Monday, April 2, 2012
Eulogy for My Dad
My dad and I in February 2012 to celebrate his 84th birthday. My wonderful dad passed away last week; here is the eulogy my husband wrote and gave at his funeral today. I think he captured the spirit of my dad very well...
On behalf of the family, we would like to thank everyone for coming to remember Donald W. King. I am Michael Allen, Ruby's husband.
I knew Donald King for about 8 years. After less than a decade it is difficult to stand here and speak about a life that spanned over 8 decades. This room is full of people who have known him far longer than I have. So I am honored to be asked to speak today, and I hope my own limited thoughts and experiences are recognizable by those of you who have known Don for a long time.
In his younger years, Donald played football for Ironton High School. He was involved with the first black Boy Scout Troop in the state. Don was very happy when his grandson, Grant, joined scouts, following in his footsteps.
While in the Navy, Don was part of the crew that went to the South Pole with Rear Admiral Bird. He also traveled to Korea, Japan, and many other places around the world.
Donald King had a lifelong love of learning. He was always reading and was always watching documentaries and was always, always telling stories. He had a deep love of jazz and blues and had an extensive collection of blues recordings. He was a talented artist and would give Julius and me tips about our own artwork. I sat and talked with him often over the years, and he not only learned a lot in his lifetime but he taught a lot.
I learned a great deal from him.
that you can live a life of 80-some years, and be young almost through the entirety of it. Now, Don knew how to be young. He was a great dancer and a great skater and a great tennis player when he was younger. I was told he could even dance on skates. But I didn't know him back then. A few years ago though, I told him that I'd just bought a scooter, and he asked me, “How much do you weigh??” I said, “I don't know, I haven't checked in a while, why?” He told me he was just down at the flea market asking a guy about a scooter and the guy said he shouldn't buy one because he was too heavy for it, but here I was heavier than him with a scooter to ride. The unspoken part of that story is that Don was about 80 years old at the time, shopping for a scooter. And I'm not talking about a mobility scooter advertised on daytime TV, This was a mini-motorcycle. So you can be young almost your whole life and he certainly tried his best to do just that.
that you could put on a tuxedo, (and he actually owned the tuxedo), and you could go down to the club, sit in with the band, and play saxophone, and because there are more members in the band they make more money. Well that seems like a good thing to know, except Don didn't know how to play saxophone. He says he didn't need to, he just stood up there and held the thing and the club owner didn't know any different. It was called, “Playing dummy saxophone”. He said the only thing to watch out for is if the real musicians in the band are trying to mess with you, and they all stop playing at the same time while you're still standing there going through the motions with no sound coming out.
There were other times he would be a part of the band, when he was younger, in Baltimore. Don was the dance lead. He would get the crowd dancing and enjoying themselves. He loved to dance and did so whenever he had the opportunity. Tina and Ruby remember the formal balls that their parents used to go to when they were kids.
about corn liquor. I learned more about corn liquor than I think I ever needed to know. I don't drink. I learned more about corn liquor than I think anybody needs to know, really. But he loved to talk about it and like with most of his stories, I enjoyed listening. (I listened. That is how I learned all these things, you see.)
that “hustler” can be a term of endearment. Don used to go to the flea market where he had a whole bunch of friends and people to wheel and deal with. He would sometimes buy and sell things like lids for iron skillets and would make money selling them because he'd always have one in the right size. I told him about a time when I'd bought some microphones and I resold them for double the money, and he just smiled real big and said slowly, “Yeah .... you're a hustler ... heh heh heh” I never thought I would feel so proud to be called something like that. But Don had a great way of accepting other people.
from Don the feeling of being accepted. I felt welcome in his home and felt like part of the family. He always smiled when he saw me and we would spend hours talking in his living room. But a lot of other people felt accepted in his home as well. He and Hideko, his wife of 52 years, used to do a lot of entertaining. They would throw big family dinners that included people from all walks of life, so many friends who were more like family.
Don had a certain kind of strength. He always gave you the impression that he was the head of his family, he was the alpha male, the head honcho. This was the guy who got the corner brownie and the corner corn bread. He inspired respect, but I felt there was more than just a one-sided kind of respect, there was mutual respect and admiration. He was used to being right but was able to laugh at himself if he was wrong. He had plenty of his own opinions about a lot of things, but he also listened, and was willing to change his mind if you said something that rang true for him. That takes a certain special kind of person. It takes a lot of self-confidence to listen to what others have to say and be willing to change your mind or laugh at your mistakes. I always felt that he had this and I admired him for it.
One final thing I learned ...
I learned that you never know when the time is going to come. Ruby and I visited Don the day before he passed away. I never told him how much I enjoyed the time we spent together. I never told him how I admired him. I never said how he felt like a second father to me. I never thanked him for these things. I'm an optimist, and I guess I just figured there would be another moment to speak up. And 24 hours later, it was too late, and the moment was gone, another lesson learned.
So I missed that moment, and that is why I appreciate this opportunity to speak about him today. I have another, different kind of chance, to say thank you Don, for everything.
And thank you, all of you, again for coming here today, and for listening.