My Father’s Eulogy, June 20, 1939 – August 14, 2016
As human beings, God gives us the power to write our own story in the span of our own lifetime. My dad has quite a remarkable one. I wrote this eulogy the early morning of my father’s funeral, August 18th, four days after his passing, after four terrible weeks of hospital and hospice care, and two and a half years after my mother’s death.
We know he left extreme poverty and difficult circumstances and moved for the first time from Arkansas to California at the age of 14 and permanently at 15. He started a new life… a new story away from his dear mother. He once told me “homesickness” was the worst kind of sick. When it comes to writing his own story there are three themes that are prominent and worthy of mentioning in his passing. In the past 2 and a half years since my mother passed, we have had many discussions about his story, and how he wrote it.
First most prominently is Harold’s work ethic. Harold began working early, the earliest story is when he was 12 or 13 and moved in with his grandparents Columbus and Nora. He helped his uncle Floyd build fences so that he could save enough money to move to the Golden State. He saved. And saved. He moved to California at age 14 in the 50s. He hauled hay…a lot of hay. In the sixties, there wasn’t much of a way to make money for a boy like my dad except by the brawn of his body and hands and the sweat of his brow… so he did that. He hauled hay in the 50s and 60s…square heavy 100 pound bales, and his Uncle Lloyd had said, that Harold was the first man he’d ever known who could make $100 per day hauling loads of hay. It might have taken 20 hours a day, and dad slept four, but he did it. And he saved that money. Later his brother, Jerry, came to California, and they worked together. They did the same. They loaded; they traveled 10 hours to deliver; they unloaded; they traveled 10 hours home; slept 4 hours and did it again…every day. He slept on Saturday and lived on Sunday. And started again on Monday.
He started a prosperous business delivering square bales to the Greater Los Angeles area from Lancaster, and saved $25, 000 so that he could move his wife and children back to Arkansas in 1971 (45 years ago) to a less volatile part of the U.S. His business partner became a millionaire in a matter of years, but dad wrote his story how he wanted…he wanted his family safe and in a wholesome environment, so we moved to Rudd. I was 7; Bob was 13; Ron was 15; and Rick was 17.
In my dad’s childhood, my grandfather, Elbert, became a preacher, and in those days a preacher wore the badge of being poor, so food and money were scarce for my dad’s family while he was in Arkansas. When I asked him how and why he became such a hard worker without a strong role model, he didn’t take credit. He said, “Things just sort of fell in place for me in California, and I took advantage.”
During the last 3 weeks of his life, things got tough for Bob, Brenda, Hal, and me. Bob and I were at his bedside and Dad asked me if I was tired. I said, “Yes, Daddy. I’m a little tired.” He said, “Yes, I’m a little tired too.” Bob, pulled me aside with tears in his eyes and said, “I worked with him side by side for 30 years, sometimes 10 hours a day, and I got really tired… but Harold NEVER said he was tired… no matter how hard the work was or how long we had worked.”
My mom, Bob, and Harold were tough and worked hard in the rain, snow, 10 below zero and 100 degree weather side by side for 45 years and built 312 acres into a productive and prosperous farm because “Things just sort of fell into place.” My dad left Arkansas for California with an eight grade education and a strong body and mind and a desire to “have more” and left the earth last Sunday as a millionaire.
Another theme that runs deeply in my dad’s story is that he was and is a champion. While in California, he with his brother Jerry and some with other partners, Cotton Cleo Stewart and Al Duncan won numerous Rural Olympics at the Antelope Valley Fair. He competed and broke multiple records and in 2010, he was admitted to the Antelope Valley Rural Olympics Hall of Fame. When he moved back to Arkansas in 1971, his cousin, Irvin, taught him how to ride Missouri Fox Trotters. When he wasn’t riding or training, he was judging and teaching others how to win ribbons. He won many horse shows and won two World Championships. He also served on the board of the Missouri Fox Trotter Horse Breed Association for three years.
The other theme that runs deeply and consistently in my dad’s story…authenticity. He was always the person that he said he was. There was no pretention. My father was proud to be who he was and playing an altered role in a different situation, was NOT an option. He taught me early that being honest and being myself whether I was weak or strong, ugly or pretty, popular or not, rich or poor, happy or sad… that THIS was enough because I was loved no matter who I was… loved by God and loved by Harold and Jo and Bob.
When I was a kid going to college, I had a friend from high school that didn’t fit in with my new fancy friends. I shared with my dad how uncomfortable I was when this high school friend showed up. Here is the conversation: How long have you known these new friends? Me: 6 months. Him: how long have you known your high school friend? Me: 5 years. Him: Do you love him? Me: Yes.
And that is all he said. And that was his way of telling me: “Be who you are Wendy. Those fancy friends are only your friends if they accept all of you.” I was 20 when he said that, and I have carried that lesson with me my whole life.
Our dad’s story is remarkable. He was the hardest worker we will ever know, he was a champion in everything he pursued, and he was always himself and as genuine as they come.
And for those of you who fear he isn’t in heaven, he shared with me months ago, that he had accepted Christ when he was a very small child, and said, “Does that count?” And I assured him that yes it did. So Dad ended his story when he left the earth on Sunday morning to be with our mom, Jo, his momma, his brothers and sisters, his best friends Cotton Stewart and Bill Brown, and many other treasured friends and family, and that is his HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
As a narrative therapist, I make meaning from the stories people tell me and live by. My dad’s story wasn’t spoken to me. He just lived it.
I am grateful. Thanks to Bob and Brenda Ladd for taking care of our father for the last 2.5 years. Bob fixed him breakfast every day. Bob and Brenda made sure he had everything he needed EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Thanks to the visitors/helpers he had: Mandy Smith and Jenny Moroles, Chuck Conner, Ronnie and Kaiden Johnson, Greg Johnson, Marcia Boaz, Kevin and Mark Sevars, Corey Grassman, and of course, John and Shelia Howerton and the Rudd Baptist Church. Last of all, Thank you to the ones that encouraged me through my mother’s death and now my dad’s: Dyanna Bain Albert, Sheri Stacy, Janet Gilmer, Robin Russell Goodman, Jane Roberts, and of course, Hal Poole, who is my rock and true gift from God. I AM GRATEFUL.