Today marks the last of my family's Memoriam-In-Triplet. In month sequence, Dad was last. But in year sequence, he was first, followed by Bennett the next year and then Mom a year later. All 3 within 2 years minus 2 weeks! Besides that, Dad died on the Wednesday before Easter, so 11 years later we have come full circle.
I have no idea how old Dad is in the above photo. I think it may be a high school photo (Ruth, if you know, pray tell). But this photo next to the Ford Woody is from 1951 when he was 34 and I was 6. By that time there were 6 of us 8 kids, so Dad needed the stationwagon, given to us by Mom's step-dad who was a Ford salesman in NYC.
In those days, Dad was a poor preacher. Always was, if you go by what some preachers make today. But of course, Dad was never in it for the money. It was always his "calling" and he did it for all the right reasons, as far as I ever saw. He simply was a Man of the Cloth--a spiritual leader.
His dad was 70 (YES!) when my dad was born the youngest of 3 kids (his mother was 47!). And died when Dad was 9. His mom never remarried and raised the 3 kids. Uncle Jimmie died the year before Dad (which means 4 in my extended family died within 3 years!) but Auntie Sue (the oldest of the 3) is still alive in Virginia at 95!
Dad attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville but never graduated because he had to go home to take financial care of his mother. He was already preaching by 18, receiving calls from small parishes in Virginia before moving to Michigan in 1946 when I was one. He was there till he died of lung cancer in 1995 (never a smoker a day in his life). He joined no denomination but became essentially a Bible Preacher in baptist churches that had no affiliation with any conference. That was his style--to just preach after the conviction of his heart.
Everything I know about conservation, making a good bargain, saving a penny, and giving back what I don’t need, I learned from Dad. If given payment for weddings and funerals or speaking engagements outside of his church, he’d either give it back or to charity. He felt it all belonged to God, not him, no matter what. If he needed to supplement his income, as he did in the early days, he did professional sign-painting odd jobs. He was an artist in his own right (Mom was the musician!) and did this pen-and-ink drawing of his own bookplate (used on his tombstone below).
At home Dad was a man of few words, often staring off into space while working on his next sermon. He loved nothing better than making a point through a good story and preferably one that drew a chuckle. So his sermons were made up of good stories, many of which I remember to this day.
The night he died, he was in a hospice bed set up in the dining room with all us kids and spouses gathered around him. Mom, in her beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, came in and with great exasperation asked, “WHEN is the funeral?!?” I was at the foot of the bed massaging Dad’s feet and looked up at her with a chuckle and said, “We don’t know, Mom, because Dad hasn’t kicked the bucket yet.”
You need to know that I wasn’t being disrespectful of Dad or Mom in that moment. I was kinda pulling a Dad on her. Immediately he started laughing and said, “That reminds me!” He then started to tell a kick-the-bucket story he had told in his sermons. But as he started the story, he also started the 6-hour coma before his death and kept fading off after the first sentence or two. We’d start laughing, which would wake him up, and he’d start the story from the beginning, fading off again. We knew the story but he never finished it. Six hours later he kicked the bucket…and that’s exactly how he’d love us to tell it. We all in unison turned our heads to the hospice nurse who simply nodded her head, making “official” what we already knew.
It was the sweetest, quietest, most precious memory of Dad I can ever tell. He chuckled his way into Eternity.
Today, after 11 years, I am quite sure he gets a little congregation together from time to time to retell that story. He knows now, of course, that Bennett and Mom followed him shortly thereafter and probably gets a kick out of telling his new friends that “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
I guess you had to be there!
I guess you had to be there!