Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Grandpa's Life

Again - Apologies for the blog and not personal emails, but I really just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone for your prayers, thoughts and cards this past week. It is much appreciated - I really needed it! ;) My grandpa Carl was my last grandparent to pass away, which made it especially difficult for everyone in my family, including my dad who lost his last parent. However, it was wonderful to be able to go home to Kansas City and spend time with the family during our mourning and celebration of grandpa's life. I was able to participate in his service, but just to a small amount, which was probably a good thing. I read scripture and also lead a prayer that we said in unison, that he had written. I was really appreciative to be able to participate to the extent to which I did. I'm afraid that if I had agreed to do the eulogy or something else that I would have had to write myself, I would have agonized over whether or not I had done it justice.

Regardless - click here if you would like to view his obituary, or the "guestbook" of the many friends and family, he had quite a life! He was my biggest fan when I told my family I would be headed to seminary, so it makes me want to succeed and do my best all the more, and makes the stress of catching up on my school work even greater! Ah! But it is with great thanks and appreciation for the prayers and support from my friends and family like you, that I know I can do it! ;)

My Dad gave the eulogy at the funeral, and although you may not want to read it because you don't even know my grandpa, it's quite interesting to read some of the things my grandpa experienced in his 94 years... such as, my grandpa lived during the terms of 40% of US Presidents...or witnessed the widespread use of the telephone, from the "shared" and "community" phone lines, all the way to recently cable telephones!

Here it is....

What makes a Great Man? Some might say that a man’s greatness is measured by his wealth, a single major life achievement, lots of headlines or numerous titles either before or after his name. But, I don’t think a man has to have a bestselling book written about him to be called Great. To me, a great man is one that lives a life filled by good examples and the highest morals while positively impacting the lives of a lot of different people along the way.

By this measure, and many others, our Dad, Carl Phillips, was a Great man. He was solid like a rock and a great living example of humanity. Always willing to lend a helping hand, a warm heart and a tender ear. He always stood up for what is right and was one that held his ground when it came to doing the right thing. One of his frequently heard by-lines was “Just use common sense”. He was resilient, fair and above all consistent.

In honor of Carl Phillips today, it seems appropriate to recall and celebrate some of his life attributes that made him who he was… Carl Phillips, son, brother, uncle, husband, Dad, (I called him “Pop”), Grandpa, Great Grandpa, Great-great Grandpa…and trusted friend.

He was a remarkable person who lived in remarkable times. He is a classic example of the “Greatest Generation” coined by the newscaster & author, Tom Brokaw, in his book of the same name. I did a little research about the significant events and developments that occurred during our Dad’s lifetime. Even a short list reveals some astounding historical events that he has seen or experienced since the year of his birth–(just listen to these)

The widespread use of telephones, mass produced cars and machinery, first manned airplane flight, sinking of the Titanic, 2 cent postage stamps, talking movies, construction of Fenway Park in Boston , Woman’s Suffrage, the Great Depression, Social Security, 40% of all US Presidents (17 to be exact), the addition of four new states into US statehood, the first transatlantic flight, two horrible World Wars, countless national conflicts and regional wars, two Russian Revolutions, air conditioning, transistors, ball point pens, sneakers, the atomic bomb, television, credit cards, the extinction of polio and small pox, breaking of the sound barrier, the four minute mile, computers, space travel, a man on the moon, a tripling of the US population…(whew) I could go on and on.

In his adult years, he was a living history book which impressed nearly every one he knew. Just after Mom passed away in 1993, he agreed to accompany Pat, Laura and I on a vacation to Washington DC. Of course, we spent quite a bit of time touring the Smithsonian Institute. If you’ve ever been there, you may recall that the American History pavilion has thousands of notable classic American artifacts such as Betsy Ross’ first American flag and thousands of relics that paint a picture of early America. Repeatedly, Dad would point out to his young and amazed 11 year old granddaughter, “Laura, …I used to ride in a car just like that one over there and my uncle had a farm tractor like this one here”. He provided for Laura, and many others, a priceless living connection to American history that no textbook could ever achieve.

He was born in 1912 on a small family farm in southeast Kansas. He came from a long line of modest dirt farmers. Countless times, he fondly recalled many stories of the simple life growing up on the farm. You could almost feel the hot summer sun in the fields, the dust from the dirt roads and the chill of the night during a walk to the outhouse. He and his four siblings attended a nearby one room country school house, Pleasant Hill School. Some of the mainstays in his early farm life were a tiny two-bedroom farm house for a family of seven, outdoor plumbing, kerosene lanterns, a wood burning stove, dirt roads and a lifetime of love and warm memories. Until he was an adolescent, the family got around only in a horse & buggy. Later as an adult, he had these little ridges on the top of his head. He always explained them as “buggy tracks” caused by when he supposedly fell out of the family buggy as an infant and got ran over. I think he said he was in fifth grade when he was allowed to ride Goldie, the family horse, to school. He was just a boy during World War 1, but he remembered neighbors and family friends that went “over there” to fight the Great War, some never to return.

He and Mom met at their county high school in the 1920’s. Their first date was an ice skating party on a local farm pond. Mom must have been quite a catch for Dad. Her high school senior yearbook listed her desired future occupation as a “necking teacher in the school of experience.” Neither one of them ever offered an explanation on just what that meant! He, and much later his three sons, all married their high school sweethearts. The Great Depression was in full swing when they first lived and worked in Manhattan KS and then followed job opportunities to Kansas City where he spent the last 70 years of his life.

Perhaps some of his strongest qualities came from the fact that he rapidly grew into adulthood during the Great Depression. We learned a lot about the Depression ways of life from Dad, such as learning to make do with whatever decrepit possessions you had rather than just going out to buy something new all the time. Even the folks who had jobs during the Depression learned to repair stuff rather than replace it. As a trained auto mechanic, he had a great mechanical knack of how to fix stuff…. Just about anything. Nails, tacks, screws, wire, glue, a soldering iron and an old set of wrenches & sockets could go a long way towards making something that broke a whole lot better. For many years, he was a saver. His basement workshop had 2 or 3 dozen old coffee cans and baby food jars full of rusty bolts, clamps, screws or fasteners. And he usually knew right where he had deposited one of those thing-a-ma-jigs needed to repair something. But, his fanaticism for fixing things sometimes went a little too far. He always insisted on gluing back together a shattered coffee cup or special china dish or re-wire the toaster so it could burn toast again. Not too many years ago, his old initial ring that he had worn for eons, cracked through on the back side. But rather than spend a few bucks at a jeweler for a proper repair job, he used his workshop soldering iron to repair his gold ring. When he was finished, it looked like you-know-what. But he was mighty proud that he could fix a broken piece of jewelry. I also remember a time when I was serving in the Army and while away Pat was using my old car during one of her nursing school rotations in Topeka KS. The old car broke down and Pat was terrified. She called Dad, who drove 75 miles to rescue her and he repaired the broken carburetor with nothing but a simple paper clip. He trusted his repair so much that he even swapped cars with Pat and drove my old Volvo back home to KC.

Was he a cheap-skate? No, just a guy that the Depression taught him how to get by with what you had.

He was always working on some kind of unique, home-spun project, thinking he might be able to invent something big. There was the special carburetor injection additive he invented to make a car engine run cleaner and more powerful only to have his little sideline business get trampled by the giant STP conglomerate. He was always seeking something new out of nearly nothing….like a homemade leaf compactor that he tried to make a hay-bail out of fallen leaves from the yard so he might burn them in the fireplace in place of normal firewood. One time he paid money to the local Midwest Research Institute here in Kansas City to try and come up with some kind of beneficial use of the hapless hedge tree hedge apple. After a failed project, he later declared “the hedge apple is the most worthless natural item in the world.” I don’t think he ever watched the movie “Caddie Shack”, but the Bill Murray gopher segment could have been written about him. Dad always enjoyed feeding the birds in the backyard but was incensed by the squirrels who repeatedly raided his bird feeders and scared away all the beautiful birds. For several winters, he was nearly possessed with a self-appointed mission of inventing ways to keep the squirrels out of his bird feeders. Suspension cables, creative squirrel guards, greased support posts and countless other defense techniques kept him occupied for several years. He would laugh at himself just as hard as we would laugh with him.

I share these little anecdotes about our Dad because he would want us to reflect on his lighter side as well as his more serious and productive endeavors. His priorities were always his family and the church. He was a life-long, devoted member of the Methodist church, starting with the little one room church in the country where they had to appoint their own teachers since the itinerant preacher only came around one Sunday each month. His faith in God and his commitment to service was solid and exemplary during his entire life. For many of his Adult years, he touched many lives as a devoted Sunday school teacher of either teenagers or adults. When we close today, we are going to read a prayer he wrote and repeatedly shared with his Sunday school students. Except for the church Women’s groups, he served on every church committee ever created. He always loved church dinners, except the ones put on just by the Woman’s groups. As a farm boy, he was a simple “steak and taters” kind of eater but he would never eat church casseroles because they were just “women’s luncheon food” he would say. Some of his dearest and most trusted friends throughout his life were Methodist preachers. He and Mom would often have their preacher friends and spouses over for dinner and introduce them to the sinful games of Canasta, Hearts or Scrabble.

He was truly a wholesome and dedicated family kind of guy. He was proud of his three sons, but he always had to out-think what kind of trouble we might get ourselves into. We were probably about 21 years old before we realized that Dad was also a teenage boy once. When we turned 16, he would let us drive a car if we had a job. But, he would never allow us to get a motorcycle… ”just too dangerous”. Of course, he repeatedly rescued us from our own car mishaps, or scrapes with the law, even in the middle of the night. He always wanted Mom’s place to be in the home caring for her family. He expected a hot meal every evening and always enjoyed her home cookin’…especially her special deserts (except when she went just a little too far with her new “grape pie” recipe)

He was a passionate guy. He loved his family but never trusted doctors, hospitals or evangelists. Even though he had some strong views, he would forgive hypocrites, Republicans and sons who sometimes would make dumb decisions (remind me sometime to tell you how he had to talk me out of buying a piece of Florida swampland). He was well-read and could talk about almost any subject with ease. On most any weekend, you would find him helping one of his sons warm up for a baseball game or his head under the car hood trying to figure out where that noise was coming from. Because of his early work as an auto mechanic, he was always fascinated by cars. Especially Buicks….I think he owned something like 16 Buicks in a row…”I like the ride” he would say. Unlike his sons, he was a careful driver and never had a serious car wreck in 80 years of driving. And, he could mill the heads of an old flathead V8 motor with his eyes closed.

Dad worked at trying to stay in touch with a lot of distant family members. If you ever wanted to know how so-and-so was doing, chances are he had probably just seen them or talked to them. For decades, he would make the annual trek every Memorial Day (he called it “Decoration Day”) to about 5 family cemeteries with fresh flowers in-hand. Oh, did I mention his family devotion? Many of us called him a Saint as he served as Mom’s full time caregiver during her 9 years with Alzheimer’s.

Now we celebrate the life and remember this Great man. But, we don’t want to remember him as he struggled over the last 3 months of his 94 years. We want to remember him as a great living example of the legacy he left us which was truth, trust, faith and devoted love and support. Lyle, Dave and I were blessed to have such a high quality Dad. All of you know him in your own special way. He impressed many with his unwavering set of high values and friendly demeanor. If you needed help, he was there to support and comfort you. If his sons needed a good talkin’-to, to straighten them out, he seldom held back. We are all blessed to have shared in the life of a Great Man who lived a great life during the greatest of times. We say goodbye to him as he now joins his high school sweetheart to once again enjoy her delicious lemon meringue pie. If there was ever a great example of a Great man for all of us to look up to, it was indeed Carl Phillips.

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