Flowers on the Wind: Remembering W.C.
Although the prospect of someone close to me dying is a thought I prefer to avoid, the process of what happens after someone dies is one I appreciate revisiting over and over.
No, I’m not enamored with personally experiencing the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, or with picking out coffins. What I revel in, rather, is the natural and almost always occurring stage of “telling a humorous story involving the dearly deceased” - an endearing ritual that usually takes place once people are convinced that their loved one has in fact died, and they’re going to have to deal with the situation.
In my last post, I mentioned I've been cleaning out my attic and paralled an old post card discovery to the V.C. Andrews “Flowers in the Attic” series. The second book in that series was entitled, “Petals on the Wind.”
Many folks I know detest flowers at funerals because they feel they are a waste – that they are simply money spent for a brief time, the flowers dry up, and are subsequently tossed into the garbage. The metaphor of Petals on the Wind, then, fits such that the quickly used beauty spent on a moment in a funeral just as suddenly blows away and is gone.
Unless…those petals are from written flowers, prepared by those who knew the deceased.
(left: Me and my uncle W.C. on my wedding day, August, 1985.)
Enter the “Memories of W.C. Yates at his funeral on May 24, 2002 read by Pam Nesdahl.” Pam in my cousin, W.C. is my uncle, and here are some of those petals I revisited this past weekend:
On nicknames he garnered
“Mom said that when dad was a little boy the kids at the school called him ‘Frog’ because he liked to jump from desk to desk. In his later years my mother affectionately referred to my dad as ‘Sparky,’ because he kept catching the pasture on fire.”
On his sense of humor
“One day the wind was blowing from the southwest. Mom remembers sitting with grandma and my dad, and grandma asking, ‘W.C., where do you think the wind comes from?’ My dad profoundly responded, ‘Amber!’”(a town directly south of them...)
“My dad liked to kid around with everyone. So, one day he decided to pick on Dean. He called Dean and said he ‘needed a new carburetor for the diesel backhoe.’ Dean had a lot of equipment that was always in need of various repairs, so this was a common issue to him.
Dean said, ‘Okay, well I guess we’ll have to work on it Sunday afternoon.’
My dad then started laughing and Dean got irritated; the more irritated Dean got the harder my dad laughed. Finally, dad was laughing so hard he had tears running down his face and gave the phone to my mom saying, ‘I’m sorry – you’ll have to talk to him.’
Mom asked Dean what was going on, but Dean was so mad he hung up. Dad thought it was hilarious that he got Dean so caught up in the fact that the backhoe needed a carburetor that he failed to realize that backhoes don’t have carburetors!”
“Just last Monday he was lying in the hospital bed. He had to share a room with a nice man who had a visitor with an annoyingly loud voice.
This nice man must have been tired of the voice as well, because he asked the nurse where the remote to the TV was.
Well, my dad sat up and started looking for his own remote. He found it tucked under his sheets and then immediately volunteered it to his roommate in order to help the situation.”
On his impulsivity
“Back in the early 70’s, we were
having a gas crunch that was so bad, you were lucky if you were 10th in line at the filling station. My mom and dad went out for a bag of potatoes and they came home with a motor home.
Now you didn’t have to be very old to realize there was something wrong with this picture. Us kids just looked at them like, ‘What are you DOING?’ So, for the next year or so we went everywhere in the motor home because it was our only vehicle.”
On his storytelling qualities
“When I was very young, I asked him why the dirt was so red, and he told me it was red from the cowboys and Indians fighting…and was stained with Indian blood. The problem was that when he told stories, he always forgot to go back and tell you the truth later.
So about three or four years later I was riding somewhere with my mom and one of my friends. I decided to share my wisdom. I proceeded to tell my friend about the history of the cowboys and Indians.
When my mom overheard me she said, ‘Where in the WORLD did you year that?’ I replied that ‘dad told me.’ She was not surprised.
His grandkids, on the other hand, are not nearly as gullible as us kids or my mother was. When Johnny was about seven, my dad went off on one of his stories and Johnny said, ‘Yeah right, grandpa, and I saw Elvis!’ Dad loved it!”
On his parenting qualities
“My dad was a great disciplinarian. My mom would send him into mine and Kim’s bedroom at night to spank us for talking instead of sleeping. We had an agreement, he would hit the bed and we would cry.
My dad never had to discipline us kids, because he was so sweet we didn’t ever want to disappoint him.”
On his narrative
“When my dad knew he wasn’t going to see you for a while, he would hug your neck, hold your face in his hands, kiss you and say, ‘See ya in the funny papers!’”
“He always called the girls in his life ‘baby.’”
On his adventures and accident-prone life
“One day he came in and asked mom for some money. She asked, ‘What do you need money for?’ He replied, ‘Well, I went to Kerr McGee yesterday and pumped some gas, went in and paid for it, visited for a while, went back out to the car and left. But, I forgot to remove the nozzle from the car and ripped it out of the pump.”
Believe it or not, his happened twice!
“Another time my dad and Uncle Dean went to ‘Dean’s work yard.’ It was about 100 degrees outside and they needed to use a 5-gallon drum of tar. This tar had gotten very hot from sitting in the sun. They were struggling – trying to get the drum open and my dad was helping my uncle lean it over to get a better grip on the cap.
When it finally came off, it kind of burst and Dean tried to recap it…causing it to spray all over them instead of just shooting straight upward. Dean goes running over to the gas pump and has my dad pump some gas so he can wash out his eyes. Needless to say, this caused additional pain. So, Dean said, ‘Dub, let’s go to the hospital!’
Now dad was always very good at going with the flow…so he let Dean drive (the one who couldn’t see) a huge dump truck with a trailer attached to the back of it - - to the hospital. The hospital gets them all cleaned up in a mere three or four hours, and gave them back their clothes in a bag to be disposed of.
So, if you can picture two grown men in boots and hospital robes… And of course, Dean always wore a cowboy hat; the two walked to the truck and climbed in. They drove the truck back to our house where, of course, the whole stinking neighborhood finds interest in what a huge dump truck is doing in this nice little residential neighborhood.
Our street was a dead-end with an empty field at the end that flooded every time it rained. So, as Dean tries to turn it around, he gets stuck. My mom is so embarrassed she gets in her car, drives
down to the end of the street, and makes Dean get in the car. At this point, saying no to my mom wasn’t an option!
She takes Dean home and he changes his clothes, or actually just puts some on, so he can finish what he started. When my dad walks in the house he has been so cleaned up and wearing a hospital gown, our little dog didn’t recognize him and she bit him!”
On Providential Safekeeping
“The Lord was always watching out for my dad. He worked in heavy construction and was sent out to pick up a big truck for a job somewhere.
The brakes had been worked on the night before and apparently the job didn’t get finished – because as he was approaching an intersection equivalent to NW Expressway at rush hour, he just laid on the horn and traffic stopped as he sped through the intersection. He coasted to a phone booth and called his employer, said he was leaving the truck where it was, and that he quit.
He really and truly believed the Lord cleared the way for him.”
On the humor in their marriage
“My dad met my mom while he was serving in France. My mom and her girlfriend were sitting in a café, and my dad and a friend of his came up to them asking if they could sit with them. My mom said, ‘Sure! We were just leaving!’
Anyway, to make a long story short, my mom thought she didn’t like my dad, but he kept being so nice to her she just couldn’t resist him. I often heard him refer to her as his ‘French Okie.’”
“One time when he and mom lived in Norway, my mom wanted them to go to a friend’s house to visit but he said, ‘No, I’m going ice fishing.’
She was a little miffed, but – you know how men can be about their fishing. About 45 minutes after he leaves – he’s back.
She knew what had happened when he started using the downstairs bathroom to take a shower, but didn’t say a word to him until he brought up his wallet and then emptied it out so everything could dry. Evidently, he had fallen straight down into the hole he cut, then come back out of the water with his hat still on.
She looked at him, just smiled sweetly and asked, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’"