Monday, July 5, 2010

The 4th & Family

This Independence Day was the first without my dad.  But so what?  It's not like the 4th of July is a big family holiday . . . .

Well, actually, for me it is.  The 4th is all tied up in how I made my family.

I bought the house Zoe and Maya and I live in as a family in May 2000. Up until that time I'd been living in Dallas and working in Fort Worth, and knew I didn't want to do that commute once I had a child.  When I bought this house, I was in the middle of my home study, which worked out really well -- the social worker didn't need to see my messy old house, and when she saw the new house it was empty and pristine!  No need to worry about that white glove inspection from the social worker!

When I bought the house, I had no idea it was on the route for the neighborhood 4th of July parade.  Imagine my surprise on that first 4th when I was out trimming bushes as the parade went by!  I was delighted -- it seemed so FAMILY-like to have a silly little neighborhood parade go right by my house.  I had all kinds of dreams about the next 4th of July, when I'd have a child to share the parade with.

That next 4th was pretty depressing -- Zoe wasn't home yet.  China adoption had another of its famous slow-downs and I didn't get my referral in April or May as I expected.  The rules for singles adopting from China were changing, the rumor mill was grinding, and I was sure I'd never have a child.  Of course, a few short months later Zoe was home with me, and I looked forward to our first 4th of July parade!

That first year, a tradition was born, with all of my China adoption friends coming to the parade with their children, and the tradition (and the crowd!) has grown each year as Maya came home and as my friends brought home brothers and sisters for the kids at that first parade.

My parents are a part of that tradition, too.  Before they moved to Fort Worth, the girls and I would drive to Tyler to watch fireworks at their house (or out on the boat) on the lake.  Since they moved to Fort Worth 5 years ago, the girls could always count on Mimi & Grandpa coming for the parade.  But this year it was only Mimi.  And we missed Grandpa.

And since his ashes were interred at the DFW National Cemetery, with a solemn ceremony that included gun salute, Taps, and the presentation of the flag to Mimi, the joyous patriotism of the 4th is now mingled in my mind with the solemn patriotism of that day.  I can't imagine another 4th of July that doesn't make me think of my dad.

I gave this eulogy at his memorial service, and want to share with you a bit more about my dad, too:

On behalf of my mother, Fran; my sister, Kim, her husband Brian and her son Aaron; my brother, Phillip and his three sons Brian, Patrick & William; my two daughters Zoe & Maya, and myself, I thank you all for being here to honor the life of Percy Seymore, husband, father and grandfather. We are here at the National Cemetery because he honorably served our country in the Air Force for over 21 years. He was proud of that service, as are we.

This basket I hold contains smooth river rocks. Each stone contains a word about Percy Seymore – one word to describe a small part of his personality, his character, his interests. Some of you have only known him while he was ill, while he was fighting serious health issues. We want you to know him as we knew him. Zoe and Maya will hand out the stones in a moment, so that you can have a small remembrance of this day.

When asked to pick one word to describe our dad my brother Phillip picked STRONG. Phillip’s favorite memory of Daddy is an Air Force party we attended when we were children. Some young airmen were horsing around and throwing some of the older guys into the pool. But when they got to Daddy, he was immovable. It was the four airmen who ended up in the pool! Phillip was convinced that his Daddy was the strongest Daddy in the world.

Our dad was strong, both in body and in spirit. He proved both as he fought the illness that led to his death. His strength of character is recorded on these stones – he was honest, loyal, patriotic, honorable.

My sister Kim picks the word DISCIPLINED. Our father could do anything he set his mind to do. When Daddy decided he needed to lose weight, he stopped putting cream & sugar in his coffee. Just like that. And when he decided to quit smoking cigarettes 30 years ago, he just stopped. Just like that. I think Nike stole their “Just Do It” slogan from Daddy!

Our dad was disciplined, responsible, and hard-working. Phillip remembers as a young man working alongside Dad on some mechanical project, thinking with the pride of the young that he was far faster and more efficient. It would drive him crazy to watch the slow pace that Dad worked. Long after Phillip had given up (worn out), Daddy would carry on with the task. His patience and endurance with hard work is a lesson we can all learn from him.

My mother, Fran, picks the word CALM. That wasn’t the first thing that drew her to Percy on that beach in France – it was his smile. But she came to love that he was steady, patient, CALM – a serene oasis that was such a contrast to the family she grew up in, where high drama was elevated to a fine art! But with that calmness she also got adventure and fun. Percy loved to travel and try new things. He loved good food, and would eat anything! He loved country music, and knew the words to more songs than we ever knew existed. We remember long family road trips where he would sing in his deep voice the words to songs that we thought he had made up, only to discover later in life that verse 87 of Darling Clementine actually existed!

Some of his other interests are also recorded on these stones – the Cowboy fan, the avid gardener, the good cook, the tinkerer with all things mechanical.

If Zoe & Maya picked one word, it would be PLAYFUL. I feel especially fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch and marvel at my dad as a grandpa to my girls. I would never have expected him to sit there and let them wrap him in a pink feather boa, put a crown on his bald head, and play tea party, but he did -- and I have the pictures to prove it! If I had done the things my girls get away with when I was a child, I'm not sure I would have survived to adulthood. But Zoe and Maya could do no wrong in his eyes.

The stones record his sense of fun – he was witty, funny, cheerful; he laughed and smiled often. His humor was highly intelligent and often covert. If you saw through the stern look on his face as he made a funny comment, he would laugh with you. If you did not get it, he would not let you know what you missed. Phillip says it took him until his 30’s before he realized the humor and began returning it, but Kim always knew, since she got her sense of humor from Daddy.

My word will be LOVING. For him, love wasn’t a word, it wasn’t just a feeling, it was an action. He loved his country, so he fought for her. He loved his children, so he provided for us. He loved his wife, so he took care of her (even when she was quite capable of taking care of herself!).

One image from his last illness is indelibly imprinted in my memory as proof of his loving spirit. He was sitting on the side of his hospital bed, so weak that Phillip stood beside him so that he wouldn’t fall. My mom was on the other side of the bed, smoothing lotion on Daddy’s shoulders (see, for her, love is an action, too!). Daddy’s voice was so weak we couldn’t understand anything he told us. He was working so hard, expending so much energy trying to convey SOMETHING – and we finally understood. . . . He wanted us to move the stool to the other side of the bed so his wife could sit. So weak, and still loving, and still taking care of her.

The stones record his care-taking spirit – he was caring, generous, helpful, protective, loving. . . and lovable.

The stones here are just a symbol, of course. After all, as the poet says, “Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased. Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken. But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.” Our love for Percy Seymore – husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend – is etched on our hearts forever.

So this 4th was a poignant reminder of a patriotic man -- a family man.  This was a day to celebrate more than independence, it was a day to celebrate families.


Bukimom said...

That was a really beautiful tribute, Malinda. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

As usual, Malinda, you are so perfectly eloquent. You are lucky to have had such a great dad and he was lucky to have you as a daughter--and I'm positive he knew that! clf

LisaLew said...

Malinda, So little, time - yet a eulogy so well thought out. Just your style.
I am so glad you wrote it down so your family can have your beautiful words for years to come.

Barb and Ken said...

Malanda, your Dad and Mom, I'm sure, are proud of the words you used to describe the influence of your Dad's life on each and every member of your family. You all have so many wonderful attributes of your Dad to remember. Your family has been blessed.
Barb Hines
A friend to your Mom

Diane said...

Malinda- So beautiful. Thank you very much for sharing. It deeply resonated with me.