My Dad

My father's eulogy, presented at his memorial.

Jerry Smith in Images

Eulogy presented at my father's memorial service
October 5, 2013 - High River, Alberta, Canada

When I think of my father, I don’t really come up with a continuous narrative. The nature of life in the military is that we would see him for a while, then he would be away on maneuvers, on course, on an exercise, on assignment, or some such thing. And by the time he retired and was able to spend good, continuous blocks of time with us kids, we had all developed lives of our own and were too busy living them. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t around, it just means that the best way for us to remember him is in images more than stories.

Like Saturday night, when the kids would watch Bugs Bunny cartoons until 5:00, and then he would come in and take over the TV. Supper was at 5, so nobody paid much attention until 5:30, when Kingo Bingo came on. But after that, he was glued to the box for 2-3 hours when that magical theme came on “Dun-da-dun dah-duh, dun-da-dun dah-dah. Hockey Night – In Canada.”

Sunday was family TV night; we would all take a one-hour break and collectively watch “The Wonder World of Color” on our black & white TV. By the time the set was in colour, they’d changed the last word to “Disney”, but we kept watching for a few more years anyway.

Other nights, especially in the summer, dad would lie down on the couch after supper to “inspect his eyelids for cracks” and “hold the couch down”. If one of us kids happened to be in the way, he would grab an arm and tell us, “Just wait, a good one is coming.” We made sure we cleared the couch before he cleared the air.

And we learned important lessons – like never leave the table during supper, or you might come back and find your dessert missing. He’d always give it back, though not without a bit of effort on our parts.

Dad and Mom also taught us all to plan. Family vacations were organized like military manoeuvres, down to where we stopped for gas or bathroom breaks, and how long we had at any given stop. Especially on long road trips each day had an objective, and the only time I recall we failed to reach that goal was when the muffler dropped off the car near Moose Jaw. A few times we had to set up the tent trailer in the dark.

Dad knew how to turn a phrase: he would tell us kids to “fall in outside in 3 ranks”, even though there were seldom more than four kids. And I remember more than one occasion where my mom tried to convince him it was pronounced “Chicago”, not “Chu-car-go”.

And we will not speak of the truly horrible molded plastic flowers that dad planted in the empty garden of a house just around the corner from ours when we moved away from Winnipeg. It was a practical joke that backfired six months later when those same flowers surrounded his tent while he was on exercise in Gagetown.

Dad did two tours as a peacekeeper in Cyprus, one before and one after the 1974 invasion. While he was there he wrote Mom every day, and to us kids every week. We loved getting those tissue-thin powder blue air mail letters that were envelopes on one side and letter on the other.

And when he came back there were dozens or hundreds of slides to share. Forty years later I can tell you he brought back some incredible aerial photos of the island of Cyprus and the Ancient Greek ruins; somehow the government completely missed the camera hanging around Dad’s neck while confiscating the camera of the other fellow in the small plane.

When he got back from Cyprus or Wainwright, Dad would often go outside to confirm that he was in the right house. Mom would get busy while he was gone, and the furniture might be rearranged; there might even be different furniture from when he left. Things might be repainted, or even some of the walls rearranged.

But we all knew he loved us, and he regretted that his job duties made him miss many important events in our lives, including all our high school graduations. So when Cindy graduated from nursing school, he made sure his clerk knew to not let him out of town.

When we were growing up there was a sampler hanging on the wall which I’ll always remember. Under the title “The Warrant Officer’s Creed”, it read:

It’s not my job to drive the train,
The whistle I can’t blow;
I’m not the one who designates
How far the train will go.

It’s not my job to blow the horn,
I cannot ring the bell,
But let the damn thing jump the tracks
And see who catches hell!

As he had been with us, Dad continued to be a hit with the kids after we grew up. His younger nieces and nephews were never short of entertainment when he was around: even the neighbourhood kids were part of the fun. He would frequently play “I Spy” with them, as he had with us, and he convinced several that if they were really quiet they could hear the grass grow. He even had some kids convinced that Trixie, our little Heinz-57 beagle, was the bionic dog.

When Marie brought her son Sean over, he would climb up on Grandpa’s lap. Trixie would get jealous and join them, but then all three would settle down and watch the hockey game.

What people didn’t hear was that when Marie and her first husband split up, her ex took off with the kids. Dad used his informal connections to track down Sean and Laura so they could be reunited with their mother. When it came to the crunch, Dad would always do what was needed for his family.

I only got to see or hear about dad in “Sergeant Major” mode a few times. In one such, he asked me to speak to my friend Paul, who had wandered onto the Currie Barracks parade square thinking it was a parking lot. From what Paul said, he spotted my father looking at him across the pavement and immediately retreated and went around. Not a word was spoken.

Another time, on that same parade square, I witnessed an exchange that went something like this:

“Excuse me, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, Sergeant-Major?”
“Sir, I see you’re in a bit of a hurry, and you cut the corner of the parade square, sir.”
“Yes, Sergeant-Major.”
“Sir, I think you might not want to do that again, and I think eight laps will help you remember.”
“Yes, Sergeant-Major.”

Dad lived a musical life, unhindered by his near-total inability to hold a note or carry a tune. He tended to remember fragments rather than songs, but that didn’t stop him singing them. On their honeymoon he serenaded my mother across the country – BC to Nova Scotia – with “You get power by the hour with McCulloch chain saws.” If you needed to find him while he was busy all you had to do was listen for the “Doo, doo-da-doo-doo doo dooo” that he would hum to himself or others when the mood took him. And in quiet moments around the house, we would often hear, “Dear, you know I’m getting older; silver hairs among the golder.” When he couldn’t remember the words or tune of a song, the missing parts would be filled in with “Loo loo …” to whatever tune he could think of, which often wasn’t that of the original song.

Even though he had a falsetto that wasn’t very false and a gravelly voice that would half-growl the smooth tones of Hank Snow, he managed a stirring rendition of “Oh Lord, It’s Hard To Be Humble” at my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary. With a little help from his friends.

And in case you think it stopped there, just a few years ago while he was undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, he serenaded the operating room staff with “I’ve been working on the railroad”. Doctor Donnelly asked him later if he ever got that railroad done.

But what I remember most is that, in all the years I was at home and all the years since, whenever my Dad left the house he would, if at all possible, give my mother a kiss goodbye. And we he returned, another kiss. It was this simple acknowledgement of the love they shared for all those years that is the memory I will hold onto for the rest of my life.

- Tim Smith