I first posted this in 2011, after the passing of my dad. With Father’s Day coming up, it seemed appropriate to post it again. Fathers are so important, and I had a good one!
Ode to Pop
As was expressed at the funeral, he was known by many names. His hair was a blazing red as a youth – some called him “Red”. He had lots and lots of hair then too, so “Curly” became a nickname, and ironically so did “Baldy”. My sister, brother and I called him “Dad” when we were youngsters. His mom – my grandmother – called him by the name she gave him, “Wayne”, and as I was given the same name, she designated me as “Waynie”. As his children begat grandchildren we all seemed to settle on “Pop”. It just seems to fit – not too formal or too outrageous – just “Pop”!
He was not very tall but not really short either. He had broad shoulders and muscular arms. He was raised on my grandfather’s dairy farm with his two sisters and three brothers. He didn’t finish high school, instead he joined the navy to get in on the end of WW II. He was put aboard a Merchant Marine ship and observed fire fights from a distance in the Pacific.
After fulfilling his naval obligations, romance was in the air and Pop met Mom. Apparently he was pretty dapper looking in his uniform. Soon there was a marriage and the kids started coming. I came along first, then my sister 13 months later. My little brother is five years my younger, a point that Mom reminded me of over and over and over. “Wayne, leave him alone! He’s five years younger than you!” We lived in a few different places, but my childhood memories revolve around the stone house given to Mom and Pop by inheritance. It sat at the tree line on the side of a mountain overlooking a lake. It was part of my grandfather’s farm. It was a wonderful place for growing up.
Pop went off to Alaska for a time, before I was old enough to remember. He got a job working on a huge airport project. When he was home he would help out on his dad’s farm. Taking in the hay every summer was a big job. We didn’t bale the hay in those days; we took it in loose. A loader pulled behind the hay wagon would scoop up the loose hay and drop it on the wagon. Pop was one who would balance himself on the wagon while he spread the hay around. I was told a story that Pop was up on the wagon one time and a live snake got scooped up with the hay. He hated snakes, so when he saw it he slid off the load of hay and ran all the way home.
My fondest recollections of time spent with Pop were going with him on his milk route. He got a job driving a closed body truck around to the different dairy farms, picking up their milk and delivering it to the local dairies. In those days few farmers had bulk tanks to store the milk. They used 30 gallon milk cans sunk in coolers to keep their product fresh. I can tell you that a metal can holding 30 gallons of milk is heavy! My dad could pull one of those out of the cooler in one motion, then swing it around his hip and use that momentum to toss it up into the truck. It took both strength and agility, but Pop made it look almost effortless. As the oldest I got to go with Pop almost every day. We’d get up early, before dawn, and do the first half of his route in time for him to drop me off for the school bus. Crawling out of bed that early was no problem. It was well worth it just to sit in the cab of the truck and spend those mornings with Pop. On non-school days I got to do the whole route and even go along to the dairies. Sometimes Pop would buy us a fresh-made soft ice cream cone. By lunchtime we were done for the day. It was heaven on earth!
When I was entering seventh grade Pop got a job in a plant that produced Ford automobiles. He moved us all off my grandfather’s farm and over to New York state. I went from a country school with grades 1 through 12 all in the same building, to a huge school system with hundreds of students in each grade. To say that I didn’t like the change would be an understatement. In fact, I tried to get Mom & Pop to leave me back on the farm in the care of my grandparents. As I look back on it now, I’m glad they didn’t let me have my way. I learned a lot about life living in a suburban setting that I wouldn’t have learned back on the farm. I wish I would have told Pop about that.
Mom & Pop were both disciplinarians in our family, but Pop was the main one. Pop’s main method of discipline was a spanking, with his belt. He would say, whenever we were misbehaving, “You know what’ll happen if I take my belt off!” We never once said, “Your pants will fall down.” We each had our own methods of dealing with discipline. My brother was a manipulator. He’d start crying long before the belt even got close. He probably got away with less swats that way. My sister was a mover. She’d keep spinning around and made it hard for Pop to hit the mark. Me? I tried to be tough. I would do my best not to cry. It was stupid, but that’s what I did.
Now before you go away thinking that we were abused by Pop as children, let me tell you a few details. First, Pop never spanked in anger or without a good reason. We may have felt innocent at the time, but we weren’t! And Pop did it right. He disciplined in love, just like God says to in the Bible. We always knew why we were receiving discipline. He always applied the belt to that soft, fleshy part of our bodies – the rear end. He didn’t punch or slap. We weren’t slammed against a wall or bullied. It was discipline – not punishment! Plus, he always finished up with a hug, reaffirming his love to us.
Pop only worked for Ford a short time and eventually ended up doing what he loved to do – drive truck. He drove the big tractor trailers all over, hauling cars, and all kinds of freight. He worked for some of the biggest outfits in the country. He was good at it. He got those big semis in and out of big cities and small towns with ease. It impressed me so that I made it my aim to follow in his footsteps. But, alas, it wasn’t my calling. God had other plans for me. After five years of Bible-training and four years of part time ministry God moved me and my family to upstate New York to pioneer a church. For 31 + years we’ve been doing just that.
In the meantime Mom & Pop moved back to Pennsylvania, finished raising their family and helped us kids raise another generation. In fact, now there are not only grandchildren, but great grandchildren. Pop drove trucks till he retired. He and Mom eventually moved into a beautiful adult assisted living apartment. There are lots more stories about Pop to tell, and I hope we keep telling them over and over. His memory will live on through us, his family.
But there’s one other side of Pop that only his family and closest friends knew – his spiritual side. Pop was a Christian, without doubt. He received Jesus as his Lord when I was still in elementary school. It changed his life! He gave up bad habits and course language. He read the Bible, went to church and talked to God regularly. It wasn’t “religious”, it wasn’t an outward show, it was a paradigm shift. I told him with all sincerity that he passed on to us a wonderful heritage. You could break it down into two components: he loved my mom; he loved God. These were not things he did, it was who he was! Thanks Pop!
Back in January we were called to come home and see Pop. His great heart was worn out. He had spent his life taking care of us and Mom and others. Now he was quickly winding down. When we got the call – I have to be honest – I didn’t want to go. I procrastinated as long as I could. I just didn’t want to see him that way: thin, gaunt, tired and getting ready to leave. Thank God that I didn’t wait too long. I got to spend time at his bedside. Four generations were together for a time: Pop and me, my son and my grandson.
Pop was very tired. He laid on his bed, dosing off, waking up, in and out. When he was awake, one of us would spend time with him. There wasn’t a lot to be said. He was ready to go. His ticket was bought and paid for. We knew that when he was ready he’d be gone.
The next morning Pop and Mom were alone. Mom went out of the room for a few quick moments. I wasn’t there, but I can picture it as if I were watching. Pop’s spirit – the real ‘him’ – raised up out of his body. He took with him his soul, that is, his mind, will and emotions. I see him hovering over the body he left behind for a moment. He probably hovered over Mom, smiling at her one last time. Then,…he was gone! The Bible calls it, “absent from the body; present with the Lord.”
Jesus met Pop at the entrance to heaven. I’m sure he got reacquainted with family members who have gone on before, including his parents. Someday soon I’m going to see him. As things wind down here our Father will send Jesus back to earth to bring all of we Christians back to heaven with him.
What a family reunion that will be!