Tuesday, September 27, 2011
From my Father's service on Sept. 24. It was an honor to speak about my Dad. It is an honor to be part of his legacy.
Thank you all for coming today.
In his lifetime, my dad, William Hunter Carrington, the man who always has the coolest name in the room, did it all. he was the oldest of nine, he was a hitchhiker, hitchhiking his way to Florida one winter to caddy, a landscaper, working on Wanamaker Estate in Elkins Park, a merchant marine, a salesman who could sell water to the ocean, a fire fighter (a little known fact!), a husband, a father and a father in law, and grandfather to my two girls.
He played football, traveled, sailed the seven seas, golfed, grumbled and loved his away through 91 years.
But, I think the best stories start right in the middle--the story of my Dad--his story as my father-started right in the middle of his life. My Dad was 57 when I was born--already an old timer by some standards.
And while some older fathers might feel a kick to their ego when people mistook them for a grandfather--I am quite certain my Dad did not mind much--his only irritation would be at the tedium of correction--he, at least the Bill Carrington who was mine, never gave much attention to what others thought of him. He never choose a political party--always registering as Independent, not in the Ross Perot way, but in the Bill Carrington way. Take Bill or Leave him--to him it was all okay. And I should note, you usually took Bill, how could you not with that thick head of hair and deep hazel eyes and his ability to talk you into anything.
Watching his unshakable confidence, his stoic grace, his easy way of being so sure of himself--taught me one of my first lessons in life. My Dad taught me that it was always 100-percent okay to me and most important--it was okay for everyone else to be themselves too. The lesson: You can take or leave each other--it is okay. But know that you are no better than your neighbor--just different.
I used to think that maybe this was the Carrington gene, as most of my aunts, uncles and cousins are among the most confident people I have ever met. But, now I realize my father learned this lesson from his parents and I will pass it to my children. It is a legacy. And that is another lesson my Father taught me--to share your whole life with your children.
My Dad shared it all with us--he was born in 1920 in Philadelphia--a time of prohibition and speakeasies---there were still Civil War Veterans alive and living in his neighborhood. My Dad was always a walking history lesson. He lived it. He saw it. He was part of history.
I would sit with him for hours grilling him about the Depression, his hatred of asparagus (he grew up next to an asparagus farmer), world war 2, his travels, his jobs--there were so many and my favorite: life as the oldest of nine children. I loved hearing stories of summers at the beach, adventures on the trolley (especially with his younger brother don) and life sneaking into ball parks and trying to climb over prison walls to see what was inside.
His stories of WW2 intrigued and scared me. My Dad wanted to join the air force or the navy, but he was def in one ear following a childhood illness and no one would take him. He was about to drive to Canada, because Canadians are too polite to say no, to join the Canadian Royal Airforce. But then he found out about the Merchant Marines and the rest is history. He sailed all around the world--Casablanca and England were his two favorite spots. His story of wanting something that seemed impossible--to fight with his country--taught me something else: that anything is possible.
For my dad, possibility was directly connected to prayer. Every night, my father prayed. Most nights on his knees. He always looked up before he looked out--he always taught me to appeal to god before appealing to my own mind. god first and always. When Lily was diagnosed with a brain tumor, on my Dad's birthday--i told my dad, I did not know what to do. He reminded me that Every night as a child we all gathered to say the Lord's Prayer before my mom or brother (the early birds in our house) went to bed. So, the night of Lilys diagnosis should be no different--i needed to pray for healing, pray for wisdom and pray for Lily. Dad was humble. He loved his God and that is the one if the richest gifts he left us.
My Dad was not just my dad. He was a father to my brother David--in fact, he was more than a father--he was his caregiver, his best friend, his advocate, his hero, his playmate. Watching my Dad love unconditionally and fight for my brother--that lesson gave me the tools I needed to fight for my own children. It also taught me how to be a caregiver--he took care of us all and never complained as he worked multiple jobs and always came home ready to help with math homework or built a fort.
My Dad was far from a saint and he had a temper that could shake the roof off the house. I've inherited his fire as well--but he taught me well-you never go to bed angry--you never hold a grudge. You stew, you scream and then you apologize, say I love you and live to fight another day.
And some of his lessons have less conventional applications. he gave me a very unique vocabulary to draw from. he always greeted friends and guest with a "hiya" he called Italian salad dressing, eye-talian. He referred to toiletries as lotions and potions. He gave me words like rungy-bungy and film-flam. He often exclaimed Jiminey crickets. I can hear him saying for Pete's sake in exasperation. I can still hear him saying "It's a bunch of baloney," when someone was being ridiculous. And he often referred to things giving him the Heebee-gee bees and pancakes, served every Saturday, where always hotcakes (with a side of scrapple).
He taught me the rules of the buffet: no bread; dont load up on starches; always eat the shrimp and carving station items and above all: take your time, eating at buffets is not for the speedster eater.
One of my Dad's favorite past times was trying to make all the traffic lights on North Board Street while driving to Temple. One time he did and he was like a kid at Christmas.
He gave me his love of a good story--whether in a mystery novel or in an old black and white movie or told around a dinner table. One of my favorite moments: when my dad. Beaming with pride, told my mom i stayed up past midnight reading a judy blume novel. Saturday nits were father-daughter date night--we gave me access to movies none of my friends knew: doris day, arsenic and old lace, 7 brothers for 7 brides and breakfast at tiffanys. He gifted us all with his love of the beach. He always made me laugh when he drank a Red Dog beer over ice. He had to shave to run a quick errand to Kmart. He wore his watch everyday, yet was never on time. He loved to build things--building a beautiful built in book shelf and barn and a chimney and countless other projects, that may or may not be finished. He was meticulous--and once Mike helped him with cutting a board. mike showed him the board, asked him if it was good. My dad said: well, I guess we will have to go get more wood.
My dad loved, loved, loved life--and he was always a dreamer and a planner. He dreamed for himself. He dreamed for my mother. He dreamed my brother. he dreamed for me. And he dreamed for my girls.
When the end came for my Dad his body was tired. So tired. For months, it had been hard to look at--hard to really see my Dad in his frail uncooperative state. I kept thinking, how is this it? Where is my father? Where are his boots?
You see my dad always said, "I am going to die with my boots on." he made each of us promise if he ever stopped trying at living his life to the fullest, that we would hold him accountable, that we would kick him back into action.
Seeing my father as an old man felt like a failure.
But in his last days, when he was hospital bed bound at home--when I finally sat still and held his hand, I realized, my Dad never took his boots off. His legs weren't quite working, his mind was disconnecting, but his soul was still hard at work and it had been for months. He worked until the end; he died with his boots on, just like he promised he would.
And that's the last lesson my Dad taught me. You never break a promise.
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