A year ago, March 12, 2010 I wrote this for my Dad’s memorial. I thought my family would like to see it again as we are all feeling a little heavy remembering how the year has left us without Dad’s “W”s…..
First of all I want to thank you all for being here. It is a testimony to Dad to know how many people he affected in this community, if not through him, through his children, grandchildren and adoring wife. I am indeed proud of my Mom who greeted all with such graciousness. And there were 700 people here yesterday to pay their respects. Mom is a beautiful lady and Dad said so often. In fact, I remember on the way home from Goethke’s house after a mowing job, he talked about Mom’s beauty and how she was the most beautiful woman around. And he knew she was just as beautiful inside.
You all know that I am the baby of the Haley’s and according to my siblings things changed when I came along because the old wicker chair wasn’t big enough for all of us to sit on Dad’s lap. Maybe Dad couldn’t fit everyone on his lap but he sure could fit everyone into his heart. Even my childhood girlfriend, Kathy Toth-Lantz, tells of how she enjoyed being able to learn from my folks, the country ways of playing in grain bins, talking to and teasing the cattle, and country cooking. She said Dad was always so kind while allowing us to have our many slumber parties where girls will be girls with make-up, curlers and fires in the yard. Beth Cutter will attest to the country fun too! We all have our stories about Dad.
I can’t even imagine the next 40 years of my life without my Dad, without coming to his “lap” to speak. We talked about everything, even religion and politics. History was his favorite topic and we have all enjoyed hearing what times were like back in the days. Dad helped me along in my days always offering the fun of playing ball in the yard or just sitting in the chair listening to the freeway go by with a wheeling noise. Wheeling. I think that word will start my “W” story. Every time I started to think about what to write, so many “W’s” came whizzing into my mind. I’m a big fan of alliteration so come along for the word whirl from the word wizard, so my niece calls me. Dad has seen me through my W’s. For a quick count of them, just listen.….I grew up in West Salem in Wayne county, and went off to college and lived in Worthington, got married and lived in Wooster and then Wadsworth. Then, Dad packed us up to head to a little village in North Carolina called Willow Springs. On our middle of the night move we went from Ohio cold to North Carolina beauty. The rhododendrons were blooming and he brought a sprig back to the car for me that was just beautiful. It was a gesture that let me know he would support our move to warmer weather in Willow Springs. I work at West Lake Middle School in the library for Wake County Public Schools. Yup, dad helped me whole-heartedly for all the times of my life. Each of us have a story of support that dad has offered in getting us set in our own little families.
Yes, my life passed in front of me as I sat in Dad’s chair when I arrived in Ohio. The family left and I got to jump into the Lazy-Boy and get a whiff of his scent. His outdoorsy scent. A scent better than anything Ralph Lauren could possibly put in a bottle. Donna said while sitting in the chair, “It’s as if it envelops you and gives you a hug from Dad.” Dad lived and gave us a wonderful life, and whenever we get together we tell the stories.
Last year, at Mom and Dad’s 60th anniversary party we all put our stories together and performed an “It’s a Wonderful Life” skit to highlight the favorite times. We love talking about how dad’s boyhood found him playing on a little wooden cart that all the great grandkids enjoy to this day. It’s comical watching the little ones figure out how to tool around hauling a cousin behind. It’s training for big boy and girl toys of four wheelers, tractors and in later days, golf carts. Dad loved taking mom out on golf cart dates. His romantic efforts were pretty wide-open. One date found their wheel in a hole and sent mom a walkin’ home. To Dad, the date was still successful because it gave mom fodder to chew. Mom declared that if he asked for another golf cart ride she would say she was “under the weather.”
Wheels have changed during dad’s lifetime. Yes, Dad did go to school on a kid wagon, drawn by horses. And in his later years his golf cart was the fun way to get around. During my last great time with him he took me around the farm and took me to a special place and said as he pointed to the daisies, “I brought you by your favorite flowers.” Thanks for putting them in the flowers, Donna. Little Caleb enjoyed counting the ears of corn in the spray last night. And Chris, your idea of putting the “Ohio Farmer” plaque with him is a PERFECT touch. I knew in my heart, that ride, that day in the golf cart, could possibly be my last with Dad. I was trying so hard to remember every word verbatim, that I clouded my thinking. I decided that I would just remember the generality of his talk with me. He was excellent at using his gentle way to calm me with my dealings in life. He wanted me to remember to just take things a little slower, to think more clearly, and do more porch sitting. Porch sitting has its use, you know, mental health.
In fact, his farming days slowed but he was interested in cultivating mom’s flowerbeds for something to do when I was there last summer. I started pulling weeds and watering with him and he said, “You don’t have to.” I said, “Dad, I want to.” He said, “I know.” I looked at him and he looked at me and it was understood that work is equitable to worth and Dad taught us all about work. One day, while walking down the hall at school, I started whistling and someone asked how I learned to whistle like that. I said my Dad always told me to whistle while I work.
It started at a young age for me….Work. I tagged around with Dad while just a little girl. Walking with Dad found my hand clutched in his to keep up with my big, strong Daddy, as my stride has always been short. Our work on the farm was the best. Chris, Donna and I helped mom prepare meals for workers in the fields and then we’d jump on tractors along with Steve to help get the crops in or off and to the barn. We were well-taught and so well-taught that the most of the family are in teaching positions or school support positions now and educating youngsters. Our next teacher will be Brandy. Her reading, prompted by an assignment for college earned her an A+ and the topic? Our wieldy “Grandpa Haley.”
My guess is that her professor was taken back by the story of a Grandpa making such an impression on a grandchild. His dry wit and humor worked on everyone until we would be in walloping good belly laughs. He had the nurses wrapped around his little finger and so he received the “Cadillac treatment” in the hospital. Dr. Robert Cebul made sure of it. We thank him for all he did to prolong Dad’s life. Dad was like the energizer bunny. He stood up to many health fights battling cancer, losing fingertips, heart surgeries, and strokes, not to mention hernia, gall bladder, and an appendectomy. He was a valiant and brave soldier when working to remain healthy. That can inspire us all.
Dad was A+ in Mom’s grade book during their school years. Our anniversary party wheedled some stories out of Mom and Dad and it sounds like their love grew over Dad sharing his lunch, which included home made pickles that were mom’s favorite. Yes, Wilma had a choice of young suitors but her Dad only approved Donald Haley. And that jar of pickles and Dad’s romantic date nights sealed the deal. They whirled around a dance floor at Chippewa Lake to Roger Lehman’s Jazz Band, who happens to be my father-in-law. One of the family favorite stories is the one we tell of the morning that Anne Murray’s song, “Could I Have This Dance,” was on WWST AM radio. I was coming down the steps from the whistle Dad would give to waken me in the morning. He was in the middle of wafting his way into mom’s corner to ask for a dance. He was feeling frisky and she was so inclined so I had the show of a lifetime watching my Mamma and Daddy do the dance for the first time for the rest of their lives. From that day on, that song has been played at all the weddings and occasions of our lives.
Mom said one of their last talks included his wish for seeing the Great- Grandkids grow into adults. Their little tender hearts are so touching as I watch them weep over their Great-Grandpa and tell the story of how he is in heaven. Morgan said, “Grandpa forgot to take his stuff to heaven.” Taylor said, “He doesn’t need his body in heaven.” Mom is so appreciative that they know about heaven and God’s reward of eternity. Dad said he would miss the new Great-Grandkids coming with the next one due May 13th to Lindsay and Mark, my baby, and since they always come in pairs to the Haley’s, Sandy and Jason will deliver July 26th. Dad will miss these new beginnings but he said to me the night before he died to, “Cut the tears.” He left me with the words to, “Be careful.” And the night before, it was, “Be good.” Mark’s last words to me were, “Be strong.” I find it interesting that in their last days my two main men gave two word commands. Dad would not want us to look back with sadness. He loved more than anyone to reminisce about good family times. Each person has a special place and special talents and Dad would talk about you all behind your back and pick out everyone’s good qualities. Being the out-of-towner gave me a special seat when everyone went home, you see. I can hear him say now, “That was something.” That was one of his favorite phrases, “That was something.” He cherished the talents of every member of his growing family.
In closing, and with more “W’s,” I will say that he was proud of his walking. He believed it to be his strength. Two weeks ago on our Saturday chat he told me he was down in the basement walking, too cold to be outside. He told me to keep walking for my health when I admitted to him that I was depressed in my grief for my husband. He said that you can learn so much on a walk. He said, “Just breathe deeply. Really take in the air. Look around. See it? That’s something.” He didn’t have to say it but we know, he knew, Who did it…the beautiful world and all.
I asked Mike Sloan to make me a “W” for my visual aide for this talk. It’s perfect. Molded out of heavy iron. He curled the edges to soften it a bit. He sanded out the rough spots. And painted it for appeal. Yup! That’s our Dad! Close your eyes. Go ahead close them. Don’t make me get out my teacher look. Now think about the words. Molded out of iron with a little heat. That represents Dad’s strong will tested by fire. Curled edges to soften it a bit, he was a romantic. Sanded rough spots? We were all a little rough at times and needing some sanding. He helped to grow each of our spirits just as he grew cattle and crops. Painted for appeal? He was caring of the Haley name and protected the respect as he willingly volunteered in the community.
Now open your eyes. We will do well to carry out the “W’s” that Dad has instilled in us. I want to give him this Medal of Honor, now. Jane Shilling, a family friend, said it beautifully, “Honor his memory by living the values he’s taught you.” No important family gathering would be complete without Mom and Dad’s song, “Could I have this dance for the rest of my life.” While listening, think about the dance you had with dad. I know Saturday mornings won’t be the same for you, Chris, as the medicine fixing will be cut in half. And your teasing fun will be cut in half, Bob. And Sunday outings will reveal an empty seat for you, Donna and Mike. And the short rows came before you were expecting, Steve. Your mowing will increase, Deb. You all have your own Don Haley story, from reading books on his lap to a cattle business deal. And in speaking business deals, I know my brother is a big part of making the farm what it is today, he was Dad’s wingman, and for that I am very thankful. Think about your dance with Dad; think about it for the rest of your life.
And just like the little framed phrase on Mom and Dad’s wall, remember, “Old farmers never die, they just go to seed.”