Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Tribute To Gunnar

I struggle to come to terms with his death. Unlike thinking someone was going to live forever, I pretty much was at peace that my grandfather had passed his golden years and was progressing towards a peaceful sunset. With dementia and stomach cancer ravaging his mind and body, the old man still went on his daily walks, ate his forever treasured Swedish food, and stacked the wood stove full every morning at my great Aunt's farmhouse in Vigaker, Sweden. He was far cry from the juggernaut and pillar of human strength he once was, yet his lucid spells made you wince with agony I hear. Just when you were ready to say goodbye and write the old man off, he'd poke back in for one more round, one more story. As if saying, "I'm still here, lucky as hell, and I'm not sure what I did to deserve it."

The old man mirrored the long in the tooth retired champion horse, his barn filled with old medals. Not the participation medals, but the ones that weigh a few pounds, no longer attached to their ribbons as their weight and purity outlived the fragile ribbon. When shined they look new, but their tarnish remains, somehow adding to their legend.

In his latter years I always pictured him out to pasture, happy to have his belly rubbed, his ears scratched, a good meal, and happy for a saunter with his iconic cigar. Old, yet proud and triumphant at all of his accomplishments. He was the retired stud, and though his eyes grew grey and cloudy, they remained sharp, and that impish youth still shone it's innocent twinkle until death.

Gunnar deDon is the inspiration to my life. Born above the Artic Circle in Kramfors, Sweden, he transcended poverty. His father died of Tuberculosis when he was a child, and thusly he was seen by many as a bastard child. His formal education was in carpentry, let's just ballpark it equilvalent to finishing 8th grade.

He, like so many of his generation did what was morally and ethically necessary to succeed. And through luck and fortitude he immigrated from Sweden to Canada, and from Canada to Florida only to live the impossible and improbable dream of a life and death done on his own, yet only to be helped by so many along the way.

He was and will forever remain handsome and resolute. He was a Maverick and innovator, and the first to teach me what the word meant. At ten years old, I spent my first week away from home with the Grandparents and I was bored out of my mind. My BMX Bicycle could only take me so far, and away from cable, forced to play outside, I rode that sucker till the chain fell off. Unable to fix it on my own, he showed me how and said, "Boy, you know, you need to be innovative, do you know what innovate means?" In hindsight and maybe at the same lock step in time, I knew that standing before me was the definition.

Father of four, having no idea how to build pools, or houses, he started as a jeweler and ended up helping to set the crown jewels for the queen of England when she visited Canada. Then, by happenstance the first house he built with his wife, some passer by liked it, so he sold it to them. So why not build more, make a profit, and take his craft down to Fort Lauderdale. Why don't you start developing neighborhoods, building pools, start a pool company, and later buy and develop a community in Cashiers, North Carolina. That community in Cashiers is where our mountain house sits. Oh yeah, he developed the ~40 acres by himself, known as "The One Manned Band". Our family mountain house sits there today, finished as he turned 70.

There was not much he touched that didn't end up shining. Roughly, he could step into shit, and come out smelling like roses.

In his older years he used to say, "You know, I don't know what I have done to be this damn lucky?" And after hearing his stories about surviving a solo plane ride/stall out/crash where he jumped out of it and landed in Lake Ontario unconscious, starting brush fires that got a little out of control during droughts, and the countless adventures he had with his adopted brother, you had to scratch your head and just shrug your shoulders in reply.

Was it destiny? God always protects drunks and fools. Neither a drunk nor fool, the man had Teflon protection right up until the day he died. Anyone who met him could agree there was just something special about the man. To put it the way I can see it, Gunnar deDon had a plan, he wasn't sure what it was, but when he figured it out, it always ended up working. Call him the forever bumbler, call him God's court jester who entertained the hell out of him until the day he passed with a sweet smile on his face. I can see God looking down, smiling for 87 years saying, "This one, he's special, he makes me laugh, his heart is pure"...and on November 5th, my lovely family in Sweden gathered around his bed singing old songs and telling old stories as he finally slept that final sleep...smiling, happy to go home. God has a another entertainer finally in his court. And if God is anything like me, he could hear those stories for an eternity, knowing they will never get old, perhaps just a little more embellished.


  1. Terrific, well written, very touching tribute. May we both be so lucky as to have something half as solid written about us when we die.

  2. This was beautifully written, Matty. Makes me wish I knew him.

  3. wow, I guess this helps define who you are as a person too, but he sounds like an amazing man. Truly a gift that his life brought so much joy.

  4. My name is Sanna Greneby,I happened to find this post on Google when i searched "Gunnar deDon". First of all, im sorry about your loss. I am, as you, sure that there is one more entertainer up in heaven and that he is on à better place. My grandmother is Gunborg Bodin, born Gunborg deDon, sister to Gunnar. Even though he is my mothers (Monna) uncle, i grew up knowing him as "farbror Gunnar" (uncle Gunnar). I and My family went to Florida when I was 9 years old and he took us around everywhere and i do remember how fond he was of his cigars. In Disney world we went to one of the attractions and he hid his cigar (the 1/4 that was left of it) in a bush. When we had continued walking for 30 minutes after he suddenly realized he forgot his cigar in the bush and made us all wait for nearly an hour because he had to run back to the bush and collect it! He wouldn't let it go to waste. My father filmed a lot during this holiday and I have a clip when he is sitting by the pool telling stories (in Swedish) and playing the guitar. I can organize some clips to send to you if you would like? He was a great man who I am sure made a great impression on everyone he met.

    1. Sanna:

      I would love the clips! Wow, I just got your comment because I just checked my blog. I will be going to Sweden in May and I was hoping to meet Mona and Gunborg as well as the rest of your family. Generally we stay with Ingrid and her daughters when we go. I haven't been there in 6 years.