I don’t generally write about me or my family in these columns, or at least when I do I try to relate something from my personal life to some event or organization here in Surry County. Today, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to dwell on something that is strictly personal (though I suspect many of you can identify with some of what I’m writing).
I want to share a few memories with you. The first comes from my childhood, around 1970 or 1971 (you know how childhood memories can be, mixing years and events) on my first-ever trip to the beach. We were in New England, visiting my sister and her brother-in-law (he was stationed at an Air Force base in New Hampshire).
I had wandered probably too far into the ocean when a wave slammed into me, knocking me off balance. I recall digging into the sand as hard as I could with one foot, bending over at the waist, my other leg high in the air, arms pinwheeling for all that I was worth in a vain attempt to regain my balance before a second wave came crashing over me.
From the corner of my eye I saw movement. My father was not an athletic man — he had grown up during the Great Depression and missed the opportunity to play sports or develop any athleticism — but that day he made a running, diving leap that would rival such a move by any athlete of the day. He came down near me, arm outstretched and his hand clasped my wrist.
Immediately I regained my balance and was able to withstand the next wave as it rolled over me. Truth is, there probably wasn’t any real danger involved — that second wave would have knocked me down, forced a little saltwater up my nose, maybe skinned knees and palms, most likely little more. But we didn’t know that, and my dad was there, keeping me balanced, safe, and afterward he let go and simply went on about his business without a word exchanged between the two of us.
I’ll share another memory, from 1993. My dad, 64 at the time, was forced to undergo heart valve replacement surgery. As is the custom for such a procedure, he was unconscious, a breathing tube down his throat so that a respirator could do the breathing for him during surgery.
Afterward, as the effects of the anesthetic wore off, a nurse took him off the respirator and removed the breathing tube. Within seconds my dad motioned for my mother to lean over, and we all thought he was trying to say something. Instead, he lifted his head ever so slightly and sneaked a kiss, a move that later prompted my aunt to remark “If ever there was a marriage made in heaven, that is it.”
Another memory? In 1999 we threw a little shindig commemorating my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. A number of people spoke there, sharing memories. Some of the remarks that stand out in my memory were made by my parents’ pastor, Rev. Bob Alderman of Shenandoah Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va..
Bob (he doesn’t like to be called Rev. Alderman) said a number of things about my parents, among them that they had “servant’s hearts.”
There is no greater praise. What he meant was, in a world where most people are caught up in gaining influence and power, in collecting money and goods, in being noticed and getting public adulation, my parents are content to work in the background, doing the work no one notices simply because that’s what needs to be done.
They serve others because it’s in their DNA, it’s who they are, it’s a calling, if you will, and they answer that call every day. They do so not because they feel an obligation, or because if they don’t do it no one will. They work, and serve, because they want to, because others need it, and they do it without any thought of drawing attention to themselves.
There are many, many other memories I could share: riding with my dad every school day from the time I was in sixth grade until I started driving myself at age 17; getting married with him at my side as my best man; talking with him on the phone little more than an hour after my first born came into the world; laughing at the numerous little jokes he’d tell or quips he’d zing us with (he was known by all as quite a jokester); watching him over the years just flat-out enjoy every second he could get with his grandkids and, in more recent years, his great-grandchildren; the list could go on and on and on.
My father passed away 11 days ago, at 5 a.m. on Feb. 27, just three weeks after his 84th birthday. The family — kids and their spouses, grandkids and their spouses, and for a short time even a couple of the great-grandkids — were with him during his final hours, keeping a vigil by his bed, camping out in the waiting room.
At the very end my mom, my sisters and I, along with one of my kids, were with him as he passed quietly from this life.
What I’ve done here is a feeble attempt at sharing a little bit about him with you. I wish each of you had had a chance to meet him, because he was always the kind of man who made everyone feel good. He loved people, and I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue against the idea that their little corner of the world is much better for having known my dad.
I know in my family our world is much poorer now for his absence, but that’s only because he always added so much to our lives. He left us with some treasured memories and an example of how a life well-lived should look.