Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hope I Did Dad Proud


I spoke for my family at the Celebration of Dad's Life on October 25 -- that's me above taking a few gulps of beer right after starting...figured Dad would appreciate that I needed a little courage.

A good friend of the family's, Jason Pelichowski, put together a beautiful dvd of the service, and I hope to put that up here at some point, but haven't tried yet. So in the meantime, here's the text of the eulogy.

Celebration of Dad's Life

First, wow…on behalf of my mom, Lyn, my brothers, Bill and Jim, their wives, Cathy and Missy, and Dad’s grandkids – Abbey, Alyssa, Emma, and Lacy – I’d like to thank you all for being here. Honestly, we’ve all been absolutely blown away by the outpouring of love and support from everyone since Wednesday morning when Dad passed away.

In thinking about what we wanted to do today by way of services for Dad, we knew one thing for certain: We want to honor his memory by celebrating his life and all that he’s given to all of us here. We decided to do it here at the Barns and Terrace because it was just over a year ago that we celebrated Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary here with a surprise party. And whether you worked with Dad or played with Dad, you know that spending time with his family and friends, talking, laughing, eating, and, yes, drinking…were tops on his list. So that’s what we want today to be.

I’m going to tell you a bit about Dad’s life, speaking for our family, and a couple other people have asked to speak. And just to keep things straight, I have not been chosen by the family to do the talking because I’m the oldest – I’m the youngest! I was chosen basically because no one else thought they would be able to speak. Though I know this will be challenging, I wanted to because this is one way I’m like my dad – my gift for public gab is not nearly as impressive as his, but I got a little of it from him, and hope to do him proud today.

We’ll end with a toast – what else? – and then we want to invite you all to, well, party and share your own stories and memories of Dad with each other as you mingle and eat and drink. I am quite certain my storytelling will fall very short in doing justice to all the experiences you’ve had with Dad, so we hope you can take time to hang out and share with each other and us.

New Jersey

Many of you know even though we’ve tried to hide it, that Dad is from New Jersey. We know…shocking, but true. Given his propensity for being a wise guy, though, it seems fitting, as he grew up in and around Bloomfield, where the opening credits for the Soprano’s were filmed. He was quite proud of that.

Many of you also know that Dad had a pretty rough upbringing, and he would have been the first to tell you that not many people he grew up with expected him to make much of himself. He was an only child, and his family was quite poor, not only in financial resources, but in nurturance. But he learned to be, let’s say, resourceful, out of necessity.

For instance, his mom made him take piano lessons from a woman down the street when he was pretty little. Grandma Reid would give him 50 cents to give to the piano teacher each week, and after a short time, the teacher got fed up with how terrible his playing sounded, and started giving him an additional 50 cents to leave without playing…so he pocketed the $1 each week and never told Grandma!

Dad barely made it out of high school. He graduated third from last in his class – something like 325th out of 328th – and his high school counselor told him that they should only give him half a diploma since he got such terrible grades and was rarely in school.

They almost didn’t let him graduate, but he enlisted in the Navy at 17, and when he showed them his enlistment papers, they let him go – with the whole diploma.

Dad spent three years in the Navy…and never stepped foot on a ship. He was stationed the majority of the time in Corpus Christi, Texas, and was trained as an airplane mechanic.

Dad was in the Navy when he met Mom. They actually met for the first time when he was dating one of her friends, Claudette, who introduced them. Sometime after he and Claudette broke up, Mom was a freshman at Upsala College in New Jersey – she’s from Joisey, too – and when Dad was home on leave, he was staying at a place that she walked by on her way to school. One day it was storming out – snowing – and as Mom was walking by, she saw Dad, as his car was stuck in the parking lot. He was quite the looker back then, so she took this opportunity to re-introduce herself, and ended up helping him get unstuck…and then they started to date. It seems fitting to me, as I think she probably helped him get “unstuck” from a variety of situations in the ensuing 51 years that they were married.

Dad got out of the Navy when he was 20, and still dating Mom, worked for Daich Ice Cream Company, loading ice cream on trucks. He and his cousin Jimmy – the McAlisters helped raise Dad, really – then bought a newspaper delivery service from Mom’s dad. Mom told me yesterday she is still surprised he married her after that because he hated that company!

California

Mom and Dad married August 17, 1958. Dad wanted to get into law enforcement, but, having grown up where they filmed the Soprano’s, he was pretty sure most of the cops on the East Coast were dirty, so he decided to come out to California at the end of 1959. Cousin Jimmy was supposed to drive out with him, but the night before they were to leave, Jimmy called Dad and said he’d – in my Mom’s words – “found a honey,” and would be staying with her instead of going. Of course, Mom was a nervous wreck that he would be driving all the way out by himself. That was also fitting, as he made her nervous with much of his behavior during their marriage.

Mom had forgotten this, but our good friend, Willard, remembers that Dad made it as far as Vegas before he had to call Mom because he’d run out of money. Hmmmmm…. Once in California, he drove up the coast to San Luis Obispo, where he thought one of his Navy buddies lived…but he couldn’t find him in the phone book. He got back in the car, and made his way to Ventura where he – I know this is surprising – ended up in a bar.

It was called The Jet Room, and the bartender’s name was Bruno. I’m sure you’ll also find this surprising – he became fast friends with Bruno, and Bruno sent him down to Arrowhead Water, where Dad got a job driving trucks and delivering water. It was there that he met Willard Eidson – Dad had the Santa Paula route, and Willard had the Filmore route.

Willard had also been considering law enforcement, and he and Dad took the CHP exam together. Not surprisingly, Willard did better than Dad – Dad was ranked 97th on the list – and Willard got accepted into the Academy in 1961, while, after doing a brief stint with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, Dad went through in 1962. He was given Badge #3228, which he tried to get me to memorize so I could get out of speeding tickets.

CHP

So began Dad’s 18-year career as a Highway Patrol Officer. He and Willard were stationed together in Ventura, and believe me, there are stories to tell there! Dad made lifelong friends there on the patrol, including Gene Rhodes – or Granny Goose, as us kids called him.

We’ve asked Willard to tell you one story in particular…

(Willard -- don't have the text of this unfortunately)

Thanks, Willard. They worked together in Ventura for six years, at the end of which Dad was promoted to sergeant and transferred to Merced. Willard said their captain in Ventura – Captain Howard Marsh – said that they were never to be stationed together again, as they’d had a little too much fun being on the same squad – and they never were.

After two years in Merced, Dad was assigned to teach cadets at the Academy in Sacramento – what on earth were they thinking?! – and we moved to Elk Grove.

Bridgeport

In 1972, Dad was again promoted, to lieutenant this time, and we transferred to Bridgeport, where Dad spent the remainder of his career as the Area Commander.

Though Mom was initially miserable when we moved here, Dad loved it right away. You all know he loved hunting, fishing, camping – for a dude from Joisey, he was quite the outdoorsman. And he instilled that love for Bridgeport and the outdoors in all of us, too. Dad gave us a lot of gifts over the years, but my brothers and I would all agree that Bridgeport was one of the biggest gifts.

Over the years, starting with his Highway Patrol friends, he made some great friends here, too…Gentry Pace was on Dad’s squad, as was Jim Jeude, both of whom are here today. I’m sure if you talk to them afterwards, they can relate not only squad stories, but some great CHP party stories, too, as Mom and Dad had some pretty big blow-outs at their house over the CHP years.

And though he was now a cop, Dad still found ways to get himself into hot water. Mom remembers that he went to some CHP dinner function in Sacramento where many of the top-ranking guys in the state were. He was asked to give a toast…and this is what he said: “Here’s to the crack that never heals, the wetter it gets, the better it feels.” Willard figures he must have been a lieutenant by then, because he probably wouldn’t have gotten promoted past sergeant after that!

Early in Dad’s career in Ventura, he had sustained what seemed like a minor back injury. By 1979 or so, that had become a ruptured disk in his upper spine, and he also had some pretty serious nerve damage in his arm. When given the choice to either take a desk job in Sac or take early retirement – though he was ambitious and it was really hard for him – he chose to retire and stay in Bridgeport.

But all of you know that he didn’t slow down. He worked for the Toiyabe National Forest’s Youth Conservation Corps, he did a stint with the California Youth Authority as a liaison between the state and CYA facilities that housed gang members, he and Mom bought the Trails Restaurant and turned it into BUMCO (which Jim turned into Rhino’s later), and he got into local politics by serving as the District 4 County Supervisor.

He was serving as County Supervisor again when he passed, and Diane Evans was instrumental in his campaign, and asked to say a few words about him.

(No text of Diane's talk, either)

Thanks, Diane.

Golfing and Montana

Golf

While Dad was active his whole life, right up until the end, two of his greatest loves were golf and hunting in Montana.

He had a number of great golfing buddies over the years – Terry came along to ride in the cart, Wimp, Pete, Dougie, Cole, Gordon…

Yesterday at the Rhino’s Golf Tournament, Jim and Pete did a lot of reminiscing about Dad’s golfing, and Pete shared a couple of his favorite stories with me.

Apparently, when Dad’s ball would have a “bad lie” – not be positioned well for the next swing – he would casually stand near it, acting as though no one could see him while others would take their shots. When he thought no one was looking, he would kick the ball until it was placed better. Of course, all his golfing buddies saw him do this all the time, so for Christmas one year, they decided to give him a custom golf shoe. They got a golf shoe, glued the back of an old sand wedge to the front of it, and gave it to him. Jim owned Rhino’s at the time, and the shoe hung above the bar for many years.

And Dad got another of his nicknames from his golf buddies. You know how sometimes when you try to hit the golf ball, it just rolls a tiny way?....Dad did that a lot. When he did it, he would calmly stick his hand in his pocket, pull out a fresh ball, and tee up again – as though this were his right. Typically, his second swing would be a good one. He’d then point at the second ball, matter-of-factly look back at his buddies, and say, “I’ll take that one.” That’s how he got the nickname, “Two-Ball Billy.”

Hunting

Dad also loved hunting – deer and elk primarily – and about 20 years ago, he started hunting in Western Montana with Jim, out of a little town up there called Dillon. First trip, he would up in a bar – go figure! – called the Lion’s Den, and quickly befriended the owners, Donnie and Dana, and, well, practically the whole town. Dillon became his “Bridgeport in Montana.”

All of us have spent time up there with Dad at one point or another – Jim, of course, hunting each year, Bill has gone up fishing, Mom has gone up just visiting with him, and I now do a bike ride there each June. Jim has LIVED most of the great stories of their adventures up there, but the rest of us hear them each time we go to Dillon and hang out in the Den with all of our friends there. One that Donnie loves to tell happened a few years ago.

Dad had just gotten a new cell phone (a flip phone) – not a big tech guy. But Donnie said he was really excited about it, showing everyone, and telling them it could “even take pictures,” though he didn’t know how to do that. At some point in the bar one night, Dad made the mistake of leaving his phone unattended, and Donnie got hold of it. He proceeded to have Dana take a shot of his bare ass, and unbeknownst to Dad, they made that the wallpaper on his phone. Shortly after, guess who called? Mom. Dad proceeded to flip open the phone, and was greeted with, in Donnie’s words, “this giant butt.” Donnie said Dad tried to talk to Mom, but wouldn’t put the phone to his ear, so the conversation was a little strained.

Of course, Dad was livid, and tried in vain to get Donnie – or anyone – to take the picture off the phone. After about three days of not having any luck, he tried reading the manual – duh! – and still couldn’t figure it out. He finally resorted to paying Josh, Donnie teenage son, to take it off for him. I don’t know that he ever figured out how to use the camera.

Wrap Up

Today is the opening day of elk hunting season in Dillon…and Dad was supposed to be there – he loved being there opening day to see all the elk come in.

Of course, his passing on Wednesday has come as a terrible shock to all of us. Our family is finding comfort, though, in remembering how he lived his life – he went balls out, right? He always went after what he wanted, he worked harder than anyone else I know, and he played damned hard, too. He loved Mom with all his heart, cherished my brothers, their wives, and his grandchildren, me, and all of you.

Many of you helped us celebrate his and Mom’s 50th anniversary just over a year ago here.

He’d wanted to go to Scotland his entire life – and he went last February with Mom, Jim, Missy, and Lacey. He talked many of your ears off about it, I’m sure.

He took time to go watch Coleville High School football over the last few weeks, and was more proud of those kids and their big wins this season than you can imagine. He even called Bill last Sunday to tell him all about Saturday’s game, and Dad wasn’t one to call us really. Mom called…and forced the phone on him usually.

And though he missed his hunting trip this year, he took Mom on a late summer trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and then to Dillon – Dillon was primarily his winter place so he rarely went in the summer. We’re so thankful he and Mom got that time, and that he got to see his friends in Montana again.

So, we’re finding comfort in knowing he went the way he would have wanted to – quick, and while living his life to the fullest. And we’re also finding comfort in all of our memories of him, including all the irritating phrases he used to use…

“Bingo!”

“That’s easy for you to say!”

“I always liked (insert appropriate name here) better than you.”

And we hope you, like us, remember how well he admired and/or loved each of you.

Me? I know Dad was proud of me and my accomplishments. Being a “Fox News” kind of guy, he was less than impressed with my liberal leanings, of course, but loved to brag about his daughter, the college professor. I remember though, that before I finished my degree, he asked me one day, very seriously, “You aren’t going to be one of those people who puts Dr. on everything – your license plate, your checks? – right?” And my going to University of Tennessee for grad school definitely put me high on his list, as he loved coming back to go to the Vol’s football games.

Jim? Well, y’all know they were two peas in a pod. It thrilled him to no end that Jim settled here in Bridgeport, and he was sooo proud of what Jim made of Rhino’s and that he has continued the amazing tradition of Ken’s. He would tell you he couldn’t have picked a better wife for Jim, and loved Missy dearly – she could take all his shit and dish it right back…and she gave him Lacey. What a gift he was given that Mom watched Lacey the last few years up at the house, so he was able to get even closer to her.

Bill? Dad used to pack the family up and drive us out into the middle of Nevada for the weekend to watch Bill play high school football – Bill was the best athlete of the three of us, and Dad loved that. He was also very proud of Bill’s career as a math teacher, and was honored over the years as Bill brought so many of his teaching friends home to fish in Bridgeport. He loved that Bill came home so much, and brought Cathy into our lives. Cathy won his heart when he saw not only how happy she makes Bill, but that she can out-fish any of the guys in our family! And she gave Dad his first grandchild – Abbey – who he absolutely cherished, along with her little sisters, Alyssa and Emma.

And Mom? He loved her best, of course. Like the rest of us, they went through rough times here and there, but he loved her fiercely, and wanted more than anything for her to be happy. I know he so admired your strength – he knew he wasn’t an easy man to live with – and he felt so thankful for the love and life that you built with him, and shared with all of us. He credited you with being the heart of our family, and I know he’s proud of how you’re handling all of this.

I know that Dad is looking down on all of us, and is so honored and proud of the tribute we’re paying him here today. He was a man who loved attention, yes, but he was also a man who worked tirelessly for others and was fair-minded and just in all his interactions. He was fallable, but was always man enough to admit his mistakes, apologize when it was warranted, and build up those around him.

Amazing Grace

Dad had a relationship with God, but wasn’t a man who cared too much for organized religion…he felt that your relationship with God is personal and private. To honor that, we’ve asked our bagpipe player to play “Amazing Grace,” Dad’s favorite bag pipe song, and would like to invite you to take that time to either silently pray or just think of great memories you have of Dad.

Toast

I said we’d end this portion with a toast, so it’s that time. Our family is going to take a shot, and if you have a drink, please lift your cup, too. We’re going to set Dad up at the bar, where we’re certain he’d be if he were here in body, with a couple bottles of Glen Livet and some shot glasses, so please feel free to pay your respects, so to speak, by stopping by sometime today to do a shot with him.

So…the toast.

Truth be told, at some time or another, you were a pain in the ass of every person here. And anyone who says you weren’t, missed out on getting to know you as well as they should have.

But beyond the shadow of a doubt, every one here has also been touched by you in ways that are beautiful beyond words.

You were the epitome of a good man – honest, hard working, brimming with generosity, laughter, and love.

You truly were larger than life.

And you will always, ALWAYS be in our hearts.

Here’s looking up your kilt, Dad.

2 comments:

patsywbp said...

OMG...that was awesome!

Meredith said...

That was beautiful kathie. And the pictures of the service are lovley.