I’ve (finally) been cleaning out and disposing of papers from my parents’ lives. I’ve kept things in a file storage box for years (they both passed away in 2003). It is time (past time) to clean out these things.
Of course I’ve held on to a few papers with important information and special memories. One such keeper is an email I sent to Brother Mike, the pastor who preached Daddy’s graveside service. Brother Mike knew my father, and he was daddy’s favorite preacher. But he had been away from my parents’ church for several years, and in addition, like everyone else, he was better acquainted with my outgoing mother than my quiet dad. So Brother Mike asked me to send him some of my thoughts for the service. Here’s what I wrote for him, dated October, 2003:
I can never tell you thanks enough for doing this for us. I know that you are exactly who Daddy wanted to do his service, so I am glad it has worked out that way for him.
Daddy was an only child and from all reports a spoiled one at that. He was always close to his parents and took care of them as they grew older. My granddaddy (Daddy’s father) lived with us for several years after my grandmother passed away.
Mama and Daddy would have been married 63 years last Saturday (October 4). He was older than Mama by six years, and she wrote in her high school yearbook that her wish for the future was to be “Mrs. Gene Austin.” They lived all their lives except for this past year in East Nashville.
Daddy was employed for almost all his working career by the railroad (L&N and CSX). His dad had been a railroad employee before him. My daddy held many positions, including brakeman, but about the time I went to college he took classes, and trained, and finally became an engineer – something he had always wanted to do.
Daddy made a few runs through Cookeville, where I was in school. The train track ran directly behind and next to the girls’ dorms, and he would always blow the whistle (against the rules) to let me – and everyone else – know it was him passing by. He also took Wayne on a trip to Chattanooga one time (also against the rules). He really loved working for the railroad, and it was a huge part of his life. He even rehashed some of his trips and responsibilities in his last, incoherent days.
Daddy’s favorite thing in all the world was football. He played in high school, and went on to Clemson to play college ball there, but that didn’t last long. He started working as a football official back in Nashville, and he refereed high school and college games for many years. His last position (which he quit only three years ago, and only because my mother FORCED him to after a player accidentally ran off the field and knocked him down on the sidelines) was to work at Vanderbilt football games. He officiated there for over 45 years. As he grew older, his positions transitioned to less and less active jobs, but he LOVED it.
He often talked about the coaches and some of the players he had met. He was most thrilled to meet Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, and the coach he considered to be the finest Christian man and influence was George McIntyre at Vandy.
Daddy also loved to watch baseball, particularly the Atlanta Braves. After mama died, he would call me every night at 9:00 to check in, and often he would tell me how the Braves had done in their latest game – complete with his analysis of what they should do to improve.
I always thought Daddy, being older and seemingly not as healthy, would die first, and so when Mama left us six months ago I thought, “What am I going to do with my dad?” Mama possessed such a dominant personality that Daddy often blended into the background. His extreme hearing loss made him sometimes seem aloof, but Daddy loved people, and he could make friends everywhere.
He often helped Mama in her many endeavors, with him staying behind the scenes and her being out front. For example, he worked for the Baptist Hospital Auxiliary along with Mama, delivering countless magazines for the waiting rooms and supporting many other projects, but Mama was the one that everyone recognized there.
These last six months with Daddy have been an unexpected, priceless gift that God gave our family. He was always pleasant and never caused any concerns or problems. He always hated to be a “burden,” which he never was. Daddy was always so glad to see us when we visited. I tried to go almost every day, and although it was sometimes hard to get there between teaching school during the day and nights at home, it was such a wonderful time when we were together. The time we spent with him was always fun. Beth and Mark loved to go talk with him – he always made them laugh. Mark can imitate his “whoop-ee” almost perfectly. They had never known their “quiet” grandfather in that way before.
He thought Beth was the prettiest girl ever, and I think in many ways she reminded him of Meemom. I can see that, too. She has her sense of style and her winning smile. He was proud of Mark and his sports, especially FOOTBALL. Daddy was always telling Mark to “Be aggressive! Run over the other guy!” We wish Daddy could have seen Mark play. The one game Daddy was able to go to this year was the ONE game Mark didn’t go in.
Also, Daddy made a special point of going through their meager belongings and giving his grandchildren meaningful gifts on their birthdays – a piece of Meemom’s jewelry to Beth and one of his own watches for Mark.
Daddy was always so thankful that God had brought Wayne into our lives when I met and married him. He often borrowed Wayne’s tools, and we always got a new one back because somehow my hapless Daddy always broke the tools he borrowed. Often he would ask Wayne to do the jobs he didn’t trust me with, like setting his clocks. As a railroad man, being on time was most important to Daddy, and he had at least two clocks in every room. The last thing we bought together was an atomic clock – which Wayne set for him because I didn’t know how.
I am so thankful I had these few short months with just Daddy. As he came out from behind the shadow of my mother, we found that he was a very loving father and grandfather. Yes, I did say when Mama died, “What will I do with my daddy?” I now wonder what I will do without him.
As good as the times we had together were, he never stopped missing Mama. How appropriate it was, when I got in the car after he died, to hear Dolly Parton on the radio singing “I Will Always Love You.” It was as if Daddy were saying;
If I should stay, I would only be in your way,
So I’ll go, but I know,
I’ll think of you every step of the way
So, goodbye, Please, don’t cry.
And I will always love you.
And I answered:
We both know I’m not what you need,
And I will always love you
Then I could hear Daddy saying,
I hope life treats you kind,
And I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of
And I wish you joy and happiness
But above all this, I wish you love
So I am very thankful that he is now in heaven where he can see and hear perfectly and where he can run again and even play football – or sit on the beach all day if he wants. And be reunited with Mama.
I look forward to seeing him again someday to thank him again for being my dad.
Daddy: when you and I were young