Archive for June, 2012

Eulogy

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Updated 6/7/2012 to add McLendon’s remarks.

[ My remarks were preceded by remarks from Cathy and McLendon. ]

Wow, what a challenge. There is not enough time to tell all the stories I could tell. I would love to be able to speak eloquently for Mom and my sisters. But we each have our own perspective. When I was ten, we moved to Gainesville, Florida, while Dad was attending the University. A fellow Psychology student named Art invited his classmates to a picnic, and distributed mimeographed invitations to the invitees. (This was not only before GPS, it pre-dated Xerox machines!) The Psychology people were studying different types of perception, so on his detailed, hand-drawn map, full of little landmarks and side comments, Art wrote, “May your perception be like mine, or See Thee Like Me.”

For the next nine minutes, I want to share some of my perceptions of my Dad, trying not to overlap with other remembrances, printed and spoken, you may have already seen or heard. [Obituary | Local News Article]

If you know me at all, it is no surprise that the first thoughts about my Dad that come to mind are about innovation and scientific curiosity. My Mom recently reminded me that his interest in psychology started when he observed the way different Marines reacted to stressful situations on the battlefield.

I remember science always being a part of our family – watching a solar eclipse reflected onto the ceiling of a darkened bedroom, because that was the safe way to watch it. I remember following our country’s progress in the space program, and watching the moon landing on our black-and-white television. All the time I was living at home, our family subscribed to Popular Science magazine.

When we were in Florida, my Dad bought me a crystal radio kit to build, and encouraged me to join the Boys’ Club telescope club. With his help and encouragement, I built a 6″ reflecting telescope which I still have.

A few years later, the kit was an EICO amplifier/tuner set, and then a Heathkit electronic organ. When we added three rooms to our house, he supervised while I ran the electrical wiring for the addition. Together we learned how to lubricate the car bearings, and then how to change brake linings.

He brought home tape recorders and microphones for me to experiment with, and helped me convert my Kay guitar into an “electric” by strapping a tape recorder microphone on with an elastic strap, and running the sound through the tape recorder speaker.

He was always modifying things, trying different ways to solve problems, like turning a riding lawn mower into garden tractor, or a garden tractor into a sugar cane grinder. Or building yet another shed for his trailers, tools, and plows.

Perhaps my fondest memory springs from his collection of miscellaneous, odd-shaped metal pieces, which were a key component of his experimentation. Frequently, while we were looking through boxes and drawers for a particular bolt, nut, or widget, he would find something interesting, hold it up, and say, “Do you remember where this came from?”

Moving from innovation into a glimpse of our life as a family, I first thought of a powerful childhood memory that is welded into my mind. We had walked down the hill to a creek behind our house, and were throwing rocks into the creek. I tossed one particularly hard, and inaccurately, and it hit the frame of his glasses right next to his temple. I was scared to death, but he just calmly looked at me and said, “Let’s be more careful.”

We did all sorts of athletic activities, at first in in our yard, then later on community and school teams. One day I was riding my bike down the hill in our back yard, and my sister was sitting on the handlebars. For some reason that my memory has blocked out, I decided it would be cool to step off of the bike and just let her roll on down the hill. I don’t even think she knew I had done it. Dad looked up, took in the scene, looked at me and calmly said, “You better go catch her.” And I did. I caught up with the bike and jumped back on before tragedy could strike. In high school, Dad encouraged me to play basketball and to high-jump.

Another area in which he affected my life was music. I have early memories of sitting in the empty pews on Wednesday night listening to the choir rehearse in our little church sanctuary. I remember him singing in the choir, towering above the other men, and I remember one special choir party at the home of a fascinating couple. Not only did they keep peacocks, they had a drum set in their living room, and their son gave me my first, and only, drum lesson.

By the way, another memory from the choir days encompasses many aspects of of my Dad. He noticed that the bulbs in the ceiling lights high over the choir loft had burned out. They had not been changed, because no one at the church could figure out how to get up to them – the irregular choir loft floor prevented any sort of tall step ladder from working. So he and I took an extension ladder to the church one afternoon, and he held the ladder vertically under the lights while I climbed the ladder and changed the bulbs. He was a strong man, and I trusted him, mostly, but the scene did have sort of an Abraham-and-Isaac feel to it. Our mission was a success, by the way, and the choir was enlightened.

Mom and Dad encouraged my musical efforts by buying me a guitar. When I had learned my first song, “Blowin’ In The Wind”, they encouraged me to play it at a church fellowship. Realizing that I didn’t have a solo-quality voice, they turned it into a sing-along, complete with lyrics my Mom typed out. Dad helped transport my Heathkit organ over to the church for other musical efforts, and, when our fledgling neighborhood band had the opportunity to perform with the youth choir at an Old Folks Home, Dad and Mom convinced us to play the lovely guitar song, “Sleepwalk,” instead of our first choice, which was “Love Potion #9.” I’m sure the old folks would have enjoyed that.

Despite an early picture showing me sawing a tree limb at an early age with absolutely no safety equipment, and what appeared to be little supervision, Dad was always known for his concern for safety, as Cathy has already mentioned. But he did not let that get in the way of living life.

Yes, he did install aviation seat belts in our 1957 Chevy wagon, and he always asked about our plans to drive home. “Will you get home before dark?”, and, “Be sure to call when you get home.” Yes, he did practice chain saw and tool safety, but…

… the six of us made frequent trips to the South Farm, often in the rain, in a 1967 Bronco with cloth doors. Little Charisse sat between the two front sets on a padded box Mom made. We had some legendary camping trips, including the pitch black midnight we walked a half-a-mile back to the car because the mosquitos had taken over the camper.

We all learned to swim, and enjoyed swimming pools, starting with the Bradley pool in Columbus, moving up to an inflatable, then a small round above-ground pool, and finally a large oval above-ground pool, complete with a Daddy-B-constructed deck.

No remembrance of him would be complete without mentioning two other staples of family life. He loved to work crossword puzzles, an affinity he passed on to me. We enjoyed exchanging clever clues and answers. I even considered tucking one in before they closed the lid, you know, just in case.

But, just as much as he loved crosswords, he hated opening gifts. Each gift-related family event was two things: (1) a challenge to try to find something to amuse him, and (2) an opportunity to see some of the most droll visual reactions any human has ever displayed. I remember finding one gift that actually brought a smile to his face. One rare Christmas while I was at college, I did my own gift shopping, mostly at Pier One Imports. (The rest of you may remember that year, too.) I found for Dad a foot-high statue of a tall, lean African chieftain in native garb, holding a long walking stick in one hand, with a dignified expression on his bearded face.

Chieftain

It made me think of his dignified bearing, and his approach to family leadership. Maybe that is why he smiled at it.

Woody Allen famously said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying!” We all leave a legacy, but my Dad’s legacy is particularly well-documented, thanks to my Mom’s tireless efforts. When the time came to summarize his life in print, we had no shortage of pictures, letters, personal notes, and writings.

As my nine minutes draw to a close, there are several sayings of his that stick in my mind.

The earliest of his sayings I remember, obviously born from his boot camp and battlefield experiences, was, “A man can stand anything he has to.” My Mother did an incredible job caring for him as his abilities and faculties gradually ebbed, but there were times toward the end that I thought of that saying on his behalf.

When he retired in 1982, I asked him if he would miss his job. I knew he had a heart for the people he served, and he always seemed to enjoy his work. But he was quick to answer. “I don’t live to work – I work to live.” And he proved that over the next thirty years.

Years ago my Mother heard an exchange that she recently shared with me. Our family attended a local church while we were all growing up, and the people in your church, especially the pastor, get to know you pretty well.

One day our pastor, Brother Jimmy, said to my Dad, “Y’all are some of the best parents I know. How have you done it?”

My Dad replied, “Lots of Love and discipline. (nodding to my Mom) She provides the love, and I do the discipline.”

Brother Jimmy smiled, and said, “I know better than that.”

Finally, I remember a story Dad told me about a family who had a son who just couldn’t get the hang of schoolwork. Let me insert a comment here. I went to work with Dad a couple of times, and I knew what his job titles were, but as a kid at home, and a college student away from home, I had no idea of the impact he was having on the Columbus educational community until I was researching for his obituary. Even this morning, many of you have shared wonderful stories with me. Anyway, this kid just couldn’t get the hang of schoolwork. His parents, well-meaning but perhaps like many parents, somewhat clueless, told my Dad, “We give the other kids a dollar everytime they make an ‘A’. It just doesn’t seem to work for him.” My Dad’s reply probably told as much about my Dad as anything I have ever heard. He said, “Did you ever think about giving him a dollar just because you love him?”

He was truly a unique individual, and quite a man.

Dad’s love for gardening is as well-known in our family as his love for music, so this next song we have chosen is particularly appropriate. Join us in singing, “In The Garden”.

In the Garden

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

Refrain

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Refrain