” …he always took a patriotic interest in public affairs, and was recognized as a man of sincere opinion and devoted to honest purposes in life. He carried out every obligation he made to his fellowman with a devotion such as few men know. He was never false to any man or any trust. He was a devoted home man and a model citizen. Though firm in his decision, he was honest in his conviction; and those who differed with him always admired his courage and fidelity. He was just such a man as is considered the backbone of any community. Whether in civic work or church work he was always to be counted on to give the best service of which he was capable. No man will ever be more greatly missed in his community than this model citizen.” Richland Beacon News – October 22, 1938.
This Friday, I was honored to give a eulogy for my grandfather, Richard Henry “Dick” Taylor. For us grandchildren, we knew him as Papa Dick. It’s not easy speaking about someone you felt so close to, at their funeral. But I felt he would have wanted a time of reflection, and I also suspected that he would have been blessed knowing his family could share in some laughter and a celebration of his life.
I recently came across an old obituary, and as I read it, I felt as though I very well knew the man I was reading about. It went as follows:
These words were written about Papa Dick’s grandfather, George Houston Taylor.
When I read over those words, I felt that they also greatly described my grandfather. People that really knew my grandfather, thought a lot of him. Each of his grandchildren have a story that is uniquely ours – but today is a hard day to retell them. Just like all of mankind, he too, was not perfect. But I believe that he worked hard each and every day at being a better man than he’d been the day before. And that is a life approach we can all learn from.
When we were all little kids and would go over to his and Honey’s house, he would put us in his lap and draw two eyes and a mouth on the palms of our hands. And then he would show us how to bend our finger, and make that ink-drawn face come alive as we watched it wink at us. He would watch our smiling faces and laugh loudly. The only thing he may have enjoyed more than seeing us smile, was the look on our mothers’ faces when we showed up with ink – smeared up to our elbows.
Papa Dick had a lot of wisdom. But he always had a special way of giving it to you, that would make you keep thinking about it long after he had given you his thoughts. One time he told me that his daddy told him never to pick or joke around too much with somebody you don’t like. If you were one of those folks in life that he liked to rib. Then you can rest-assured he liked and respected you.
I wrote down a few of his one liner words of wisdom and ribbings that I’d heard him say over time. I can see him watching down from Heaven right about now, with that sly smile he always had, saying, “Luke I didn’t know you were gonna retell all that at the funeral!” Don’t worry Papa Dick. I’ll be careful with my wording here.
My cousin Chelsea was caught in a thunderstorm with lightning once, and in order to calm her down, he said, “Chelsea, There’s really no reason to be scared of lightning. If you saw it, you know it didn’t hit you.”
When he met my brother Matt’s wife Heather, he pulled Matt aside, and offered this wisdom. “Matt, They say a butterfly would just as soon light on a rose as it would a cow-pile, and you ain’t no rose.”
About 6 months ago, I took my wife Julia, who was my fiancé at the time, to see Papa Dick. She has naturally curly hair, but on this particular day, she’d worn it straight. He of course ribbed me about the perils of marrying a pretty woman. Not more than two weeks later, Julia and I were back at his house again, only this time, Julia’s hair was curly. He looked over at her, and then looked at me and said, “You still ain’t listin’ Luke. This one is even prettier than that girl you brought by here two weeks ago.” And then he flashed that Dick Taylor smile, and laughed.
On one occasion, I asked Papa Dick about any girls he might’ve dated before he found my grandmother. He laughed some, and told me these two stories.
He said “yes, I went out with a couple of girls – but nothing too serious.”
He said “I found an old buck toothed gal once, and took her to the church in Start when I thought Mary was supposed to be gone. We got there and I looked up in that choir and there sat Mary.” He said “that buck toothed girl could eat corn through a picket fence.”
He said he had another date once – but the girl was cross-eyed. And without missing a beat he said, “She could lie on her back and look down a water well.”
But then he looked at me, and made one thing very clear. He said “I picked out Mary Sullivan (his wife of 65 years) when she was in the 7th Grade. She was the prettiest thing I had ever laid my eyes on.”
Honey, thank you for showing each of us what true love really is. And to Papa Dick — we will miss your smile, your wit, and your well timed advice. Thank you for loving us, and for teaching us so much.