This is a hard post to write. The loss of a parent is a significant event, and for me, writing about it puts everything into perspective. So here goes.
I'll always remember Dad for millions of reasons, but probably the most vivid right now is the fact that while sleeping peacefully next to his wife of 63 years, he died early Christmas morning. I think for my family, future Christmases will be bittersweet.
He was a memorable guy. It's so hard for me to describe him to those who have never met Dad, but I think that my brother-in-law summed him up pretty accurately in his eulogy: Dad was all about Faith, Family, and his Farm. He lived his faith 24/7, not just for an hour a week. And he was completely devoted to our family. For Dad, farming was a vocation. He also was headstrong, opinionated, fearless, extremely intelligent, generous, well-read, and scary as heck for any boy that dared to date one of his daughters. He was a conservationist and treated his land with fierce devotion to making the soil better and better. He was equally protective of his animals, especially loving his dogs and horses. His first horse, Smokey, was a stallion that Dad rescued from a train whose cars were filled with wild horses rounded up from grazing land in the west. These trains were called Kill Cars since the horses on it were eventually turned into dog food and the like. But not for Smokey -- he and Dad were inseparable before Dad and Mom married. He'd do just about anything for Dad. Check out this very grainy old photo of Smokey and Dad:
Even after death, Dad put his own unique stamp on the service: among other requests, he wanted to be buried in a "plain pine box". And as Mom and I and my sisters were at the mortuary planning everything, the funeral director, having been advised of Dad's request, mentioned that he had a hand crafted pine casket made by a local woodworker. My goodness. It was beautiful. Mom was happy since she wasn't about to put her beloved husband into a simple wooden box; and it seemed that Dad would have approved as well.
The funeral was a standing-room-only event in our little church with floral arrangements everywhere. Dad was laid to rest in a cemetery which was located on a donated corner of Dad's farm. When the need arose for the cemetery to enlarge, Dad would donate another chunk of land with one stipulation: that the back fence would always have a gate through which he could go to visit his ancestors buried there when he was working the fields that adjoined it.
John and I were among the last to leave the cemetery. It was an incredibly peaceful scene: snow falling gently and silently. All we could hear was the occasional wind rustling oak leaves; which helped ease the pain as we said good-bye.