The Worst Thing is Never the Last Thing
In his series “Winnie the Pooh”, author A. A. Milne wrote “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” So here I am, so very lucky, and saying goodbye. Goodbye to my father, William (Bill) McAda who passed away April 27, 2020 at the age of 95 years.
As my pastor often says, we gather together with tears in our eyes, but hope in our hearts. (well, I wish we could gather). If we were not living in such strange, isolated times I have no doubt the gathering space for my father’s funeral would be at capacity. When you are the senior veterinarian in a rural community, having practiced 65 years, anyone that ever had a pet or head of livestock knows you. Many probably got you out of bed with a late night phone call!
An obituary cannot go far enough in capturing the essence of my father so I wanted to share a little more here. But even these words will prove inadequate. There is not enough space and there are so many memories and lessons learned. So forgive me if I miss something you remember about my father; after all, I firmly believe that some of you knew parts of his life better than I did. That’s what makes the collective remembrances of this man so much greater than just mine or a few of us. Together, as a community, we are able to remember and celebrate the whole man he was. This week I ignored my number one rule of social media by READING THE COMMENTS. And I was blessed. The words people wrote in response to his obituary were humbling and heartfelt.
Bill was the middle child of five, but unlike the stereotypical middle child I do not think he was forgotten or neglected. He had as good of a childhood as you could have, if you were poor, growing up on a farm, during the great depression. He loved his family deeply. But that doesn’t mean he still didn’t pick fights with his sister Dorothy, or Dot as they called her. I remember a story she told of him chasing her around the table and even hitting her in the head with a can he threw at her. Yet he loved her and his other sisters Sissie and Rose Marie. He had tremendous respect for his older brother Acie. In fact, many of his Kenedy friends referred to him as Little Acie in school. The two may have argued over how to repair the John Deere tractor but even those arguments never lasted long. My brothers and I could stand back, watch, and wait. And as hard-headed as we thought him to be, he usually conceded to Acie. I think he would have followed Acie to the moon if he asked.
As a teenager my Dad was hard working & successful.
- the Kenedy TX FFA had to change their rules about how many steers could be entered by one student when Dad took home Grand Champion, Reserve Champion, and third place his sophomore year. After that, they limited entry to ONE steer per student, so he had to simply settle for Grand Champion the next two years.
- He was a fierce competitor in football. He was team captain and recalled a game against Yoakum in which he had 27 tackles. He helped lead the Lions to a couple district championships and received great accolades in the regional papers. And he was equally successful running track. I always loved hearing him talk about the District track meet except the word ‘district’ was pronounced ‘dee-strict’.
As a young adult, he took his place as a member of the Greatest Generation
- Our father was a proud member of the 40th Infantry, 108th Regiment, attached to Company “I” and later assigned to the 31st.
- I firmly believe that Tom Brokaw accurately described that generation when he said:
- “When the United States entered World War II, the US government turned to ordinary Americans and asked of them extraordinary service, sacrifice, and heroics. Many Americans met those high expectations, and then returned home to lead ordinary lives.”
- “They finished their degrees or enrolled in college for the first time; they became schoolteachers, insurance salesmen, craftsmen, [and might I add veterinarians]. They weren’t widely known outside their families or their communities. For many, the war years were enough adventure to last a lifetime. They were proud of what they accomplished but they rarely discussed their experiences, even with each other. They became once again ordinary people, the kind of men and women who always have been the foundation of the American way of life.”
- He did love his country and always worried about how “my generation” was going to pay for everything. For many years we had a flag pole in the front yard that replaced the basketball goal after we all left home. I could always count on giving a new flag for Christmas to the man that was so hard to buy for. My mother told me one time, “Don’t let your father know I’m telling you this, but every morning on his way to the clinic he stops and salutes the flag.”
- It’s a shame it took 40 years before he really began speaking about his war experiences. And I credit my sister-in-law Dee Dee for breaking that silence. Between her keen interest in the war and by her inviting him to speak to her elementary students, it opened him up. I’m not sure why that was. All I remember as a child was that he had a bad knee from a jeep rollover accident and he didn’t like you to ask if he ever shot anyone. Many years later, I learned stories of his advance scouting, rations being air dropped, the stench of death, him and several other soldiers lining up behind a single palm tree to escape enemy fire. (Not all of whom were spared.) I guess I can understand why he didn’t talk about it too much.
- One humorous story that needs to be shared happened as the war ended and American soldiers were engaged to help the South Koreans sort out the property the Japanese had confiscated and return it to its original owners. Our father was involved in this. He remembered being in an area where the fields were very lush with crops and the fresh vegetables were very inviting especially to a country boy who was tired of Army rations. Until……… until the day they saw the ox carts, referred to as the honey wagons, come onto the base and clean out the pits holding human sewage. Then the carts would depart the base and go to the fields where farmers would ladle fresh “nutrients” onto their vegetables growing in the fields. He said he stuck to daily rations after that.
After the war, it was off to Texas A&M and eventually veterinary college. Growing up with a father who was the only local veterinarian, you learned many things and were exposed to so much. Not only were you seeing how life could be saved through love and medicine, or honored through death, but you were honing life skills as well.
- Like Math skills……
- It was amazing for a client to ask what they owed and to then experience 8-10 seconds of thoughtful silence as his mind calculated the cost of time, distance traveled, and medicine as well as whether he thought he had done all he could to help the animal. But then again, it didn’t take long for him to get to the low total he usually quoted. You people know you had a bargain, right??
- Or philosophical skills . . .
- A client once told my sister Vickie that he and his father were arguing over the financial cost to save a calf when our Dad looked at him and said “anything worth living is worth saving”.
- Or religious doctrine . . .
- Growing up in a time when you weren’t supposed to work on a Sunday, our family became familiar with the passage from Luke 14 that permitted work when your Ox was in the ditch. In fact, Vickie recalls a Sunday morning, long before air conditioning when the church windows were kept open for a cross draft, that a client knew which window to whisper thru to get our father’s attention and said “Doc, I got a cow calving that needs help”. Dad leaned over to Pauline, my mother, and told her to find a ride home, grabbed one of the boys (probably Hampton, the oldest) and ducked out of church to tend to the cow.
When he wasn’t being pulled out of Church, he was very active in its life.
My Dad was a dedicated member of the local First United Methodist Church. He served in several leadership roles and he taught the men’s Sunday School class for well over 50 years. For some reason I cannot, or will not, recall or explain, as boys my brother Wesley and I once had to spend a Sunday morning in his men’s class, one on each side of him facing the rest of the men. At some point, perhaps through telepathy, we decided to count how many times he used the phrase “on there” or “in there” which he was known to use as frequently as some people utter “uhhh”. Sadly, I cannot remember what our totals were that day and, luckily, we didn’t suffer further punishment.
Many years later I would return to that men’s class to once again sit beside him as he led the lesson. It became our way of spending time together during my trips from SC. It gave us 30-45 minutes of sharing a common experience and belief. Years after that, someone else was leading but he was still faithful in his attendance. He rarely offered an opinion in those latter years, but I could tell the discussion was still meaningful to him. It seemed like that SS class marked a progression I dreaded but knew was inevitable.
While setting up his veterinary practice at the Strieber Brothers Gin and Feed Mill in the 1950s, he needed a broom so he walked into the hardware store and was swept off his feet by Pauline Migura. In later years sometimes it was described as a mop instead of a broom but he often said he would have bought BOTH to get to know her better.
Together they built a family and a successful business. They survived a housefire as well as medical emergencies. I still remember my fifth grade teacher telling me that it was my dad who saved my mother’s life when I was about 5 and she needed to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. I never knew up until then.
Some other random memories of him I want his ten grandchildren to know:
Grabbing a pipe from the trunk and beating rattlesnakes he found on country roads while making house calls; setting trot lines at Six Mile near Port Lavaca; trying to break a horse named SideWinder (that didn’t go well); sitting at the head of the table (where he could see the TV and everyone else); napping in his recliner during one soap opera but waking up to the music of As the World Turns; opening only the edge of his Christmas gifts to peek at what was inside; Christmas jigsaw puzzles; dressing as Santa Claus to hand out bags of fruit and nuts at church; making poached eggs for the family when mom had her major surgery—and making poached eggs—and making more poached eggs; how sick he was when he had his bleeding ulcer; his interest in rock collecting—especially petrified wood
In his first 70 or so years Dad didn’t always express his love verbally. I remember the summer I graduated from high school and was preparing to go to Texas A&M. Maybe after raising 4 kids he was weary of know-it-all teenagers (which I confess I was) because we had a pretty rough summer as I recall. One day as we were traveling through town we saw that there was an estate sale at the old Metting house on the edge of town. We stopped and paid about ten bucks for a dirty, black, wooden box. He proceeded to spend his free time that summer (which meant AFTER working a full day at the clinic) stripping layers of gunk and revealing a beautiful cedar chest for me to store my stuff in at college. I still remember Mom pulling me aside and saying “he’s not going to tell you he’s going to miss you, but he’s showing you with that trunk.” Yes he was. It took me a long time to understand that.
In the years after my mother died, and until his stay in the nursing home, I tried to call Dad on Sunday evenings. It was our way of catching up and staying in touch. As the years went by, the amount of news being shared, and conversation in general, became pretty one-sided. But still, he and I tried to honor that new tradition.
And for those 10+ years, as the conversation lagged and the periods of silence lengthened, I would usually end the call with “Well, I’ll let you go for now. Talk to you later. I love you.” And that’s what I’d like to say right now, on behalf of all of us who knew him: We’ll let you go for now. Talk to you later. We love you.