left: Paul Davis, Vance Taylor, Sammy Taylor right: Vance, Irene & Randy Pitzak, mom and Sammy (photos taken by Skip Huntress after the funeral service October 20, 2018)
How do you honor the life of your dad in a 10 minute talk? It had been a busy week…and actually just overwhelming. By Thursday night we had made all of the phone calls we needed to make, solidified plans with both the mortuary and cemetery. Annie, Alex, Mike and his family had arrived. Everybody had gathered that night for dinner at our house. We finished the slideshow. Next on my list was to create the program and to write my talk. I knew that I wanted to talk about my dad’s generosity. Unfortunately, the thoughts and stories I wanted to share were not coming to me clearly. I was exhausted. I sat down after many of our guests that night had left, and saw that I had a text message from Morena. She forwarded a letter she had written to my mom, my siblings and me. She asked me to share it, especially to the children (my dad’s grandchildren). I knew immediately that it was exactly what I wanted to say at the funeral. She was an answer to my prayer.
At the viewing, the morning of the funeral, we were greeting friends before the service. We were all stunned to see Vance with his sweet wife Casey and their daughter Sammy enter the room. They drove through the night from Sacramento, CA to be there. Vance is Morena’s youngest child and only son. He is also a dear friend to our family. Tears rushed to our eyes the second we saw his face…and love filled our hearts. Driving all that way—and then turning around right after the service to drive back would be a huge sacrifice for anyone, but especially Vance.
When grief is shared…it is lightened and your heart grows stronger. The love that Morena, Vance, Casey & Sammy shared with us this week will always be remembered.
My talk that includes Morena’s letter:
My dad wrote in his memoir-
“The saddest memory was when one morning my dad left for work and never returned. No one could believe that he would just up and leave. There was a lot of heartbreak and tears, coupled with disbelief because we all loved him so much. There was an effort made to find out what happened, along with inquiries made regarding his whereabouts, but he had totally disappeared. I remember going outside and sitting on top of the road bank of red Texas clay and crying. I kept saying it was a mistake and that he wouldn’t leave me, but in the end, I had to accept that it was true. I don’t know if I ever really got over that hurt.”
He was 4 years old.
This experience molded my dad into the man he became.
He wanted to help those who were down on their luck.
He had such great respect for his mother and the plight of single mothers.
We always knew that family was his first priority…and that we had him forever.
My dad was not a man of great financial means- yet there was always enough to give to those “down on their luck”…cars to struggling teenagers, money to hungry college students, rides to stranded hitch-hikers and buying a meal for a hungry mother and her children. He never talked of any of the service he gave…sometimes we were lucky enough to be by his side to quietly observe. Our home was always open to friends…any day or night. As a teenager, I was fortunate enough to have three friends live with our family at different times. My dad wrote of that experience- that he was grateful that those friends trusted us enough to share our home and association. He loved them as his own.
His respect for motherhood began with “Gertrude Arrington” his mother. He wrote,
“My heart swells with pride to write her name and I doubt if I can do her justice with my pen. She was one of the most gallant women that ever lived and though she had some shortcomings, I know of no one who could surpass her as a mother. Our family should always be proud to know that her blood and courage are flowing through our veins.”
Raising 9 children in the depression was a difficult task…raising them as a single mother was an impossible one. She worked in sewing rooms day and night…and picked fruit and cotton whenever the work was available. He had a front seat to her struggle and he never forgot it. We have had friends reach out since my dad’s passing that have shared their experiences of his generosity. I realized this week that most of these individuals were being raised by single mothers themselves.
Our dear friend Morena asked me to share her experiences of my dad. We met Morena in Petaluma, CA. She was a single mom raising three beautiful teenagers: Martha, Kathy & Vance. Vance and Kathy have muscular dystrophy. She shared a story with me this week that I didn’t know he was a part of. Morena used a van to transport her family. Vance and Kathy had to really bend their heads to get in and out of the van because it wasn’t retrofitted. It was difficult for them. She also had a heavy wooden ramp to get them in and out of the van.
“One day he just showed up at my house and told me to call such and such place to make an appointment for the van. He explained to me that he had talked to some people in the community and had gathered enough funds to get the van retrofitted by a certified dealer, so the kids would not have to strain, trying to avoid hitting their heads. And just like that, I took the van and had it done and a brand-new pair of very light steel ramps came with it. We still have those ramps and they continue to be so very useful. When Eagle Scout project time came for Mike, there was again Bob’s influence and help. Mike could have chosen from so many projects but he chose to do a concrete ramp for our house so that the kids could get in and out of the house in a safe way. I know that Bob had much to do with that decision and Mike was very thrilled to do that service for us. All through the day, there was Bob making sure that everything was being done just right, working along with other men that I am sure he and Mike had recruited and not allowing me to worry about providing food because he brought lots of food and snacks for everyone to enjoy while working on the project. That cement ramp will forever be a reminder of that beautiful day and of a most kind and generous Bob Miller and his son Mike. Years later, my daughter Kathy decided to move to Salt Lake City seeking opportunities. Bob and Connie had already moved to Salt Lake. I called Bob to let him know that Kathy would be moving there. Once again, there was Bob looking all over for accessible apartments for Kathy and looking for areas where he thought her needs would be best met. He found the right apartment and we just had to go there and take care of the paperwork. In between all these experiences, there were all the many dinners and family gatherings that he always invited us to. His house was always full of people and he was always cooking some delicious food. My kids had a very happy teenager hood in-spite of their circumstances in large part because Bob in one way or another was always including them in their family’s activities. They knew he was a trusted friend who really cared for them. Now you know some of the things that Bob did for our family. But most importantly, I wanted your children to know it, so they can always remember what a great legacy their grandfather left them. I am thankful that I know we will see Bob again.”
My dad’s legacy is not in possessions…or worldly acclaim. Most people don’t know his name. And we, as his posterity, don’t know all of the good he has done in the world. What we do know is that he loved us. We know that family was first for him…and forever. We know to look for those down on their luck…and to do something about it…even if all we have to give is a smile, a warm meal…or a story of our struggle. The final paragraph of his memoir states exactly what he expects of us-
“I could write on forever but I think this is the point where all of my family should take over the story and expand on what has been written here. Your children will appreciate reading it someday and it will be your testimony to them. I love Mom and all of you with every fiber of my being. You have all made my life worth living.”
Just as my dad said of his mother…I will say of him…
My heart swells with pride to say his name…I can’t do justice with my words…He was a man of integrity, optimism, kindness, and perseverance. Our family will always be proud to know that his blood and courage are flowing through our veins.
I will be forever grateful for Morena and Vance and the honor they showed to my dad and the friends they have always been. I hope to be the kind of friends that they are in the world.
my dad and Vance- scanned from my parent’s photos: taken at the Petaluma Memorial Day breakfast in the early 90’s
their last visit- Memorial Day 2018 at my parent’s home