(This is the eulogy I gave at my father’s funeral. He died in May 2008 at the ripe old age of 96.)
Papa’s obituary was correct and factual and in that way it matched him. He was an engineer, and he was nothing if not correct and factual.
For those of you who are touchy-feely personalities, you probably thought it was terribly dry, and you don’t really have a feeling for the man whose life I honor today.
But correct and factual actually embodies him better than many of the other things I can say about him. That’s not to say he was uncaring, or cold – unless you think the rock your life is built on is uncaring or cold.
To me, he was strong, solid, dependable, deep, supporting, and faithful – qualities I’d opt for any time over sweet, sentimental, emotional, sensitive and demonstrative.
I remember in the movie “Love Story”, the main character was estranged from his father, and said “My father never wrote letters to me, he sent Memos”. When we heard that my sisters and I looked at each other and said, “So???” Papa used to always send us memos in school.
Do you need any? How are your grades?
When Ray was just 2 months old, I became gravely ill. Al and I were still in college – Al was about to graduate – we had NO money – we didn’t know what to do. So Al put Ray and me on an airplane and shipped us back home. I ended up in the hospital for three weeks, Mama was working at a new job, so during that time, Papa took vacation from work and stayed home to take care of the new baby.
I don’t know many grandfathers who thought their “baby days” were over, who would have done the same, but there was never any question about it with Papa. He just did what needed to be done.
Papa loved to fish and, although he was a loyal churchman, we occasionally could convince him to take us fishing on Sunday mornings – particularly if he had caught a line full on Saturday. In Arkansas during the summer the only time the fish will bite is early in the morning – right during church.
I remember my sister and I convinced him to take us on a float on Little River one Sunday morning from Cerra Gordo, Oklahoma to Little River Country Club. Someone would drive us up-river where we would put in about dawn, and then we would float back down to the club. As I said, this was a Sunday morning, and Papa’s conscience must have gotten the better of him, because we did the middle three miles singing “Love Lifted Me”, “Shall We Gather at the River” and all the other good old revival songs at the top of our lungs. We sang the verses and Papa provided the oompa-pas.
As an engineer, he always loved to stick his head under the hood of any car around.
Mama was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1993. Papa took over running the house as Mama became less and less able to keep up with things. But he didn’t do it like a woman would, he did it like an Engineer with schedules, and flow charts, and checklists. And he never complained. He didn’t take up cooking, he took up shopping for microwavable dinners.
He let Mama keep doing the wash – because it was one of the things she could still manage, until the day she emptied the trash into the clothes washer and started it running. Papa was taking a nap in his recliner in front of a baseball game when he heard a terrible rattling and clanging coming from the laundry room. Empty bottles and cans were agitating in the washer! But he didn’t fuss. He just cleaned out the machine, and put a lock on the sliding door. He continued to care for her at home until the sibs and I finally convinced him that it wasn’t doing either one of them any good.
He was a great tease and kidder. It is one of the things that never left him, even at the end of his life. Clara, one of nurses in the health care unit, said a few days before he died, he was semi-conscious, and she had just finished taking his blood pressure. She leaned over him to straighten the linens on the other side of the bed and suddenly he popped his eyes open and said “Boo!” Then he just grinned.
While we lived in New Jersey, Mama and Papa became friends with one of the preachers at the church and his wife. Orville and Margaret Austin remained friends for 30 years, even though they moved away in 1963. They really enjoyed playing bridge – men against the women – because the women claimed the men didn’t really know what they were doing.
I think about 7 o’clock last Monday evening, Orville and Margaret and Mama were gathered in heaven to meet him with the cards already dealt. “Sit down. What took you so long? We’ve been waiting for you for 10 years.”
He was my foundation, my rock, my underpinning, my support! He was my father, and, although we had him many years longer than the biblical three-score years and ten, it was still too short a time. Someone once said, “You are old when there’s nobody left to whom you are a little girl.” I miss him.