On his wedding night, Big Dad knelt with his wife Helen at their bedside and prayed for the future life they were about to consumate. He humbly asked God to bless their marriage, to help them establish a Christian home, and to give them wisdom in raising their children. Before starting a family, they laid a solid financial foundation through an exacting frugality, sustained only by anticipating the life they would provide their children. On rare occasions they decided to go to the soda shop and treat themselves to a shake. After arriving they always realized it was better to save their dime, and they ordered two glasses of water instead. When they were ready for their first child, Big Dad was 35; their second child, my father, was born five years later. After a forced separation because of his service in World War II, his nervous breakdown, and her unsuccessful battle against abdominal cancer, my Big Dad was left alone at age 70 to continue enjoying life and helping others enjoy it.
Living without Helen was difficult, but Big Dad did not allow her death to destroy his spirit. He continued to live by himself, but he refused to live alone. He never stopped searching for new friends to entertain and ways to spend time with them. Over the years he has become one of the most loved and admired people in his community because of the active way he pursues life at an age when most people would be convalescing in a nursing home. His philosophy of being and making others happy keeps him young; people love being around him because his attitude is contagious.
No group loved Big Dad more than the students and faculty at my high school. He came to every academic, sporting, and social function my sister and I ever participated in at Brunswick Academy. He did not come just to cheer and support us; he came to offer encouragement, a congratulatory handshake, a joyful hug or a loving smile to every student there. He once rode 60 miles after having a cataract removed to sit in the bright sun to watch us play baseball. It did not matter that, as he aged, he could not remember the players' names for more than a few minutes; he just called all of them "Honey." He spent so much time at the school that he was finally able to get his diploma--my classmates elected him, at 82, an honorary graduate of the class of 1989. Two years later the school dedicated the yearbook to him for being everybody's Big Dad.
Big Dad recently donated a baby grand piano to his church in honor of Helen and her years as an alto in the choir. He took the church pastor and his wife, who is an excellent musician, with him on a trip to help him choose the best piano. As he was about to pay for it, the pastor's wife began to cry in her personal anguish over being able to own only an 800 dollar piano. Big Dad felt it unnecessary for her to grieve, and that afternoon he bought two identical baby grand pianos, one for the church and one for her.
After having a series of frightening accidents at home, Big Dad decided that he could no longer live by himself; time was finally exhausting his vigor and robbing him of independence. He moved in with us, but he continued to drive back to his home 16 miles away every day in order to continue his old routine; meeting his friends for breakfast and coffee at a local drug store, going home for lunch and soap operas, and napping for two hours in the afternoon. After five months, he decided to move back into his own house becuase he discovered he was not ready to give up his independence.
Last February, at 83, Big Dad announced to the world that he was ready to begin a new life, to start over from the beginning, to reject his senior citizenship. He was getting married. In three weeks. Now he is about to celebrate his first anniversary, and he is as busy as a young new husband trying to give his family a solid start. He has bought an old house and farm which he visits every day to supervise the remodeling and landscaping. Big Dad will not see all of these new projects reach completion, but he pursues them enthursiastically becuase he knows a shared and active life is more enjoyable.
By Eric Fleshood
February 17, 1992