Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Remembering My Father

Composed by me, his eldest child, and read at his funeral June 30, 2017  

When someone dies, among the things that people recall are some of the last things said by that person.
  • ·      When I visited him in the hospital, he said “Boy, are you a sight for sore eyes.”
  • ·      when I visited him in nursing care after he was out of the hospital, he opened his eyes and said “Hi sweetheart.”
  • ·      Two days before he died, he said “I loved your mother very deeply, and could not have been the man I was without her.  And then when she died, Verna Mae came into my life, and she was the right one for me at that time.  I love them both very dearly.”
  • ·      Without any preamble, he said “Give my computer to ______ Mission when I am gone.”
  • ·      And then, he said—“make sure you take everything off of the computer before you give it away.”
  • ·      He also told me a joke—two days before he died.  Out of the blue…and even though I had heard it before, I marveled at the humor in him.
  • ·      Finally he said—“I am so ready to die.  I wish the Lord would take me home. I want to go.” 

Here are a few of the things my dad said to me in his last days:
But words are not all that I remember about my father. These are some of my remembrances—

  • ·      My dad taught me how to ride a bicycle. Of course, many dads do that, but mine taught me by walking along behind me, holding the bike (in the absence of training wheels), urging me to peddle, steadying the bike. Then when I got the bike going nicely along, he let go. Of course, I didn't know it, but I was peddling on my own. When I looked back, I wobbled and crashed, but a couple repeats--and I had learned to ride.
  • ·      My dad always had time for me to crawl up on his lap. And he always had hugs for me (and my brother and sister, too).
  • ·      When I was a small girl, my dad let me play with his hair. When he was tired in the evenings, he would sit down, and lean back. His eyes shut, he let me (perhaps even encouraged me) to comb his hair every which way. I had lots of fun, and I suspect he enjoyed the relaxation.
  • ·      My dad let me play his 45 rpm records of classical recordings. He had a set of Beethoven's string quartets, and I asked to play them. My dad said--go ahead. That experience, along with some others, encouraged my love of classical music. My dad could have said--no, those records are too valuable. But he said--go ahead, and encouraged a musical taste in me.
  • ·      My dad allowed me to make my own way. I remember a specific episode--we were on board ship crossing back to America, and the entertainment was a kind of gambling. Another passenger offered to let me play with $5--I asked my dad what to do. My dad said "you know what your mother and I think, but you decide for yourself." The message was--we don't approve of gambling, but you decide. Well, I did decide to use the money to play. And I didn't feel any regret, but the important thing was that my dad said--you decide.

A number of people have remarked to me, after reading my father’s obituary, “my, what a full, rich and interesting life your father had.” Well, that he did.

Many of you know the basics about his life. So, I won’t repeat that here.  I will, however, share a few stories.

When he was 18, his parents told him it was “time to move out.” They simply could not afford to feed three younger children and my dad.  Dad needed to keep working to gather enough funds to go to college. So Dad first worked on a farm in Lancaster County. Then he found a job as a butler in a wealthy home just outside of Philadelphia. Things did not go well—and he was dismissed from that job.  (It’s a long story…)

Then, in 1940, my father found work as a houseman, one of a number of servants, in the summer home of Henry McCormick. The McCormicks were a prominent family in Harrisburg.  My father’s duties included pressing Mr. McCormick’s suit daily, polishing his shoes, wet mopping the front porch weekly, and cranking ice cream weekly. My father also occasionally served as a driver to help with transportation. He even had a slight accident while driving one of these cars, but Mr. McCormick was a kindly soul and nothing came of the incident.

Dad was always interested in things mechanical—cars, machines, even in his later years, computers.  He told the story of a time that the two dignitaries came to visit the churches in southern Africa. Graybill Wolgemuth was a Mission Board member who came to visit Sikalongo and David wanted to take him to an out-station. He chose a school south of Sikalongo Mission, down the escarpment towards the Zambezi Valley, where road conditions were very poor and the road quite steep. The vehicle they had was an older one, and the brakes were in bad shape. Even with David using the foot brake and the hand brake, it was all he could do hold the car on the steep decline. David instructed the African helper who was along to find a big rock, and then get on the running board of the car. He then instructed the helper that if the car would start going too fast, David would call out, the helper should jump off and quickly put the rock under the front of the rear wheel to help stop the car. Graybill Wolgemuth was duly impressed with the conditions under which the missionaries worked.
In 1987, Dad and Mother moved to Messiah Village. Mother was insistent that they move there, rather than buy a house in the area. She had a sense that Dad might need the support that a place like Messiah Village could affort. And she was right. When she died unexpectedly in 1991, the Village and the people there helped my dad through that time.

But the other support that he received was marrying Verna Mae. About two years after Mother’s death, people began suggesting women who might be “approachable.” Truth is—Dad had his own ideas. He decided on someone he had known through her work in the BinC Missions Office—Verna Mae Ressler. He told me about her as he courted her. And, one day, as he got ready to go and see her, he said—well, he wasn’t sure that she was the one, maybe he should tell her so.  That evening when he got back from their “date,” he called me and said—well, we are engaged!

What a blessing Verna Mae has been.  All of us in the family can attest to that.

Now, he is gone. No more stories, but many memories. Thanks be to God for his life of service.