mad in pursuit memoir notebook

DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever

Me and my dadFriday, 10.6.05 Eulogy for Walter T. Price

(continuation of thoughts from 9.30.05)

I'm not known for my oratory. I'm not one who makes the toasts at celebrations. I hang back and let others hold the floor. But I've always known that I would speak at my father's funeral. A grown-up moment. A necessary declaration. A statement -- that his oldest child could stand up and pay tribute to a good man.

And once I committed myself to a eulogy, it gave me my own task, something to focus on that would keep me from dissolving.

But I wasn't that interested in summarizing my dad's life -- that felt like a project I wasn't prepared for. Luckily, my brother-in-law Tom was already busy doing that kind of summing-up eulogy. His was the framework for "The Legend of Curly Price."

Mine would be simpler -- less fact than feeling, less summary than homily. I guess both eulogies are about mythmaking: what is it about our lives that will finally be remembered in family lore?

People ask how you manage to speak at such times of sorrow. My brother-in-law Bob gave me some good advice: practice till you done all your crying in private. I did that -- but I practiced in front of Jim, which I knew would be more emotional than talking to myself.

During the Mass -- as I anticipated going "on stage" -- I stood tall (as my dad always told me to) and concentrated on full deep breaths. I'm not much of a church singer, but I sang out loud. This made sure my voice was still working and not strangled in my throat. Standing there -- breathing, singing -- I decided that "voice" was what my father had found in his life -- from the boy who pretended to announce ballgames on the radio to the youth, who sang duets with my mother, to the career in sales, to the long pleasant retirement "holding court" with family, friends, and captivated strangers. "Uncle Curly" found his voice and now I would --

*

(spoken at the end of Mass, 9.26.05)

Last Christmas I came running home because my family thought that Dad was going to die. It seemed inevitable. And yet by the time Jim and I got to town, Walter had taken his u-turn at the Pearly Gates -- and possibly struck a deal with St. Peter. If you're the kind of person who believes that everything has a purpose, you have to ask yourself what unfinished business Walter had with the world.

It was a busy few months.

With enormous pride, he saw two grandchildren Molly and Trey start college.

Celebrated Sam getting into St. Louis U. High.

Celebrated Patrick's circus act in San Francisco.

Made sure Brendan got rid of his crutches.

And welcomed his first great-grandchild Gabrielle.

And it was clear to me, after the Price family picnic last week, that he was passing the torch to his brother Pat for the role of family patriarch.

He was so proud of everyone.

But he also gave us an important lesson in those last nine months. Maybe he wasn't aware of it -- maybe it was St. Peter's side of his Christmas bargain.

I'm thinking of it as the lesson of small steps.

Nine months ago Walter was miserable and debilitated, incapable of any self-care, unable to take a single step on his own.

And yet somehow he found the strength to rev up his engines again. Despite weakness and pain he got up and walked. Inch by inch. First with a team of helpers. Then with a walker. And finally he was able to toddle around again on his own power. In nine months, he went from helpless to mobile, from drinking out of a sippy cup to resuming his nightly toddy with my mother. A journey of small steps.

*

You know, I stand in awe of the people capable of monumental achievement -- Nobel Prize winners, Founding Fathers, architects of Renaissance cathedrals. Neil Armstrong could take one small step on the moon and proclaim that it was on behalf of all humanity. But for most of us in this life, one small step is simply one small step.

We get out of bed, we go to work, and we shuffle our way, step by step, through all of life's obligations. We love our sluggers and our movie stars and our scientists, but our true role models are the everyday heroes -- the guys like my dad.

He took care of his work, took care of his family, day by day, step by step. Too often we forget that everyday heroes need just as much courage as 4-star generals. We forget -- or maybe we know too well, but won't admit -- that even small steps carry the risk of falling.

In the last nine months he drove that point home -- his last gift to us.

It's ironic that Walter should finally meet his maker tackling a set of stairs. But isn't that the final lesson? He was afraid of falling, but he tried it anyway.

Nine months ago it looked like Walter was going to quit the game, but instead he died on the field of play -- in the game. He toughed it out.

All of us are afraid of our next small steps, but his final message to us is --

Take your next step, set out on your journey, take aim for your goal -- or die trying.

My everyday hero.

My memories of him>>>

10.07.05