Losing a piece of history

We laid to rest one of the world’s best storytellers, and the world is a little less bright with his passing. My father-in-law was born back in the early 1930s long before there were televisions in every room, YouTube at your fingertips, and books with digital ink. As a boy, he filled his time planting beans, potatoes, and other crops to help feed his family. He grew up in the rocky hills of southern West Virginia. Families were big and money wasn’t always plentiful. Richard’s father was a preacher, but I’ve heard tales that he might make a bit of moonshine if the mood struck him.

The lessons he learned in his youth sustained him throughout his life. Richard raised the best garden in the neighborhood and would share his bounty with friends and family. Many people received the gift of his bright red tomatoes or home canned green beans. Too bad his preacher didn’t like green beans. At his funeral service, Pastor Tim Dixon told the story that Richard would never call him by his first name. He would always say, “Preacher, how are you?” Never Tim, always Preacher. My father-in-law was old school like that. As we followed the hearse to the small cemetery hidden on a back country road, cars pulled over and waited for us to pass like they used to do. I guess Tennessee is old school, too. I guess that’s why Richard liked living there so much.

When his four children gathered together to mourn Richard’s passing, they also celebrated his life. They learned that their father kept meticulous records. Every day, he wrote the temperature, if there was rain or frost, and what crops he planted on a wall calendar in his kitchen. In a small box in his woodworking space, there was a box of carved wooden toys. I looked them up and they are called gee-haw whammy diddles. I doubt that’s what he called them, but they are simple toys guaranteed to bring a smile. Simple things for a man who appreciated the simple things in life. He had no need for a mansion on the hill during his lifetime because he knew one waited for him after his death.

Richard’s meticulous recordkeeping!

Richard was a generous man, too. He didn’t have much, but he and his wife, Linda, shared anything they had to help other’s in need. He never asked for money. He did it because he knew it was the Christian thing to do.

Richard loved to tell his children and grandchildren about his days growing up in West Virginia. Although I am sure he experienced heartbreak and pain in his 87 years here on the big, blue marble, his stories were never sad, and they were guaranteed to make you smile. Now, those stories are lost except in the memories of his family and friends who were fortunate to pass a few minutes listening to him tell them.

Richard Lilly & Noel

As you gather around your holiday table this year, when your parents and grandparents tell the same story they may have told last year and the year before, don’t tune them out. Lean in closer and pull each word into your heart and memory. When the storyteller is gone, pull those memories and stories out of the dusty reaches of your mind and retell them to yourself, your children, and your friends so the stories may continue to live.


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