Teach your children well, so says the Bible.
If our Dad had been asked to write his own epitaph - to succinctly sum up his 80 year body of work on this earth - he would simply say, “Look at my boys.”
We learned from Dad to enjoy life’s little pleasures, to live a simple life. He detested name droppers and phonies. Dad liked the smell at dusk of a freshly cut hay field, frosty fall mornings in the Green Mountains of Vermont, Big Band era music and the History Channel. He liked his beer cold and cheering for his St. Louis Cardinals (when they were winning).
We learned early in life that there are consequences for your actions. In his family court, there were no appeals and justice was dispensed quickly. Dad had the amazing ability to drive down the highway at 70 miles an hour, never take his eyes off the road, reach into the back seat and slap the right one every time. We learned respect.
In the race of life we choose neither where we start nor where we finish, only how we run. Dad ran hard; but he ran fair and he ran with a purpose. With Dad, many things went unmentioned; actions always trumped words. It was just his way. He gave out little verbal advice. But one statement he did make often has stuck with us all: “Always do what is right,” he would say, “because in the end, the good guys always win.” And for Dad, it was very important to be one of “the good guys.” He was not afraid to tilt at windmills, and although he would never admit to it, we knew he savored the role of the underdog, slaying the dragons of injustice. He would not set foot in a Wal-Mart. “Ruining the country and destroying the small towns,” he would say. Did he think his personal boycott was hurting Wal-Mart? “No, but I am doing what is right and that is all any one man can do.”
Dad was an enigma. To some, he was a hero, the guy who stood up for the little man, who was not afraid to take on “City Hall,” no matter what the personal risks. To others, he was that mule-headed old man who stood in the way of progress. He could not have cared less what his critics thought. If it was right, it was right. He would fight what he perceived as injustice until Hell froze over, then he would lace up his ice skates and fight some more. Only half- jokingly, it was said that we needed to be cautious at Dad’s Wake that no one mention the word “airport” too loud or he might pop right up out of his casket spitting nails and breathing fire. He would have enjoyed one last fight.
To the very end, just when you would think you had Dad figured out, he would throw you a curve. It was noticeable to us over the last few years that Dad was suffering from progressive dementia. A week or so before his April, 2011 stroke, we took both he and Mom out to dinner. On this day he was clear and focused, just like his old self. We went to Cracker Barrel, one of his favorite eating spots. We were told at the door that the wait would be one hour. God did not bless Dad with much patience. Normally, he would not have waited an hour to get seated at the table with the 12 Apostles for the Last Supper, let alone Cracker Barrel. But this day he said, “Let’s just sit and wait, what else do we have to do?” We sat in rocking chairs out front and had what would prove to be our last coherent conversation. Maybe he knew.