Today, I come here not to mourn my Dad’s death, but to remember his life.
Dad was born March 30, 1929, in Burwell, Nebraska. He always claimed that, instead of a pat on the bottom to get him to take his first breath, the doctor held him outside the window in the freezing winter air. That’s enough to make anyone yell. He also claimed that incident had something to do with him losing his hair, but I’m not sure how that works.
He grew up on a farm and took care of the livestock, starting at a very young age. In the warm summer sun, he sometimes worked shirtless. His Auntie Jum remarked that he got as brown as a berry. After that, he carried the nickname of “Brownie” for many years.
He was a tailback for his high school football team and graduated from Burwell High School in 1948.
During the Korean War, he proudly served his country as a radio operator in the U.S. Army. The men he served with remember him as a quiet and dedicated soldier, fighting together with them in several battles on Heartbreak Ridge. For his service, he was awarded the Korean Service medal, United Nations Korea Medal, and two bronze service stars.
After leaving the Army in 1953, Homer worked as a mechanic and telephone linesman. One day, after repairing a telephone line in the bitterly cold Nebraska winter, he climbed down the pole, immediately quit his job and moved to sunny Southern California.
In 1957, he began driving a bakery truck for Helms Bakery. After work each Thursday afternoon, Homer would open his truck for the neighborhood kids so they could feast on leftover doughnuts and treats.
In 1961, he met his bride, Darlene Canny. My sister, Pam, was their matchmaker, telling Homer that her Mom really, really wanted to see “Gone with the Wind.” The rest is history. They married on September 3, 1961, in Las Vegas, and lived happily ever after these past 50 years. Even in his last days, he told his caregivers that “Darlene really lights up a room like sunshine.”
When Helms Bakery closed in 1966, Dad became a letter carrier for the Postal Service where he was known by his co-workers as “Andy.” As a letter carrier, he walked 10 miles a day for 33 years, carrying a satchel over his shoulder and wearing polished shoes and a crisply pressed uniform. He cared about having a professional appearance and shunned the shorts and knee socks letter carriers wear today claiming that they leave just enough knee exposed to encourage dogs to bite.
He loved to come home at lunchtime and have Mom make him a good meal. During the evening meal, he told us stories about his co-workers and about all of the pets and people he met on his route. He worked hard and his patrons always remarked that they could set their watches by the timeliness of his mail deliveries.
There were times when Dad would have to work a second job to provide for our family but he did so gladly because he loved us. He wasn’t always a perfect Dad but he took his role as father and provider seriously and he did his very best.
He seldom took a sick day but he enjoyed taking vacations. He has traveled extensively through the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska), to the Holy Land, Europe, Korea, and Japan.
Dad loved to work and loved talking with people, so, when he retired in 1999, he volunteered at Long Beach Memorial Hospital. He was a service room volunteer for ten years. He said the hardest task was taking little kids for tests when the kids had no one to be with them. His very favorite task was to help discharge families with newborn babies.
Homer loved Jesus and was an active member of Grace Church where he had the privilege of serving as deacon and, more recently at First Baptist Church of Lakewood, where he served as an usher. Whenever he met someone new to the church, he would point them at Mom knowing she has a special way of making people feel welcome.
He was friendly and could approach anyone, anywhere. When I was 16, my parents and I went to Hawaii. After we landed in Honolulu, Dad saw someone familiar in baggage claim. He didn’t know the guy’s name but walked over and asked, “Do you go to such and such church?” No. “Do you square dance?” No. The man was the actor, Kurt Russell. And I love this story about my Dad because it speaks to the sense that his heart was still small town where you know everyone and you greet your friends whenever you see them.
Many have said how Homer touched their lives. He adopted many people into his life and heart and is thought of as a father and grandfather to so many more than his immediate family. His love for pancakes with real maple syrup and strawberry ice cream are legendary. He had a funny sense of humor and often made us groan with his puns. He was a simple man and lived his life without an ATM card, cell phone or computer.
If you want to memorialize my Dad in some way, he would tell you to keep your money. Instead,
· Be an usher at your church· Take your dog for a walk and enjoy the common things you see
· Goof around with your kids and grandkids until you laugh
· Be devoted to your spouse and always send a mushy, romantic card on special days
· Continue to extend love and grace to family members even if they don’t love you back
· Have a nice stack of pancakes or a big dish of strawberry ice cream
· Fly the American flag
· But mostly, ask Jesus into your heart. That way, you can be sure to see Dad again someday
Good-bye Poppy. I love you and I miss you.
Love KJ (Kelly Jean sweetheart, your tiny baby girl