Eulogy for my amazing dad
The following are my most profound thoughts, love, memories, and knowing of my papa, Nelson Williams, who passed away during the early morning hours of March 8th, 2019.
It’s been 29 blog posts and 21 months since I wrote my eulogy for my beloved mother. And this is my 100th post on Take It Upon Yourself. It feels fitting to me also, in the grand scheme of things, because my dad was the most independent person I have ever known.
My papa wasn’t ill, so when he went to sleep and didn’t wake up the next day, we were all stunned and bewildered. We are still in a state of unbelief of his passing. However, I know dad missed mama everyday since her passing, so to think of them together again, is comforting. Now, they are reunited on the magnificent and grand other side of the veil.
The early years
When my dad, Nelson (nicknamed, Old Hickory) was growing up, times were tough. He grew up on a large farm, but it was depression days and money was tight. You can gain a bit of insight from seeing this picture of dad (middle, tallest) here in the one room schoolhouse, where he attended school.
Nelson was one of six children. There were three girls and three boys. Dad was the second eldest son. I can only imagine, from the years I visited the farmhouse where dad was born and raised, how they lived. But dad told many good stories from his childhood and what it was like to grow up on the farm. And he loved the farm, having kept an acre or so of land there, even after his parents passed away.
One of those stories involved dad’s mom bathing the kids outside on the porch in a big metal wash tub. The same one his mom would use to wash their clothes in with the washboard. I knew he grew up without indoor plumbing because as a child I witnessed dad and uncle Jack building a bathroom for my grandparents in their farm house. I also remember having to use the outhouse.
I’ll come back to this later, but dad always enjoyed the water. Swimming, boating, and so on, as evidenced by this swim card I found!
I haven’t found many pictures from dad’s youth, I’m thinking folks just didn’t take many back then, but here are a couple that must have meant a lot to dad, since he kept them.
Perhaps some of my family can enlighten us (in the comments) or with a phone call, and let me know who was in these pictures with my dad.
Dad played football for a time during his high school years, but after a rumble on the field or a tear inside one knee (depending upon who’s relaying the story), he quit and never played again. We never even watched football on TV.
Dad was also a member of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and used to tell me stories about raising animals.
By the time my dad met mom, he owned his first car. He was so proud of it!
Mom loved to take photographs, and took these photos of dad at her parent’s home.
Dad and mom met at a drive-in restaurant. One of those curb-side service kind. As the story goes, dad spotted mom in her car (she’d went with a girlfriend of hers), receiving food on the tray. He walked up and asked her for a bite of her sandwich! Stunned, she told him he could buy his own. Read mom’s eulogy for more.
Even at age 20, when I look at dad and mom in these photos, they look so young! I can only imagine how it was for them then, how happy they were and full of dreams.
They were married at mom’s parent’s home. See them holding hands?
One of the best things dad did, was make me! Well, obviously with help from mom.
When I was a baby, we lived in a mobile home on a hillside. And more cars were to come and go. Dad had this white convertible top car for awhile (pictured first, at the farm where he’d grown up, and next, where we first lived). I actually found a vehicle registration card from 1957 for a ’49 Chevy.
By the time I was 3, dad and mom had bought a house. I was sure “daddy’s girl.” Cars were such a big deal for us all. Dad would own several in his life, more than I can recall or count. Mom used to say that by the time I was 4 I could tell her the make and model of any driving by. That had to be something dad was teaching me. Papa loved to drive!
Dad also made me curious about electronics, which has served me well (since I’ve had a 30 year career in digital electronics and computer software). I think of dad often while problem solving (tear!).
When I find a picture of the Browning Golden Eagle and linear he used to have (or one like it), I’ll come back and post it. It was meaningful because as I would fall asleep at night, I’d hear the ping of dad’s mic as he communicated with the world via that CB radio. Mom would fuss at dad about that, but as the kid and always wanting to make peace, I somehow learned to “tune it out.” The linear would boost dad’s radio reception and he would often tell me the next day of how he had “talked skip” with people as far away as Japan! Plus, all that stuff about talking skip totally fascinated me!
And speaking of radio, dad also loved listening to music. In the 1960s, dad especially loved Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), was one of his favorite songs. Dad usually always had a little AM radio on, and gave me several when I was little. I remember waking up in the mornings to songs of the 60s. Papa was first to give me a radio. He even gave me a couple stuffed animal ones with the radio inside.
Being a Pappaw (and later, a great Grandpa)
Daddy was thrilled when my kiddos came long. First, my daughter, then my son. He loved them as his own.
Right from the start, my children called my dad, “Pappaw.”
Dad even got to meet his first great granddaughter (when they came to visit us in Florida). Unfortunately, though I prodded him to do so, he never made it to New Hampshire to meet his twin granddaughters who were born 5 years after the first.
Here are a couple of pictures of papa holding his great granddaughter.
Learning all the time
Dad knew a lot about many subjects. He was always learning. And always talking with people. Yes, a real social butterfly!
One subject I didn’t realize dad was so well-versed in was plants and trees. After mom passed away, my husband and I drove to WV to be with dad (my son also drove up the next day). Dad and I took a walk through the grounds of a KOA campground (behind the hotel where we all stayed) and he could point to any tree or such and tell me what it was. I was amazed and thrilled to hear such things!
It was no wonder that I called daddy, “Mountain Man” because he really knew a lot and could figure anything out. He was a tinkerer. A hands on and practical DIY kinda guy for sure. One could even call him a modern day survivalist or “prepper,” as he knew how to survive on next to nothing and through thick and thin.
Here are some of my dad’s amazing accomplishments (without ever graduating from high school – and having a learning disability that caused him difficulty all through life with reading and spelling):
Dad went to Hollywood for a short time (at age 18) to pursue acting. He said one of his high school teachers had encouraged him to do so, after seeing his acting performance in a school play. But, dad didn’t like Hollywood. He would only give me the reason of, “They teach you how to lie.”
Papa moved 100 miles from his home to work at a bread factory. For years dad would go out of his way not to have to drive down 19th street where the Storck baking company factory was though, because he had grown such a dislike of the smell of bread baking.
At some point, and I didn’t know this until I found this card, dad was even on the radio as a new reporter!
Dad sold electrolux vacuum cleaners door to door for a few years and seemed to enjoy it. We always had the best vacuum one could buy, though I thought that was because of my asthma and allergies. Years later, I realized it was because of what dad had learned about vacuuming. Also on that note, when I was a kid, papa kept all of our cars, boats, campers, and such meticulously clean.
On the advice of my uncle Bob and my grandfather (mom’s dad), dad got a job driving semi truck and became a member of the Teamsters union. Dad also learned how to repair the big truck engines as well. And papa was so proud of driving truck. Papa took me out in the truck a few times. I remember going into the Helms trucking terminal in Parkersburg to this day, the way the guys had to load the trucks and the paper logs they had to fill out.
People talk about having home-based businesses or side gigs nowadays, but my dad was the first I knew to run a side hustle from home when I was a kid. He ran a CB business – we used to go to “roundups” on Sundays (which is why I love the flea market type of environment)! I grew up hearing the ping of his Browning Golden Eagle running a linear too, which caused me to have to learn to “tune out” the noise in order to fall asleep at night.
After we moved from the mobile home, dad and mom bought a small buff brick house about 17 miles from mom’s parents. We lived in that house from the time I was 3 til I was 11 or so. A keen eye will observe the sign above the garage door about the 2-way radios. And you can see how tall our CB radio and TV antenna was in the back of the house. Yes, others had TV antenna’s, but you can see the difference between those and the CB radio antenna.
Here’s one of dad working on a motorcycle, with mom and I watching, along with our neighbor and friend, Greg Bruce (on his little Hot Wheels trike).
Before we moved, I remember mom saying we should take a couple of pictures to remember our little house. Dad took one with mom and I in front of her white Thunderbird she loved, and then mom took one of dad and I.
Dad and mom bought 6 and a half acres not far from that house. They’d only bought land though, and had to improve it before we could even put a temporary mobile home on it to live in. Because the land was highway frontage and unimproved, dad traded for a dozer and other heavy equipment to fill the low land part of it. He also had to put in a road, before he could even think about digging the hole for a basement. Dad’s repair know-how served him so well over the years, that it led to his interest in owning, repairing, and using heavy equipment. The following are a few examples:
That land was where we all worked together to materialize my parents’ dream home–a huge multi-brown color brick & white Georgia marble stone home. (I was a teenager and could only do so much, but do remember helping to build the rafters for the roof, and carry lumber and supplies around.) It took my folks five years to complete the house, during which time we lived in a couple of different mobile homes on the front of the property.
Dad and mom both literally put their skin into building this house, which still stands today, though it looks a lot different since later owners covered the beautiful brick with siding. (Gasp!)
Dad had also acquired a 17 acre farm and horses, I know we had a pony while we lived in the first house, so I’m not exactly sure when the farm came into our possession, but they must not have thought it would be a good place to build their big home (in retrospect, it might have been the better move).
I recall cleaning out the barn, bailing hay, and riding with my dad. Those were truly father-daughter bonding times. One of my favorite memories was riding my Shetland pony named Betsy alongside my dad (he was riding our American Quarter horse mare named Sue), along the top of the ridge of our farm.
Factoid: Mom used to tell a story about the time country singer and legend, Mel Tillis was interested in buying that farm. Seems it was the highest elevation in our county!
Once the house was done, dad sold used cars on the side. For a few years, we always had different cars around.
Dad built an apartment building in Marietta and a house in Vienna in the Hickory Hills subdivision. The house dad built a few miles away from where we lived was what some people would call a spec house, and at one point, he wanted us all to move into it. Ugh, but I didn’t want to change schools. Another regret.
Dad became a licensed single engine VFR aircraft pilot when I was in my teens. He loved to fly! When I had my daughter, he took her flying! I never had much interest in the Cessna.
Dad also bought and used a sawmill to build a log home on the 6 acre property. However, the economy took a tumble and people weren’t buying log homes and dad’s home building business failed. The business failure was devastating for my parents, but dad wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Dad took a couple of dump trucks to Florida, traded for some property (on which we would place a double-wide mobile home) and worked these dump trucks daily to scratch out a living. That move also enabled dad to make my dream of moving to Florida come true. The best example of “turning lemons into lemonade” I have ever seen!
When dad traded for the Florida property, which would become their home for nearly 40 years, I had came to Florida with him. Dad sat me down with a newspaper and asked me to look for a nice double-wide mobile home. I found one. It was cheap, but had to be moved. Dad did it all himself! I had thought he might kill himself trying to wench each of the two halves of the home together!
The Wheeler Dealer
Always the practical, mr. fix-it one, dad traded for many items, found discarded items, repaired and sold them for a profit. Dad retired from full-time, punch a time-clock work at age 40, which is nearly an unheard of thing for most.
After moving to Florida, dad was always finding items at the dump or at yard sales, fixing and reselling them. He loved to tinker! And then the stuff just kept piling up.
Dad worked at McDonalds for a few months, maintainence and trash. I think he just wanted to get out of the house. He also worked for a concrete company driving truck for a year or so. He only quit due to the seat in the truck having broke and he received a neck injury from which, I do not believe he ever fully recovered.
Speaking of injuries received from accidents, dad was also once hit by a drunk driver in a corvette (dad was driving a Metro and his seat broke backwards upon impact). Mom and I both thought that accident could have killed him. And dad never swallowed right after that. The hit and run driver, (whom we later learned was an attorney) wrote dad an a sob story apology letter. Though I called several attorney’s and strongly suggested dad sue the guy (who had left the scene and the police had to catch him and bring him back), but no, dad wouldn’t go to court. The law still made the guy pay restitution, but it was small pittance to the open and shut million dollar lawsuit dad could have won had he only gone to court.
Because dad and mom were both such hard workers, we hardly ever took a vacation. Most people wondered how mom and dad acquired so much in their lives, believe me, it was due to bone-grinding WORK. A solid work ethic like few I’ve seen in my life, I tell you.
And a few trips to the beach, either Virginia Beach or Ocean City, Maryland. This was on the way to Virginia Beach, VA.
Most of the times we took a vacation were when we drove to a family reunion, wedding, or somebody died.
Only once did my folks fly a commercial jet to go to Washington state and Nevada to visit relatives. And I didn’t go.
Loved the water
One of my favorite pictures of mom and dad had been taken of them while swimming in Veto lake. I asked dad not long ago, who took that picture? He replied, “Oh, there was always someone around willing to take a picture.”
During one of our few beach vacations, I snapped this one of mom and dad, and it’s still one of my most favorite pictures.
Though we didn’t take many vacations, but we did hang out at the river a lot while I was growing up, and a the lake near where dad grew up. As well, when mom and dad would watch my kids, they would take them boating.
Holidays and more
One year (when I was a kid) mom was into wigs, and in this picture, she was wearing a blonde one. This was a memorable Christmas. I decided to add this happy moment when dad surprised mom with what I think was a $50 bill.
One of the interesting points for me while looking at this, is that I actually found the rock ashtray (while going through mom’s things after her passing) that’s on the table behind them. Another is that my husband and I bought the same La-Z-boy recliner chairs this last year for our RV (though we got the cloth versions). The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Later on, we tried to spend every Christmas together in Florida.
I recall dad being surprised with any gifts that were bigger than a bread box, because he and mom often shopped at flea markets.
Here’s dad and I with my daughter.
This is dad and mom with my daughter. We were always close.
And here’s mom and dad with my son (several years later):
This was a time papa walked me down the aisle for the second time (early 90s).
Perhaps one of the best takeaways I have from my second marriage will forever be this grand picture I have of my parents. “There is value in Everything.”
Enjoying our visits
Here’s a couple pictures from one of the times my son and I met them at the Daytona Beach flea market.
I think it was when my son and I had returned from Texas and they drove an hour to meet us. We would always do our best to meet somewhere for a visit, no matter how brief. It was always important for us to stay Connected.
Factoid: My folks always seemed to live a couple hours from wherever we were living in Florida, so a favorite meeting place for years (that was half way) was Titusville.
The following is a sampling of pictures we took during some of our visits:
As things go, many years later, we meet at the Daytona Beach flea market again, but this time, for mom and dad to get a quick visit with their granddaughter and great granddaughter.
Dad and mama got to spend a lot of quality time with my son in the last 10 years or so. More reasons to be thankful.
And I would visit when I could.
Dad eventually became a full-time caregiver for my mom, as she was memory impaired and what medical professionals call “a wanderer” for about the last 4 or 5 years of her life. Sadly, last 2 years of mom’s life, dad had to put her in adult diapers. He fed and clothed her. In short, he did everything for her. She never wanted to go to a nursing home, and she never did.
Dad and I had our differences over the years, perhaps, most likely even, because I am stubborn and fiercely independent like him. Or for other reasons, yet still undiscovered. However, over the last ten years or so, I grew to hold immense respect for my papa. I watched him do the best he could as mom’s sole caregiver. And I witnessed his enduring love for mama. It really was profound. I will never really know how dad took care of mom. I always encouraged him to put her in a dementia day care center (at least during the half of the year they were in Florida), but he would ask me, “Will they give her back”? And honestly, though I told him they would, I didn’t know.
Because mom and dad were inseparable the last ten years or so, after mom passed, dad would tell me every time we talked, “I just miss her so much.” And I knew he did. When I would see dad, his eyes were bleary at the mention of mom’s name.
Unless you’ve lived it, there’s really no way to explain the futility of Alzheimer’s disease on a person, or on their caregiver. Bless my mother’s heart! And bless my dad’s heart! Dad always told me, and my kids, “Just do the best you can.” I believe he did his best for mama too.
Actually, dad did have some experience with caregiving, as the reason he and my uncle Jack built an indoor bathroom for his mom was because she’d suffered a stroke. This was one of the times dad had mom bleach his hair blonde before a get-together with his mom, sister, and more.
60 years together
Mom and dad met in 1959. And as the story of their meeting goes, mom was with a girlfriend and dad was with his buddy, Dick Kight. Dad saw mom at a drive-in burger place. When the girls’ food arrived, dad asked mom for a bite of her sandwich. She told him he should buy his own, but being the kind soul, also gave him a bite. Dad retold this story many times as well, especially reminding me that he’d been with his best friend (synchronistically, Dick later moved to St. Petersburg, Florida and was killed while installing a CB radio antenna.) In order to find out mom’s name, he had to meet her at church on Sunday.
After mom passed away, June 8, 2017, dad told me he wanted to be with mom forever. He also asked my thoughts on our family church and baptism. And he surprised me the morning after mom’s memorial service, stating that he wanted mom’s brother to baptize him.
Obviously, though dad hardly ever attended church with mom and I over the years, her influence from their first meeting at church, until her death, made quite the impression on him. After mom passed, dad asked my uncle (her brother) to baptize him. And so, the circle is complete.
Dad’s unexpected passing
I know what people say. When a couple’s been together many years and one goes, the other will often follow within a year. But, dad had been doing good! Yes, I realize that he was depressed. Yet, I thought that was the grief process. I know every time he spoke to me about mom, he’d tell me, “I miss her so much.” And that was hard to hear, because I knew he was sincere.
We took the following pictures in West Virginia (after mom passed). Mostly I wanted to get the bear in the photos because dad’s father used to do taxidermy. Plus, the Black bear is a symbol for the state of West Virginia. Even a day after mom passed, I was trying to cheer dad, albeit in whatever small way I could. Dad really didn’t want me to take pictures, but he’d just gotten some new teeth and wanted to see what they’d look like. You can see however, he wasn’t smiling. But I wanted some pictures of dad and my son, and dad and I with the bear too because I didn’t think I’d be back that way for many years.
Note about dad’s beard: Dad was always reinventing his look, dark hair, blonde hair, silver or white hair, long hair, short hair, or he’d shave his head. And he’d gone for years without a beard (as mom never liked it), but as her memory started to go, he’d began wearing a beard.
The next photos are of dad in Florida.
My son had quit his job and moved to the same property with dad in south Florida, to help dad organize and sell some things. And while it came as a bit of a surprise, they got an offer on the property (where mom and dad had lived for nearly 40 years), on dad’s birthday in 2018. Dad called me and asked me, “What do you think”? And I said, “I think it’s a sign from mama that the offer has come in on your birthday.” Maybe that was all he needed to hear, but he agreed to the sale. Of course, he had second thoughts later, especially when it actually came time to move. He looked back on a lot of things about that time though, and wondered if it wasn’t too late to sue some people. (And my parents never sued anyone in their life, so I knew dad was doing a lot of thinking.)
The move (from south to north Florida) went pretty good, I think. And thankfully, my son was able to help dad through it all.
I’d just visited dad and my son in January at the new property to celebrate what would have been mom and dad’s 59th wedding anniversary, and pre-celebrate my birthday. Dad gave me a shiny multi tool kind of lug wrench. Mostly because it was heavy and he wanted me to put it under the front seat of our car as a weapon in case anyone attacked me. That’s how dad’s think I guess, no matter their age.
My son and his girlfriend spent the last day with dad. Matt and dad had gone to bring back a boat from south to north Florida. The picture of dad and Matt was taken a few years ago.
These are the last pictures of dad with my son, and also of dad with his beloved dog, Annie.
Back to the bear
When my son and I went back to WV a day after dad passed (to tie up loose ends), and I walked back into the same hotel where we’d stayed 21 months prior, I lost it when I saw the bear.
As I grieve the loss of my dad (in the physical), I find that I could never really know him. And this knowing takes me back to two of my favorite series, Six Feet Under and Dexter. As Scott Buck, a writer on both series often made a foundational point of saying, “We never really know a person.”
I like to compare our personalities to facets inside a kaleidoscope or disco ball. We reflect what we see or imagine others to be.
During the last 21 months dad would make comments to me about how people in the far past had told untrue stories about him. I suppose that could be true. Even the unpleasant things I remember from my youth, I acknowledge now, were all filtered through the pain of my mother, and my child-eyes. It would take me most of my adult life to understand even a fraction of what they lived through. How could I really? I wasn’t born and raised in their era, with next to nothing. I struggled in my 20s and 30s, yes. But they struggled even more, literally working their “fingers to the bone” to achieve their American Dream.
I feel guilty about what I’m about to say now, but as it became ever more clear that mom was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, I once looked at dad and said, “You are now paying for the sins of your past.” And he looked shocked and sad. In that deeply connected moment, I felt his pain and disbelief. And in the next moment, I vowed to myself never to utter anything like that to him again.
While I don’t discount my memories of past hurts (as everything is for learning), I realized (in that moment) it was not my place to judge my dad (or really, anyone). And it certainly doesn’t matter now, as all that remains in my heart and mind for my dad is LOVE.