My father received special honors from the fire department and from the military, even though he was retired nearly as long as he worked, and seldom discussed his army service. He enlisted in 1946, and never wanted to be confused with the men who fought in WWII. He shied away from glory and recognition in life, but honor sought him out in death.
I am writing this piece to commemorate the life of my father, Robert E. Meyer Sr., who passed away Oct.29th. You won’t long remember much of what I write here today, but those close to him shall never forget what his life and fellowship meant to them. Though all of us had related to him in different ways–as a husband, a father, a brother, a relative, a friend or colleague–we were all keenly impacted by how his life touched ours.
My father grew up during the Great Depression, a difficult time that most of us can scarcely imagine; a time where one had to think carefully about what they most needed to purchase, if only they could scrounge up an extra dime. I remember him telling me about suffering the indignity of placing cardboard in his tennis shoes to cover the holes.
His obituary said that he attended a barber college, but he paid a heavy tuition at the college of hard knocks as well.
One such incident many of us are familiar with. As a youth my father’s parents promised to purchase him a bicycle if he filled the coal bin with kindling wood. My dad worked at dismantling fruit crates to keep his end of the bargain, but when his mother received a letter that missionaries needed help for starving children in Africa, the designated money was sacrificed for that cause. Now one can hardly deny the importance of feeding the hungry, though it was a hard-learned lesson and bitter experience for a youth.
But as Paul Harvey would say, you haven’t heard the rest of the story.
I was grown up when I first heard of this sad incident. I remembered another boy and his bicycle. You see, when I was eight years old, I went to a birthday party for another kid in the neighborhood. As a present, the friend received a new bicycle. I left crushed because I was riding my brother’s old hand-me-down bike. When I came home, everyone asked what was wrong. Fearing an angry response, I sheepishly told my father I wanted a new bike. To my surprise he said nothing. But a few days later I came home from school to find a new five-speed stingray parked near the garage. I wondered if his act of generosity helped slay the dragon of a terrible childhood experience, but I immediately understood the injustice of ever holding my parents in contempt again.
My father spent a quarter century of his adult life virtually working two full-time jobs. He was a career Fire fighter in Appleton, Wisconsin, attaining the rank of Captain. On his weekdays off, he worked as a Teamster at S.C. Shannon Co. unloading trucks, where he fondly was known by the nickname “Smokie.”
I remember the long hours he worked. As a child, my bedroom was above the kitchen. Many times late at night I was awakened by the familiar signature tune he seemed to tap out while stirring his late night coffee.
Few will remember that he had a third job for a while, taking pictures for an insurance company on weekends. That experience converted his fondness of taking pictures from black and white prints to presenting slide shows. I believe he took on so much employment, because he wanted life to be better for his children than it was for him. He was a firm believer in being thrifty. In the early 1990’s he became an expert at shopping with coupons. I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree on that one.
One day I was shopping in a local drug store and accidentally backed into another person. I heard a familiar voice say “Need any extra coupons for that candy.” It was my Dad. That began a mutual partnership filled with comparative stories about bargain shopping and ornery store cashiers. One check-out lady told me I reminded her of a guy who came into the store often. She described him as 60ish, wearing baseball caps, flannel shirts and having loads of coupons. Not wanting to be obvious, I said that I might have talked to that guy once.
In his retirement, the greatest enjoyment was realized through traveling the country and fishing at his campsite on his favorite lake in northern Wisconsin.
My father had a long tenure of child-rearing. He raised families from two separate marriages, and, in essence, lived virtually two lifetimes. There was more than a 17 year span between his oldest son Hank and his youngest step-son Paul. As a result, he was rewarded with a life rich in experiences with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had the loyalty of a wife who suffered with, and supported him in his lengthy season of poor health. In an era where marital vows are no longer taken seriously, the benchmark of “in sickness and in health” was lived out daily.
My father was not a man of pretension. That’s why I marvelled at the pomp and circumstance that surrounded his funeral. He received special honors from the fire department and from the military, even though he was retired nearly as long as he worked, and seldom discussed his army service. He enlisted in 1946, and never wanted to be confused with the men who fought in WWII. He shied away from glory and recognition in life, but honor sought him out in death.
As long as I can remember, the extended Meyer family has leaned on it’s tradition steeped in the Christian faith. My father firmly believed and renewed himself in that faith during his last days. And even in this hour of mourning, we shouldn’t be ashamed to open those spiritual drapes and let the sun shine in. We must remember that all the pain, tragedy and the veil of tears that is this temporal life will be reconciled and brought into balance by the victory of the resurrection, the great hope of all who believe in Christ.
Given the fragile nature of life, we truly have nothing more than the promises of God during our mountaintop moments of greatest invincibility… yet nothing less than those promises in deepest valley of despair. Some may rightfully ask what inspiration can be reaped from contemplating the life of my father. I cannot provide all the answers to that question, but one suggestion is to recall his example, stand on his shoulders and try to reach just a bit higher. For my own part, I speak not to offer flowery language, nor to condemn, but to tell you about my Dad as I remember him.
I just want to close saying, “Dad I love you, thank you for your life, and we’ll all see you again one day.”