marzo declined the invitation, however, because, at 90 years of age, he "didn't want to slow the builders down."

Marzo led a wonderful life, and these details don't do him justice. He was a self-possessed and really funny man, who seemed to see things with an unusual clarity. When he was needed, he'd be there, patient and unfussy, quick-witted, gentle but unmistakably strong willed. There was a preternatural steadiness to him; he was an oasis of calm love.

He is survived by his sister Jean and brother Clint, his four children, ten grandchildren, and fourteen (and counting) great grandchildren. Though Marzo wasn't big on dispensing wisdom, he did seem to have it figured out. He gave us all of his love, and we will dearly miss him.


Sukayna said...

So sorry for your loss, but also simultaneously inspired by his life, well lived and well loved. I hope we all live such rich lives until the end, and what better way to be than loved and loving.

We need more of this in the world! Xx

JessicaBliss said...

This post helps me get a sense of what the weekend was like. Thank you.


Kerry said...

You really do a good job of capturing it, Debbie. It was an intense, bittersweet weekend. Wish we could see you in August when you'll be back!

slim pickins said...

Sukayna - thank you! That was definitely the over-riding sentiment of the weekend, being inspired by the way he lived his life, finding the good, doing the good.