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October 25, 2021


I am on my way back to Ozark from Kansas City. I went to a funeral. Had several nice dinners with family, was shocked by what I saw on my late wife’s headstone and wrecked my car. I’ll break up the story in pieces to make your reads shorter. Let me know how you feel about getting it in segments.

The call of the trip was for the funeral of my first sister-in-law Barbara Willoughby. My oldest brother Harold’s Wife. She was 84. Harold had died in 2008. I was 6 years old the first time I met Barbara. She and Harold had just gotten married and they came to my birthday party. It wasn’t really a formal party but with 9 kids in the family anytime you had a cake it felt like a party.

They brought me a rocket car. It was red of course shaped like a rocket with wings and wheels. It had a launcher that you would set it in. You turned a crank that turned a large heavy metal wheel that was attached to smaller wheels on the sides of the rocket. Every turn of the big wheel would turn the small wheels 5 times. It would cause a a low roar and flashes like the spark of an old cigarette lighter would light up the rear of the toy. When you got it going fast enough you pushed a lever that knocked the wheels off the launcher and the momentum of the big wheel would drive that Rocket across the living room floor with a roar and fire flashing from the imagined engines. It was an awesome experience for a 6 year old.

When I was about 9 we boys were playing the card game Canaska with Barb. I had just gotten a red corduroy shirt with decorator brown patches on the elbow and I was pretty proud of that shirt. Barbara looked at me and said “Red is a really good color on you!” That was the first complement that I remember ever getting on my appearance as a child. It was about the last to as with 9 kids in the family you don’t get singled out for much of anything unless it is for something you shouldn’t have done. The red shirt complement came over half a century ago yet I still remember the impact it made on my life. What you say and do to children matters. Are you going to build up little people or tear them down?

My sister-in-law’s funeral was held in a store front church that was comfortable and modern.  Brady the pastor was tender, relatable and you could tell he actually knew Barb.  The highlight (if calling anything at a funeral a highlight is appropriate) was when my niece Beth, her daughter Katie & her granddaughter Maddie spoke.  4 generations of women on stage (one in body only) testified of their love for God and family.   Granny as the girls called her certainly set an example of how to love your family.

The procession to the graveside service was long making the drive slow & giving me time to think.  White Chapel is a family cemetery for the Willoughby clan and I knew I would be walking above the bones of many of my most loved people, including my late wife Brenda. 

I will confess in the over 5 years her dust has been laying there I have not visited much.  It is only the last couple of years I could look at her pictures, the gravestone sure wasn’t going to be an easy step. Following Barb’s graveside service I forced myself to stop by all of the family that was laying there with Brenda my last view.  What can I say, I always try to put off pain as long as possible.

When I found her I was inexcusably shocked.  We had prepaid for our plots and funeral arrangements.  We picked out the stone while she still slept beside me.  We chose one stone for both our heads so I had no room for shock.  Still as I looked down I saw her name and life dates and on the same plate I see my born but no expiration.  I squinted.  It strained my eyes to look at a piece of dirt that is just waiting to swallow me up. 

I am old enough to die, not afraid to die but in no hurry to die. I may be as old as dirt but I’m not ready to be it.   Each day I find myself wanting to squeeze every drop of living I can out of the sand left in my hourglass. I want to do what I haven’t done before, go where I haven’t gone.  I still revisit my favorites and order my regulars but I keep an eye out for surprise. 

I am driven to fill up the air with all the “I love yous” I can spit out.  Suck up all the kisses I can.  Soak up more kid slobbers, play with the puppies and pet the tired old dogs.  I  want to smile with the unlovely & infirmed that cross my path. I hope to find the humility to pay the “I’m sorrys” I owe and generously write off those I’m due.  I realize this sounds like grandiose jabber but I am trying to walk the talk even though I stumble often.

In today’s world some think I am reckless to jump on airplanes, walk into crowds, touch new doors and shake strange hands but one of these days that expiration date will be carved in stone.  I am not going to let fear feed me room service when there is a smorgasbord out there.  

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