By Elaine Van Develde
As was true-to-form for Chum Chandler, people are scratching their heads … itching to know where time went and why it must inevitably take someone like him away.
Mourned in a celebration of his life on Saturday, Chum Chandler, an iconic, lifelong Fair Havenite and 64-year fireman, was remembered as tall order of head-scratching, suspender-donning, side-splitting tough wrapped in a tender life embrace.
He called people by the wrong names just to mess with them. He loved to sneak in some sweets. His tell-it-like-it-is sayings spared no one. He was lovingly stingy with his show of emotion. He adorned his family and friends with a lot of anecdotal stories and strength. His eyes twinkled with mischief. He had no pretense.
He was, yes, a Fair Haven character — a big chunk of community foundation.
His family and friends told his story on Saturday at the Fair Haven firehouse — a place where Chum spent many years. But everyone knew him already.
They knew that guy. They knew his story. That’s because he was the kind of stuff Fair Haven is made of — a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, husband, father, brother, friend, neighbor, volunteer and just an unassuming, hard-working man trying to do the right thing, enjoy life to the fullest and pay it forward.
And, by all accounts, he did just that.
“It’s not what you take with you when you leave this world, it’s what you leave behind when you go,” his memorial card read. “You left behind more than you could ever imagine …”
The family and friends of Chum still tried to account for it all, but what he left behind was more than they could possibly summon in a day’s worth of remembrance. Still, they made it through with enough Chum snippets and sound bites to celebrate him.
They talked about his ornery humor. It made them laugh between the tears. There was nothing blurred about their vision of Chum, though.
Daughter Lizzie scratched her head in imitation of her dad and his infernal noggin itch as, inevitably, some nugget of humor, wisdom or “one-of-a-kind” advice would drop out of his mouth like a candy in a Pez dispenser.
Carol, forever teased for talking too much, grappled to find the right words — words that she wished would prompt a familiar “Go pound salt!” from dad above.
He had lived with her for the past four years, she said. Fetching him some tea, feeding him something that his stomach wanted and just looking in on him to see if he was comfortably resting at bedtime was what she had grown accustomed to doing — “caring and worrying about you every day, even though you were independent,” like a parent.
The roles had reversed. And, she said, the nurturing became treasured time.
Grandson Michael (Chandler) West was grateful for having had a grandfather like Chum, with a special brand of gusto that caused him to insist that his girlfriend Dana’s name was Donna, because, when corrected, “Dana, Donna … same thing,” was the only answer he got. Until Dana turned the tables on him.
And, Michael said, Pop-Pop turned out to be one of the funniest people Dana ever met.
“Turn that s**t down!” he imitated, remembering Pop-Pop knocking on his brother Chandler’s wall when the video games started to sound like bad, newfangled rock music to him.
Ever so lively, Michael said he wasn’t used to seeing his grandfather so calm.
Before he died, he was sleeping. It was quiet and dark. Michael just wanted to spend some time with his grandfather, “even if you weren’t awake.
“But what did I see? As I turned around the corner and entered the dark room with the lights turned off, I see something I haven’t seen for a few weeks now. I see this white flash moving back and forth. It’s none other than you scratching that ‘damn itch’ on your damn head that you ‘almost damn near got’ for the past five or six years!”
He got it. His family got it. His friends got it. The community got it. There’s no more head-scratching for Warren “Chum” Chandler.
The 89-year-old father to seven, grandfather to 15 and great-grandpa to three, with one one the way, was laid to rest on Monday at B.G. William Doyle Veterans Cemetery, Arneytown, N.J.
But those he left behind will keep itching to fulfill a legacy like his.
RIP, Warren “Chum” Chandler. We’re scratching.