I’m traveling today. Headed to a conference where I’ll laugh with friends, learn from others, and draw close to the Father. But today, while I’m waiting for a connection in Charlotte, the majority of my family will be gathered in our hometown of Kennett, Missouri, to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of a man who embodied “The Greatest Generation.”
A few weeks ago I visited my Pepa and when I leaned over to kiss him good-bye, I knew, somewhere deep inside, it was the last time I’d see him. I whispered, “I love you, Pepa,” through the lump in my throat and willed the tears filling my eyes to stay put until I got to my car. He smiled at me, that same smile I’ve seen thousands of times in my life, and said, “Love you too. Be careful.”
I can close my eyes right now and see him … driving that Ford truck down a dusty road in Oklahoma to feed horses and check cows.
I can hear him … “Teri Lynne, what kind of gum do you want?” as we stood ready to check out at the “99er Diner” on Highway 99 in Prague.
I can see him … observing all the antics of cousins playing outside on Thanksgiving after the turkey but before the pumpkin pie.
I can hear him … holding me close on the saddest day of my life and whispering to my broken heart, “You’ll make it through this. And we’ll all be here with you.”
He was a World War II veteran who flew supply planes for the Battle of the Bulge and carried holocaust survivers from a Nazi concentration camp. He was the father of five … a faithful and loving husband to both my Mema (who passed away in 1981) and Nana Jo (who passed away in 2010). He had grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and even great-great grandchildren who all loved him for his honesty and tenderness.
He was my hero growing up. He still is. Every beautiful childhood memory I have etched in my mind involves my Pepa. From going with him to the IGA to get groceries, to finally being big enough to open the gates on the farm, to sitting together on the couch reading … my Pepa was, in almost every way, the solid rock of my childhood.
He was a writer too. I come by that honest. But he wrote poetry … a skill I never mastered. I have countless poems he wrote for me over the years. The first one he wrote me was in 1974, I was three. It begins, “Pepa, get your glasses on …” and it’s filled with stories of playing grocery store, fixing meals, and taking care of babies. The last one he wrote for me was in 2000 … a poem about three generations of girls he’d loved—my mom, me, and my daughter.
My daddy asked me if I’d write something he could share at the funeral. And, of course I said I would. I thought maybe I’d share it with you all today … and maybe, if you would, whisper a prayer for my family? Oh and please, go hug your grandparents! Tell their stories and whisper your own prayers of thanks for family.