Sunday, March 8, 2015

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

                      "Who sabotaged my towel?!" my dad cried out in frustrated anger. "Someone hid some pins in my towel and they scratched me all up."
                I froze in my 8-year-old tracks, hiding in silence.
                I had a rocky relationship with my dad between the ages of 8 and 18. I was a perfectionist and often felt that I did not measure up in his eyes.  I was jealous of my sisters who seemed to effortlessly win his approval.  He could be gruff at times and my super-sensitive-self would wither under a disapproving gaze.  I won't deny I could be a brat towards him. I refused to sit next to him in church, to name one example.
                And I planted the pins in his hand towel.
                I didn't do it maliciously.  They were decorative pins and I thought they looked nice there, not thinking of the possibility they could do any harm.  It took me over 40 years but I finally owned up to it, though everyone else in my family had long since forgotten the incident.   
                When I left home, I made a choice to let go of any negative feelings I had towards my dad and hang on to all of the positive ones.  It was a good choice. I grew to appreciate my dad more and more over the years.  Few people have done as much as he has to make me recognize my own worth. 
                During my dad's last months of mortality, he grew very weak.  The once-simple effort of talking grew comparable to struggling against a tidal force.  He needed help but had a hard time expressing his needs.  As I took my turn serving as his caretaker, sometimes I'd get things wrong and he'd seem a bit impatient in letting me know.  In a flash, my childhood insecurities resurfaced and I saw myself as the disfavored child.  I told myself not to take it personally, that my dad's frustration wasn't about me, but rather the exertions that were wearing him down.
                Then came his final week.  One by one, his daughters visited to tell him goodbye.   The date of March Fourth came, which my Dad always liked to say was the only day of the year that could be issued as a command.  He thought it a fitting day to March Forth to the next life, but he held on a little longer in order to say goodbye to the rest of his children. I was one of the holdouts. I couldn't believe he was really going.  On March 6, 2014, Just a few hours before he died, I was at his bedside.  I did all the talking, telling him how much I love him, how his many letters will be such a comfort, how I learned valuable lessons from him.  I promised to take care of my mom and their cats.  He seemed grateful.  His eyes took on the look of the ancients--windows into an eternal soul.  I told him when I'd seen that look before in my daughter's eyes as she was sealed to us in the temple.  He seemed amazed by that.  I told him about the walk with the Savior two of my close friends had shared with me, recalling their Near Death Experiences.  "You're about to take that walk, Dad," I cried.  Though it was beyond his strength and ability, he reached up his arm to hug me and his head to kiss me.  Finally with all the strength he could muster, he grunted his last words, "I love you." To me.  His last words were to tell the daughter who unreasonably considered herself the cast-off, "I love you."  No balm of Gilead could ever be more healing. Suddenly, there was nothing left of the feeling that my dad didn't appreciate me. Absolutely nothing.  All those decades I'd lived thinking it was healed until he was on his deathbed when it resurfaced. And then nothing but complete, heartfelt love.
                His memorial service was a year ago today.  The day after that I felt like I was trying to hold onto life over the edge of a cliff.  I prayed for comfort and received the inspiration just to let go.  So I let go of the strain and the angst and found myself floating in love.  Many times over the last year, I've had a thought to share or a question to ask him.  Then it hits me in the gut that I can't talk to him anymore, so I move my thoughts heavenward.  I miss him and I hope I never finish my conversation with him.
Leslie Warren Williams
(1922 - 2014)

He was born to a farmer and teacher, John and Elsie Williams, the youngest of four sons. He nearly drowned in a watering trough as a toddler, but his life was saved by his twin brother, who caught their father's attention by circling the trough in alarm. 

In high school he ran the mile in 4:36 which was only 10 seconds more than the California state record and 30 seconds more than the world record at the time.

                He served in the US Navy during World War II as a radar technician because of his knowledge of Ohm's Law. (This despite the fact his technical abilities were such that, years later, operating a tape recorder took considerable coaching from his teenage daughter.)

He became intrigued by how differently sandy versus clay soils behaved, so he studied soil science at Brigham Young University.  This is where he met his lifelong love, Arlene Nelson.  The power happened to go out at a dance, but not before a lovely nurse caught his eye.  When her fluorescent watch glowed in the dark, he suavely approached her and asked if they could dance by the light of her watch.  A couple of months later, he asked her out.  She wondered what took him so long and then realized he had to buy a pink car for their courtship (she still laughs about this nearly 65 years later). They were married in 1951 and became the parents of six daughters.
                He mapped three million acres of land in California and Colorado for the US Soil Conservation Service (when mapping a mere million earned a life-time recognition award).

                He delighted in teaching Sunday School, loved writing and sharing poetry, took pleasure in gardening, and enjoyed reading about numerous topics, particularly Bible studies.  He loved folk songs of all heritages. He was a lifelong learner. He had some skill as an orator which he practiced in Toastmasters and on the stage of Springville's Villa Playhouse Theatre. He had a keen intellect, crunching numbers like a calculator, rattling off World Series stats and batting line-ups. He had the reputation that whatever he said, "you could take to the bank." One of his daughters quipped, "He was PC before it was PC to be PC," due to his genuine regard for human rights.

                My dad lived by the motto, "Do the duty that lies nearest to thee, and already the rest will be clear." He followed Langston Hughes' poem "Hold fast to dreams . . ." as a life theme.  He was extremely thoughtful of others. For example, when he drove past clotheslines with wash hanging out to dry, he would always slow down so as not to kick up dust.  He had impeccable integrity and inspired others with his poet's soul.  In his final months, it was a joy to serve him as he tenderly expressed gratitude for the smallest acts of caring.

My dad loved the sentiment from a verse in the apocrypha stating, "Let us now praise famous men," because it defines "famous" as those who have done good works and have posterity, for their glory will never fade. (Ecclesiasticus 44:1 - 14)

Here's to one of  the "famousest" of men.

For more, see lessons from Dad (and Mom) in Celebrating Sixty Years