My Dad passed away Sunday, January 2nd. My sister, my stepmom, her sister Lisa, and I were there with him. His death was peaceful and painless, though his last year was riddled with so much physical suffering. We had his funeral service on Friday, January 7th in my hometown of Cleveland, Mississippi. It was a beautiful day and I was overwhelmed by the turnout and love that was poured into our family. Both Wheeler and I spoke at his funeral, and I want to memorialize what we shared here.
Today, I’m honored to have the opportunity to reflect on my Pop’s life. I’m beyond grateful to have spent as much time with him as I did, and I look forward to carrying on his legacy by teaching the people that I surround myself with and the hopeful future of my own kids what he taught me. As I miss him dearly already, I have realized a few things these past few days. I’ve understood that there are multiple seasons to life and that there is a time for all of these seasons. A time to live, a time to die, a time to laugh, and a time to cry. I’ve now experienced every one of these seasons with this man, and the amount of impact he has made on my 22 years spent on Earth is something I cannot forget.
Now I am not gonna stand up here today and act like I wasn’t his favorite and to be completely honest, it’s a really good feeling to be on Scott Dean’s good side. I was his favorite and he truly had no way of hiding that expression.
I cannot state my Pop’s name without stating the name, Nan Marie. His sidekick, support system, and wife of over 30 years. Now excuse my French, but bless your soul for the amount of shit you’ve put up with for the last 30 years. I believe everyone in this room is quite grateful for your ability to love, care, and cherish him as much as we all did.
He has left his mark on me, specifically toward my love for creation. I remember every hunting experience we’ve shared together from my first deer hunt at 5 years old to sharing a beer over a turkey I killed this past spring. He’s been there for it all and I will cherish those memories forever.
I want to give gratitude toward the family and friends here to celebrate the life of my Pop. He was truly my best friend and someone that has taught me to be the best person I can be. He had his ways of showing love, with the majority of those ways being “tough love”. However, I wouldn’t take back the “I’ll smack you upside your head” threats for anything.
Even though Pop is off to a better place, we will carry him in our hearts forever. I pray that his presence will never be forgotten and will only become stronger as we all continue on our life journeys.
I’ve been writing and revisiting this since August. I have known for a long time that I wanted to speak at Daddy’s funeral, because I knew there wasn’t a preacher in the world that could convey who he was or what he meant to the people in his life. I am going to go ahead and apologize that I’m probably going to stand here in silence some as I try to get through the tears as they come up, because they are going to show up. I’ve also edited things he said in stories to be appropriate, but if you know him, you know where you can insert his proper dialect and choice of words.
If you spent any time with Daddy you were quickly enrolled in the “Scott Dean School of how not to be dumb, blind, and stupid” I don’t believe anyone ever graduated, I know I never received my diploma. He knew the BEST way to do everything, and felt compelled to spread his wisdom and knowledge to anyone within earshot. I’ve told this story a few times, so it will be a repeat for many of you but it’s the best way to describe one of his “lessons”. A couple of years ago, I came to spend time with him. I hadn’t even sat down before he started asking me what I wanted to eat for supper. He listed a few things off and I knew better than to just pick one of them, I responded with “all of that sounds great, but whichever you want works for me.” Knowing good and well that chili, the 3rd option, he threw out was simmering on the stove already. As the day went on, he would slowly ask questions about how I liked my chili. “Do you want cornbread or crackers?” I’d respond with, “Oh Daddy, I’ll eat either which one do you want?” He’d say, “I like mine with crackers.” I’d say,” That’s my favorite too.” And we continued this with, Do you like shredded cheese or sliced cheese? Daddy, I like either which one do you prefer? I like sliced cheese. My response, “perfect that’s what I like best” “Do you want sour cream?” “I like sour cream, but don’t have to have. I like it either way.” He had some for me just in case I liked it. Hours later the chili is finally ready and he serves it to me. We are sitting next to each other in the recliners. I take one of the crackers and break it into 4 pieces, drop it into my chili and took a bite. I looked over at him to tell him that this was the BEST chili I had ever eaten and his face let me know that this was the wrong thing to do. “What are you doing? That is the dumbest thing I have ever seen.” “Daddy, I’m just eating my chili.” After I argued my case of saving myself the possibility of getting chili on me by picking up the pieces of cracker with my spoon over dipping the cracker in the chili. He made a comment about how I had a washing machine to clean anything I got on myself. The last word was always his and I knew perfectly when to let that happen. He taught me a lot about cooking, and a few years ago I forced him to show me how to make his biscuits. He made the best French fries on the planet. Food was one of the ways that he shared his love with us.
Daddy, Nan, and my mom did an amazing job of putting us first in our circumstances. The amount of respect that they showed each other was revolutionary and one of the best gifts that they gave us. Daddy wanted every moment he could get with us and was truly present in the times we were together. While he had no real idea what to do with girls, he always had fun things planned and made our time special. We were also thrusted into lots of hunting, fishing, and outdoor activities that weren’t necessarily our first choice, but getting time with him was worth it. He was tender, kind, and protective of us. He might holler at us as kids, but it was all bark and no bite. There was one time when Cherry, our twin cousins (Mendy and Wendy), and I were at the fishing club and Daddy told us that we could get our feet in the water but we better not get our clothes wet or he was going to spank all of us. It wasn’t 5 minutes later it was like dominos of Cherry getting wet and then convincing the rest of us that it was best if we were all wet and get in less trouble, so we all ended up completely soaked. He refused to go back on his promise of everyone getting a spanking. So he lined us all up outside of one of the upstairs rooms, walked by us with a boat oar to paddle us with and brought us each in separately. He told each of us that he knew that it wasn’t our fault and that he wasn’t going to spank us but we better not tell the others or we would really get it then. He then took the oar and hit the mattress and we had to pretend to cry and then go out and wait for the next one. I don’t know how long it took for all of us to figure out that no one got a spanking. He’d rather make a big production like that then actually discipline any of us. He never wanted Cherry and I’s visits to end, and regularly teared up when it was time to say goodbye. He was always waiting on us no matter how early we arrived for a drop off, and drove at turtle speed when it was time to return us. I have so many memories of Daddy but the ones that stick out as my favorite were when it was just the two of us. One on one was when he was at his best. When it was just you and him, he didn’t have anything to prove. It is one of the reasons that I think he and Nan worked so well is that it was just the two of them most of the time. He was one of the most sensitive and empathetic people you could ever meet. Being sensitive and an empath isn’t easy, especially considering his gender and the time in history he grew up in. And he dealt with it the best way he knew how by building extremely thick armor which portrayed that he was invincible. Cynthia described him to me as a big old toasted marshmallow. Crusty on the outside, but all soft on the inside. He was also one of the funniest people you could ever meet and always had a hilarious story (usually at the expense of someone else) and the best one liners. My favorite was “they stood out like a turd in a punch bowl”. You could never get anything over him. Even in the past few months when he didn’t know where he was or what day it was, he still would stop you in your tracks and make you laugh. I walked into his hospital room in Birmingham early one morning in a dressy jacket because it was just what I had grabbed leaving the house. He told me “You’re looking cute, but a little early for the hospital fashion show.” Daddy was always so handsome and he knew it. Our family joke was that he never met a mirror that he didn’t like. Cherry was staying with him in the hospital and he asked her if his eyes looked puffy. She responded that no they didn’t, but she had some eye cream if he’d like some. He gladly agreed to let her put some on his eyes.
Daddy showed us that your career could be something you enjoyed doing. In our younger years when he worked for the park system, where they lived was just a huge playground. It was such a fun place to be as a kid. He truly loved his work as a game warden, and you could tell how much it filled him up when he told stories about his days.
There is no one in this world that loved dogs more than him. His need to be surrounded by dogs is a testament to his ability to give and receive love. Dogs filled his days with purpose, love, and someone to constantly tell to “shut up” or “go on”. When you visited him, you were a guest in the dog’s home and mostly likely sitting in their spots or sleeping in their beds, and I loved every minute of it. I loved watching the relationship that he had with his father, Big Daddy. For me, he modeled how to engage and interact with adult parents, and he did a great job of taking care of Big Daddy while also giving him purpose in his retirement.
He was one of the first people that showed me that you could have extreme faith in God and also not waste your time worrying about having a hard time playing by all of the rules. We never sat down at a table for a meal where he didn’t ask for forgiveness and express gratitude to God for the food, blessings, and time together. He connected with God when he was outside doing what he loved. Whether it was in the woods or a boat on the water, he knew that nature was his ticket to connection with God and refused to let it go. He wanted to spread that love and connection to anyone interested (young or old), and poured so readily into anyone that wanted to go along for the ride. Wheeler was eaten up at a VERY early age with wanting to be an outdoorsman, and that made the two of them a perfect match. I could go on and on about Wheeler and Daddy, but I’ll just sum it up with I’m so grateful for what they were able to give each other in this life.
The last 2 decades of his life were riddled with so much physical pain. He was too prideful and stubborn to truly admit the depth of what he was going through. After he passed away Sunday, the nurses were following protocol asking us about organ donation. We laughed as we told them that he used every last bit of his body for himself and there was nothing left for anyone else. In the past year, he suffered and endured more than I would want for anyone in this world, but his toughness and grit gave us the gift of time and knowing the end was near. I am not sure why but my presence brought out the softness in him, and we talked for hours about our lives. So many regrets he had, but even more blessings. I appreciated his willingness to be vulnerable with me, because as everyone here knows that was rare. One of our last long conversations he talked at length about how proud he was of Wheeler and what an amazing young man he was. We both agreed that we had done a good job. He talked about Cherry and that he was so proud of her. He talked about how amazing Nan had been to him and that he couldn’t have found a better woman if he had looked his entire life. He also talked about how much he appreciated Clara and everything she did for them. He talked about Everett, Lily, and Daniel and how he loved spending time with each of them, and wished for more time. The tender moments and the I love yous that we were able to exchange were one of the greatest gifts that we could give each other.
While his death leaves us with a void, anyone who has a connection with him all have pieces of him inside of us. For me specifically, I see pieces of him in Cherry, Lily, and Daniel. Wheeler has his laugh, smirky smile, zest for life, and bravery. And Everett picked up how to get onto dogs and sounds identical to him with his “hush it” and he also has the relentless need to never, ever give up the last word just like his Pop.
I’m going to wrap this up by talking about grief. When you are as lucky as I have been to have your life filled with so many people that love you. You are bound to experience lots of loss. I came across an interview that came out while Daddy was in the hospital in Birmingham. It was an actor who had lost his mother in the previous year. When he was asked about her and how he handles the grief, he started to tear up. And he said “I love talking about her and if I cry its only a beautiful thing. This is all the unexpressed love. The grief that will remain with us until we pass because we never get enough time with each other no matter if someone lives to 60, 15, or 99 so I hope this grief stays with me because it is all the unexpressed love that I didn’t get to tell her and I told her every day, we all told her every day. She was the best of us”
So as we move forward with life after loss, and grief comes up try to think of it as unexpressed love and not sadness. And take every opportunity that you have to tell those that you love that you do indeed love and appreciate them.
I will end on this quote that I found from author Hunter Thompson from his book “The Proud Highway” that I thought perfectly summed up Daddy’s life
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”