I was going to post something I'd written about my father's death and funeral today--something I've published in my memoir Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss--but I changed my mind. I'd rather say a few things about his life--his vibrant, loving life.
He was born this day in 1913, on his father's farm near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, a small community very close to the Washington border. (Many Dyers still live near there.) His family was large--nearly a dozen children--and Dad, in some ways, remained a farm boy his whole life. He loved animals, loved hard work, chores--loved them so much that he wanted to instill that chore-love in us, a wish I found less than desirable at 8 a.m. on Saturdays. Oh, and animals loved him. Snarling dogs lay down and rolled over. Birds flitted around him. Squirrels ate from his hand. I felt, sometimes, he was a character in a Disney cartoon.
His own father died when Dad was only a teenager; the family lost the farm, moved into town, and Dad went to work until he retired in the 1970s. He graduated from the University of Oregon (working his way through school), then headed to Oklahoma. He'd decided to enter the ministry, and there was a seminary in Enid, a seminary where my grandfather taught. Dad met Prudence Osborn there, still in her late teens, and they were married on 12 October 1939. (Coincidentally, Joyce and I married in 1969; our son, in 1999.)
Three sons followed: Richard (1941), Daniel (1944), Davis (1948). He joined the U. S. Army as a chaplain in World War II, served in the South Pacific and in Europe, where he earned the Bronze Star. He would never talk about his war experiences, about his award. I learned about much of it years later.
After the war--back to Enid and then to Norman, where he earned his Ed.D. He'd decided to go into education, not the ministry, though he was ordained, and he did fill in on Sundays here and there throughout my boyhood. When the Korean War broke out in the 1950s, he was called back to active duty and sent to Amarillo, Texas, for about two years; he served as chaplain at Amarillo Air Force Base. (By then, he'd transferred to the Air Force; he retired as a colonel.)
Back to Enid we went; then in the summer of 1956 we moved to Hiram, Ohio, where he'd been appointed the Chair of the Division of Education. He stayed ten years, saw Dick and me graduate from Hiram High School and Hiram College. By then, my mom had earned her own Ph.D. from Pittsburgh, and they both took academic positions at Drake University, where their good friend (and former Hiram President) Paul Sharp was President. They stayed until they retired, then moved to a house they built near Cannon Beach, Oregon, a house with lovely ocean and mountain views.
But Dad was starting to fade physically--some minor strokes slowed him--and so after moving into Seaside for a year or so, they decided to move back to Massachusetts, near my two brothers. And there, Dad moved through that sad declension: cane, walker, wheel chair. Strokes assailed his mental acuity, his memory at times--but never his amiability. To the very end he was loving, glad to see us, happy just to be in the room with his family.
In the fall of 1999, I was constantly back and forth--Ohio to Massachusetts--as each new crisis erupted. Unfortunately, it was one of the times when I was home that the final stroke hit. Only my mother was with him.
I learned a lot from Dad--not as much as I wish I had. He loved long car trips (so do I); he loved to read; loved baseball; loved cowboy shows on TV; loved to laugh; loved his family. He loved football far more than I did (he'd played in high school and for the Univ. of Oregon), and he watched every game he could on TV--not endearing himself to my mother. He liked to grill outside, camp and fish and hunt (I do the former, not the latter). Most of all, he loved going home to Oregon, seeing his brothers and sisters, laughing with them so hard he could barely breathe.
He supported all three, very different sons. Richard--a musician, later a music critic; Dan--a schoolteacher, later a writer and book critic; Dave--a historian, later a writer and consultant. He never made us feel there was something wrong with our interests--our passions. He enjoyed watching us be happy.
He supported my mom, encouraged her to go back to school, to earn advanced degrees. He knew she could do it. And now--in a much different way--his pension checks from the Air Force and from his years in teaching continue to support her in her own decline.
Dad related immediately to other people. He could quickly find something in common with anyone--sports, the weather, the military, whatever--and people found it easy to talk, easy to like him.
An image: We are on one of our long car trips, somewhere out in Nebraska or Wyoming. We have stopped at what used to be called a "filling station." In those days, there was no self-help, and Dad would always get out of the car and chat with the attendant while he (always a "he") filled the tank, checked the oil, cleaned the windshield. The rest of us sit in the car, waiting, watching Dad through the closed windows. We can't hear anything. We just see Dad smiling, laughing, talking, listening, shaking the hand of a stranger. In a while, he will get back in the car, and he will tell us what he's learned, and off we will drive, into the West.