It is hard to think of Easter without thinking of my father. He died on Good Friday and today is the anniversary of his death. He was 82 and had been married to my mom for 58 years. They had 13 children; nine sons and 4 daughters. There are 27 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren with two more expected this summer.
This is the only digital photo I have of my Father and it was taken just a few hours before he died.
Dad spent 30 years in the shipping department of McDonald Douglas. Until their retirement my Mother ran a day care center for 30 children every day. Dad was also an Auctioneer and besides doing farm, estate and antique auctions he owned a sale barn for consignment auctions. He owned and operated a variety of antique and resale shops over the years. After their retirement, both business were taken over by their children and are still operating and successful today. Each of us took our turn working in the family businesses; no outside help was needed until we all started to make our own adult lives. Even then we all contributed whatever spare time we could to keeping the family businesses going.
My parents were very involved in church and civic groups. They volunteered to help with fund raisers for groups even when they were not members. At one time, between my Dad and brothers, they were doing dozens of benefit auctions each year; for every type of church, scout, or civic group. My Dad was a member of the Lions Club, VFW, American Legion, and a fourth degree member of the Knights of Columbus (as are all of my brothers)
Everyone in town knew some member of my family or knew about them. After I was married and gone from the area for awhile, I went to pick up a package at a local store for my father. The merchant would not give me the package. He said that I could not be one of my father’s children because he had never met me before. He had to call my father and confirm who I was before he would release the package.
As a side note; my Dad created the concept of the Dinner auction and organized the first ones in the US right here in St. Louis back in the 1960’s. Dinner auctions have become a staple of Church fundraisers nationwide since then. My father was also responsible for the number bidding system that is now used world wide at Auctions. He created the prototype while attending Auctioneering school in the early 50’s.
Since my Dad’s wake was being held on Easter Sunday(also my mothers 79th birthday that year) we expected a very small turnout. We were amazed when over 1400 people gave up part of their family time to attend. They waited in line for hours to file through the small rural mortuary. My mother not only greeted each person, she addressed them all by name. Civic and church groups sent honor guards, and their members turned out in various sized groups, all in full uniform or regalia. The honor guard from the Knights of Columbus contained six of his sons taking their turn at standing guard over the casket.
The casket is another story in itself. It was hand carved by monastic monks. While sitting with my father in the nursing home my mother read about the monks and their caskets and planned to order the casket thinking there was plenty of time to get one shipped here. Dad was fine that evening but regrettably he was gone by morning. Mom’s first call was to the monastery, but learned that the monks did not work during Easter week, spending their time in prayer. Just as the Friar was explaining that the earliest a casket could arrive in St. Louis was ten days; my cousin, Mike, ( who lives out of the area) walked into my mother’s living room and, overhearing her conversation, took the phone. After a brief conversation he hung up and informed my mother that she would have the casket the next morning. The Friar told Mike that if we could pick up the casket and load it, he would gladly open the store room for them. A short time later one of my brothers and Mike were at the local airfield where Mike had left his private plane while he made a surprise visit to my parents house. They flew half way across the country to pickup and deliver the casket to our mortuary.
Easter Monday at the funeral service there were more people in attendance than the church could seat, they lined the walls and filled the choir loft and vestibule. There were six priests who served on the alter, and four pews full of priests all in matching vestments. It was a major surprise to find the Archbishop, who was newly assigned, was in attendance. He did the graveside service plus gave a very personal talk as part of the eulogy. The eulogy was in four parts, with the Archbishop, my two brothers who are priests and Dad’s parish priest each having a part.
Dad was buried in the church’s graveyard across the road. A Bagpiper played for both the procession into church and to the cemetery. My brother, Bob, spent five years serving in the Bolivian missions and wanted the traditional South America procession to the graveside. So Dad’s casket was lifted and carried from the church to the graveside on the shoulders of his grandsons while everyone else walked behind. Both the VFW and the American Legion did rifle salutes and a cannon was also fired.
The church ladies served a Lazarus Dinner in the church hall with more people in attendance than there were chairs to seat them. At last count over 400 meals had been served. More than a few of those in attendance had traveled from other states and two came from foreign countries to be there.
My family was once honored as the Catholic family of the year and we all appeared on a special segment of a local Catholic TV program. I can’t really take much credit for that since I have been the church going black sheep since leaving home. But, I know that I regularly, and especially at this holy time of year, have a large number of family members praying for my return to the fold. I also know that my father picked Good Friday to die, so that he could rise with his savior on the holiest day of the year. I am also sure that he is up in heaven watching over us and orchestrating all the events of our lives. Just as he did in life.
Bless you Pop.