While I was watching

 

We laid you to rest on a Wednesday under the wide Alberta sky. I was hoping for a stray rain cloud to disguise my tears, but I wasn’t alone in that department. Saying goodbye to one you’ve admired since you were knee high to a tricycle isn’t easy. But one who read you bedtime stories? Taught you to ride a bike? And loved you enough to say so? It is positively heart-breaking. Teenagers don’t hang out in cemeteries much, but your grandkids refused to leave on Wednesday. (That's Phil's dad with Jeff and Rachael).

          The night before you crossed the River Jordan, they crowded your bed and sang the hymns you loved to hear. Twice you took my daughter’s hand and tried to raise it to your lips. When at last you succeeded in kissing it, she began to weep from sadness and joy and the delight of another memory she’d carry for life.

          And that’s what you were about, Dad. Memories. When I was a lad, I loved to sneak up on you and watch what you were doing when you didn’t know I was there. That’s when you became my hero, I suppose.

When you thought no one was watching I learned to laugh. I saw you smack your thumb with a hammer once and I held my breath. You danced around using strong language like, “Oh shoot!” Then you snickered. If anyone had reason to cuss it was you. Your mother died when you were two, leaving you roaming the streets of your hometown alone while your father toiled in a furniture factory. Raised by crazy uncles in a home where the unspeakable was commonplace, you graduated from the school of hard knocks before you entered first grade. But you never shouldered a backpack of grudges. Instead, you warmed our Canadian winters telling stories of a childhood I found enviable, one jammed with fistfights and loaded rifles. You told those stories with a twinkle, too. That twinkle was a way of life for you. (Pictured: Corporal Callaway, January 1943, age 20.)

When you thought no one was watching I learned how to treat a woman. I learned to honor her and open doors for her and when to tip my hat. I learned that we’re toast without the ladies, so put them first in line at potlucks. I learned to let them stroll on the inside of the sidewalk so when we’re hit by an oncoming truck they’ll still be around to care for the kids.

When you thought no one was watching I learned what was worth chasing. You avoided the deceptive staircase promising “success,” investing in memories instead. You never owned a new car, but scrounged to buy tent trailers for family vacations. You blew money on ice cream so we’d stay at the table longer. You bought flowers for my mother and gifts for my children. Watching your life, I learned that simplicity is the opposite of simple-mindedness, that those who win the rat race are still rats. Going through your dresser last night, I found your glasses, heart pills and a reading lamp. I suspect you’re doing fine without them. In a file marked “Will” you’d misplaced a note Mom gave you listing your attributes. She made you sound like Father Teresa. “On time for work. A gentleman. Filled with integrity. Wholesome in speech. Loves family. Loves God.” I guess it was filed correctly. It’s the best inheritance a boy could hope for.

When you thought no one was watching I learned how to bring God’s Word to life. Hours before you passed away I had you to myself. You were struggling to breathe and my singing didn’t help, so I told you I loved you and thanked you for being a good dad. Then I opened the same old King James Bible I watched you read when I was a boy. You’d underlined some glorious verses in Revelation 21 and I read them to you nice and loud, of that place where our tears will be wiped dry and our question marks straightened into exclamation points. By the time I reached the promise that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you were sound asleep. Friday morning the sun rose on your face and you simply stopped breathing. No more tears. No more Alzheimer’s. Home free.

         You’ll be glad to know your granddaughter Elena braided your comb-over like she’d done a hundred times before. (To the right is Phil and his daughter Rachael with Grandpa and Grandma in the early '90s). We sat by your bedside and your daughter Ruth said, “Do you suppose he’s saved?” And we laughed way too loud—from the deep assurance that you’re with Jesus. Someone said, “I’m sorry you lost your dad,” and I said, “Thank you, but I haven’t lost him. I know exactly where he is.”

When you thought no one was watching I learned how to die. With relationships intact, with nothing left unsaid.

Four of your five children were there. When we went to tell Mom of your passing, Tim asked, “Do you know why we’re here?” “Money?” said your wife of 62 years. You’d have been proud of her.

She held your hand then, clinging to the last of your warmth. For the longest time she didn’t say anything, just stared out the window. I asked what she was thinking and she smiled. “I’d like to take one more stroll in the grass with him.” Wouldn’t we all? When they came to take you away, she simply said, “Thanks for all the years, Sweetheart.”

I’d like to thank you too.

Thanks for hunting trips and fishing lessons. Thanks for majoring on the majors. And for a thousand timeless memories. Most of all, thanks for giving me a glimpse of what God looks like.

Tonight I’ll lay flowers on your grave once again, and past the tears I’ll determine to keep that twinkle alive. To live so the preacher won’t have to lie at my funeral. As you cheer me on, all the way Home.

 

Read more of the legacy of Phil’s parents in Family Squeeze. To make a donation in honor of Victor Callaway, you may give to the ministry of Prairie Bible Institute where he served for several decades. You may do that here.

Like to see Phil's article syndicated in your magazine or newspaper? Email us for info. Copyright © 2012 Phil Callaway. Read more of Phil's articles.