The piece below originally appeared on June 20, 2011.
Today was the day of my father’s memorial service. And it was also the day that I delivered my first eulogy. Thanks to a lot of kind souls and a lot of help, it turned out to be a beautiful service and was well attended. More than 60 people showed up to pay their respects to Thomas Hoyt Fuller.
The service was opened with remarks from retired Methodist Pastor Dabney Walters, with readings from the Old and New Testament, followed by my comments (see below). After I spoke, Pastor Walters offered a closing prayer. At the end of the service, the Honor Guard did their presentation of the Military Honors, an honor earned by my father’s years of service in World War II.
A sombre and soft version of taps wafted from the back of the room as the two soldiers – in their Army Dress Uniform – walked toward the front of the chapel with the flag, stood ramrod straight before us, gently unfurled the flag, and then refolded it. After it was folded into a triangle, one of the soldiers turned to me, and then slowly and methodically knelt directly in front of me. Looking directly into my eyes, he spoke softly and respectfully and said,
On behalf of the people of a grateful nation, may I present this flag as a token of appreciation for the honorable and faithful service your loved one rendered this nation.
Heretofore, I’d maintained my composure and hadn’t shed a tear, but when that young gentleman presented me with that flag, and spoke those words with such conviction and tenderness, I felt the tears come to my eyes. And everyone behind me and beside me was doing a whole lot of sniffling. It was a beautiful service, and it was a day I’ll always remember.
The eulogy I delivered today at my father’s memorial service follows the photos (below).
You may have noticed a statement in the obituary that said my father was moved into assisted living under “strong, strident and consistent protest.”
That’s an understatement.
But it doesn’t begin to describe how he felt when I took away his driving privileges.
Sometime in his late 80s, he became firmly convinced that four-way stop signs were an egregious violation of his constitutional rights and he’d roll right through those stop signs, boldly declaring, “I’m a veteran of WW2, and these stop signs violate those very rights I fought to protect!”
Frequently, he’d get pulled over by local law enforcement, but he told me one day that he’d never been ticketed, because he knew the magic words to say at such a time.
“I start shaking real bad when they ask me for my license,” he explained with a wry smile. “And then I tell them that I’ve already had three heart attacks, and that I’m feeling ill, and that I have to get home immediately so I can take my nitroglycerin tablets.
“They always put away their ticket book and tell me to get home and to be more careful next time.
“It never fails.”
In 2006, he called me and said that he’d had a little car trouble on I-264.
“I’m near the Rosemont Road exit,” he explained. I’m pulled over on the shoulder of the road, and I’ll wait for you here.”
Talking to him as I drove, I said, “Where exactly are you?”
“Oh, I’m easy to find,” he told me. “Just look for the fire trucks. They still have their lights flashing.”
“Fire trucks?” I said with my voice rising.
“Well, they put out the fire, but there’s still a lot of smoke rising from the car. You’ll be able to see me from miles away.”
When I got there, I found him – dressed in one of his fine suits – and standing next to a still-smoldering car. His engine had overheated and literally caught fire.
He got into my car and we got the Caddy taken care of. Heading back to the interstate, he said, “Listen, I was on my way to a dinner date with Cathy Creekmore. I need a ride out to her house and she’d love to meet you.”
I declined the date, and took him home.
After several more months of drama, which included the revocation of his driver’s license and disabling his cars, and removing the license plates from his vehicles and burying them under his azalea bushes in the front yard, and having two cops and one commonwealth’s attorney visit him in person and threaten him with arrest and criminal prosecution, he finally stopped driving, but it was under the most strong, strident and consistent protest.
In 2008, several weeks after he’d stopped driving, I dropped in on him one Sunday morning.
Walking up the front steps to his house, I saw the morning paper still resting on the porch stoop, and I felt a wave of panic.
He was an early riser and usually, he’d have read half the paper by now. Something must have happened to him.
I used my key and entered his spacious brick ranch, yelling his name repeatedly. No response. I moved through his house slowly and deliberately, gently pushing open each door.
As I entered the rooms one by one, I took a deep breath and steeled myself for whatever awaited on the other side, but he was nowhere be found. I left a note on his favorite table and went on to church.
He called me later that day to report that he’d caught an early ride to his church. He told me it was Senior Pancake Breakfast Day at church.
“I’m glad to hear from you,” I told him. “When I saw that newspaper on the front porch, I thought that maybe you’d…”
Died, was what I intended to say, but that sounded so cold and hard. In those fast few milliseconds when the brain scrambles to fill in any gaps in conversation, my alternate for “died” turned out to be a little wordy.
“I thought that maybe you’d…gone on to be with your parents.”
Immediately he replied, with the anger rising in his voice, “How am I going to get there? You took away my car!”
It was hard to know how to respond to that, so I did what I always do when the old man left me flummoxed. I changed the topic and asked what a Senior Pancake tastes like.
He answered by saying that he’d sat next to a beautiful woman at the breakfast and that even though she was 95 years old, she didn’t look a day over 75.
“A real babe?” I asked.
“The pancakes were excellent,” he replied. “And that reminds me, I need a ride to the liquor store soon. I’m almost out of booze.”
That’s Tom Fuller.
He was famous for documenting everything, and he’d take copious notes and then file them safely away. When I cleaned out the house on Briarwood, I found notebook after notebook on every topic imaginable.
The most interesting documentation was a small tablet I found in the living room. It was his “Roach Log.”
He started documenting the physical well-being of the roaches he found in his house, and their specific physiological reactions to being sprayed with toxic chemicals. Each entry was marked with a time and a date.
Knowing that I’d found the mother-lode of documentation, I immediately took a picture of the log and forwarded it to my children. They loved it.
One such entry read, “Unusually large roach found behind sofa. Sprayed at 8:32 pm, and adverse reaction was immediate. Re-checked at 9:15 pm. Legs still wiggling, albeit weakly.”
After he was moved into assisted living, my husband started taking bets on the odds that my father would be evicted from the beautiful facility within 30 days. Problem was, no one would take a bet on him NOT being evicted.
The manager of Province Place called regularly, and she was an angel. Just an angel.
The most interesting incident can best be described as “Grand Theft Rascal.”
Seems my father had walked to the Kroger behind the facility, and “borrowed” one of their electric scooters, and drove it back to Province Place, and parked it in a handicapped spot and then went inside the facility, and asked one of the female residents out on a date, explaining that “now he finally had wheels again.”
The last few years of his life were quite an adventure.
My happiest memory of Tom Fuller comes from my childhood.
When I was about 12 years old, I returned home from a school trip to Washington DC late at night. The chartered bus rolled up to our junior high about 1:00 in the morning and we all scurried off the bus and ran off to find our waiting parents. My father was waiting for me in his recently purchased car, a 1967 Buick Electra 225. It was 1971, but that was the newest used car he’d ever owned and he loved it. It had a 430 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor.
He told every one who’d listen that it was a one-owner car, and had been owned by a funeral home, so it had never been driven over 25 miles per hour. It was, in his words, a real cream puff.
My father and I were driving down High Street in the wee hours, headed west to our home in Waterview and the streets were deserted. I loved riding in the car with my father and I was so happy that he finally had a nice car. We spent many happy hours riding around in that car and talking, just father and daughter.
That powerful V-8 just purred as we rolled down the quiet streets. Relishing this quiet time with my beloved father, I turned to him and said those three simple words that every father longs to hear.
“Dad, goose it.”
He looked at me and smiled.
“Just this once,” I pleaded. “Let’s see what that V-8 will do. No one’s around for miles. Please Dad?”
He looked at the street for a moment, looked back at me and smiled.
“Hold on,” he said with a lilt in his voice.
And then he floored it.
You could almost hear that powerful engine whisper a quiet “thank you” in that millisecond before it roared to life. As the four-barrel carb drank in great quantities of fuel, those 360 powerful horses came alive. The torque was so powerful the car lunged a bit to the left as we took off. We hit 75 mph in the blink of an eye. That was one of the most delightful memories of my life.
My father eased his foot off the gas, hit the brake and we went back to 35 mph. Felt like we were standing still.
Next week, he took the car in for repairs. Turns out, that powerful torqueing and twisting had busted a motor mount which was an expensive repair. He told me about it later that week adding, “We won’t be doing that again!”
When I was 14, he left home one night, and for the next 30 years, by his choice, he was mostly absent from my life.
Thanks to the grace of God, at the very end of his life, I was able to be there for him, talk to him, comfort him, and kiss him on the forehead and tell him sincerely, “I love you Dad, and I always have loved you, and I always will love you.”
Sunday night, five days before he passed, he sat on the edge of his bed and made three simple statements, and they came from the depths of his soul.
He said, “Mother’s been gone a long time, hasn’t she?”
I asked, “Do you mean, Betty, my mother, or your mother?”
He said, “Betty.”
I said, “Yes, it’s been 10 years.”
He said, “She was the mother of my four children.”
I said, “Yes, that’s right.”
He said, “My four children turned out very well, didn’t they?”
I said, “Yes, your four children turned out well.”
I was comforted to know that at the end, my brothers and I were very much on his mind. It was like the pain-filled distance of those 30 years had closed a bit.
On Tuesday, his last good day, he told me that his parents had come to talk to him. He said they had a long talk, and a good talk. He also said that Betty had sat with him for a time, and they’d had a nice conversation.
He finally was at peace and was ready to go.
He passed on early Friday morning, and I was with him.
He came into this world surrounded by love, and 92 years later he stepped out of this world, again surrounded and embraced by love.
It was a good ending.
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