|By Jeanne Wilson|
As I drove through the small town, its flag-decked streets reminded me of
another Fourth of July when America had bloomed with red, white, and blue.
Our country was preparing for the bi-centennial birthday party with a guest
list that included two hundred million people. The rich, poor, old, young and
representatives of many of the globe’s cultures would attend. No one was
more proud to be on that list, nor prepared for that party with more
anticipation than my eighty-six-year-old father.
His paint brush, saw and hammer had been put to use, and an archway,
boasting a sign 1776-1976 was placed at the entrance of a flower
garden-to-be while snow still dotted the soggy ground. As soon as the weather
permitted, my father brought out the ladders and scaffolding to paint his
“Dad you’re too old to be up their wobbling around,” my sister told him.
“A man is only as old as he makes up his mind to be,” he said, misquoting
Lincoln, as he cheerfully slapped on white paint.
He was forever quoting someone, shifting the words around to suit himself. I
don’t think Lincoln would have minded my father applying his words to age.
Had President Lincoln said, “Frank, the Union must stand,” my father, equally
as tall, gaunt and dark as the man he addressed, would have firmly clasped
Lincoln’s hand and replied, “Mr. President, I’ll help you see that it does.”
The days warmed and Dad spaded up a half acre to plant flowers.
“You’re working too hard,” I complained. “You need to take it easy until you
get over that cough,”
“A man is only as healthy as he makes up his mind to be,” my father said as he
prepared the ground for seed.
After long hot days of wielding the hoe and carrying water to his plants, the
geraniums, petunias, and larkspur gleamed red, white and blue. Tan cushions
on the porch swing were replaced with those of the appropriate color, the mail
box was dressed in a clean white coat with red and blue trim, while the
American flag waved to those who passed.
When the flowers, the house and my father were ready, the Fourth of July
came, but America’s birthday celebration was my father’s farewell party. A
virulent strain of pneumonia whisked him away, but not before he wrote
instructions for his funeral.
“I want only one small vase of flowers from my garden. Other flowers should
go to the state hospital where people can smell them. There is to be no
eulogy, just scripture and music. For music, I want the Battle Hymn of the
His refusal of flowers upset some family members, for it took away this last
thing they could do for him. Like others, I dreaded a funeral without the
softening touch of blooms so, when first seated in the chapel, I avoided
looking at what I felt would be the stark scene of an unadorned casket.
Not until the organ began to play, did I glance toward my father’s flag-draped
coffin. Nearby, on an antique stand, stood one crystal vase of red, white, and
blue flowers. There was a simplicity and an honesty about the scene that
reminded me of my father. He was a good man, I thought midst tears. He
loved Mother, his children, his country.
The soul-awakening notes of the “The Battle Hymn” filled the air and the
words, “Mine eyes have seen the glory,” throbbed around me. My father had
seen the glory of America and I realized that the colors on his casket would
have meant more to him than a bank of flowers. He saw the glory in a country
that had let him earn money to attend Ohio University by selling bibles, let him
teach what he chose in the public schools, and provided him with men like
Lincoln, Jefferson, Carver whom he could quote to keep his children
Though he saw the glory, he was aware of weaknesses brought about by the
grasp of America’s own greedy children, and of the stains caused by their
mistakes. Yet, always appreciative of having been born into a country where
millions yearned to live, he treasured America’s gifts of freedom and
Yes, always he saw the glory, and now through his eyes I saw it too. Saw the
sprawling land of mountains, valleys, rivers, the institutions secured by
America’s freedom, the lives built on her strength. Saw the people who had
fought and died, pioneered, invented, written, prayed and sweated to sustain
her. And I saw my father. Not wanting the foggy mind, shuffling feet, and
aching bones that might have come to him by putting off leaving too long, my
father would have been willing to move on for a new adventure. But not, of
course, until after he had helped prepare for America’s party.
With that thought, and buoyed by the stirring hymn, my spirit lifted. Is it
wrong, I wondered, to feel happy at your father’s funeral? It was then that it
seemed I heard his voice joining my inner voice in saying, “A man is only as
happy as he makes up his mind to be.”
That is a good saying, I thought. Abraham Lincoln said it first. I believe we
quoted it correctly this time. My father and I.
Lost in memories, as I drove down the smooth highway, I was now long
past the village with its flags. A sign in the back window of the Buick
ahead of me said, “Honk If you love America.” I blew my horn.
- Jeanne Wilson is an award-winning Calhoun writer.