I will remind you here at the beginning that it is all right to laugh, and of course it is all right to cry.
I think my father had a good life. In many ways he was very lucky. Anyone married to our mother for nearly 50 years would have to be considered lucky. For many of those years he lived in a fine, handsome house — his house — on three of the most beautiful acres of land as could be found anywhere on earth — his land.
Now his children may have been a more mixed bag of luck. Some of us may not have turned out exactly as he might have wanted. But there was never any doubt that he loved us, and never any doubt he treated each of us equally, not favoring the righteous over the not so righteous, the loud over the more quiet, the obnoxious over the less than obviously obnoxious.
He and Mom raised good children, and in the end he showed a parent’s greatest love, by letting us go on to become exactly who we wanted to be, never meddling, always pulling for us in our struggles, loving us regardless, and always, always praying for us.
A man starts out as a son, and today for a moment we remember his parents, Grandpa and Grandma Porter as well. It was Grandpa who taught Dad how to fish, and he was always happy with a pole in his hand and a hook in the water, a love he passed on to two of his six children, and in baseball three hundred is a good average.
Grandpa taught Dad how to fix and tinker and fool with, the same as Dad taught me and others, the fruits of which have adorned and plagued our various houses for years.
Dad went to college and became a geologist, and from there to war as a pilot, nearly being killed three different times in training accidents, a fact he told me once that began his religious search.
After the war he married Mom and us kids, one-two-three-four-five-six came along, nearly as fast as that, and after a life time of not being a church going man, Dad decided there was something missing and thus began his spiritual journey, a journey that was a key to his life.
Dad began to read the Bible, not just to read it, but to study it, not just to study it, but to devour it, and in the end he would breathe its words as naturally as a man would walk. And he decided that God wanted him to keep the Sabbath.
Now at this time Dad worked for Shell Oil and at this time people worked six days a week. But Dad didn’t want to work on the Sabbath. So he left, or they fired him.
At this same time Dad picked a doctrinal difference – not the last time this would happen – with the church we belonged to, and they kicked us out and cursed us, and told my Mother she would soon be a widow.
And in this time we were poor, and lived often on what we grew in the garden, and one hard winter when my brother’s shoes were accidentally put in the trash and burned and there was no money for new ones, my Mother wept.
But Dad would not go back to Shell Oil and he would not go back to the church that threw us out, and he felt if he stayed true to what he believed then God would bless him.
And God did.
I remember his clothes that Mom showed us, that were covered with oil from a well that had finally come in, and soon we moved to that handsome house on those fine three acres, and he had the three things that most marked his life: his family, his home and his spiritual journey.
Now Dad was not particularly playful. Jokes and wise cracks were not his forte. He was reserved and he had a presence. Even if he did not speak you knew he was in the room. But he did make two of the most outstandingly playful toys imaginable: a bag swing and the monorail.
Now there are other bag swings, but surely none more perfect than the one we had, swinging down the steep hill and back to its stand. And for those of us who were there, we cannot forget the sight of our father, all two hundred and ten pounds of him then, stretched prone on that tree limb, twenty-three feet above the hard ground, while Mom stood below, wringing her hands and crying, “Be careful, Jim.”
There might be one or two bag swings that are better. But the monorail, ah, the monorail. There was a feat of engineering and whimsy, of playful uniqueness, a one of a kind wonderful back yard toy never duplicated, and it was Dad who made it. What a shame we didn’t have camcorders then, so we could prove it was every bit as wonderful as we remember.
Now there are other stories I could tell you of Dad, of the camping trip to Colorado when he urged Mom from her warm sleeping bag early one cold morning. So she finally got up, none too happy, saying, “What? What?”
“Just look at how that fog hangs on the water, honey.” She could have smacked him one.
Or the time, as all of us watched from the front picture window, when he killed a coyote at a hundred yards with a single shot. Years later he told us, “You know, I was as surprised as that coyote by that shot.”
But mostly I think we will remember Dad for his great passion for the Bible, for his endless study of its words, his journey to get closer to God, to understand what God wanted him to do, and how he became filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
There were many people who would go see Dad, to be prayed over, to be taught, to be healed. There is no counting the number of pilgrims and refugees who passed through our house. Whenever I came home from my various travels there would be new ones and he my Mother would always welcome them. To my knowledge, they never turned anyone away, and there were scores of them.
I sometimes tell people I never heard my father use a single swear word, and never once heard him raise his voice to my mother, and they are astonished. But it is true.
Now he was not a saint. I’m not trying to tell you he was. But he was a good man, a man of great character and integrity, and most difficult of all, he was a righteous man.
Perhaps the best measure of a man’s life can be found in how many days he gets to spend doing exactly what he wants with his time. When I think of Dad I will remember him on the patio, the sunlight slanting from across the river and through the trees, in that serene and beautiful place that was his home, the Bible open on his lap, as evening was coming on.
Faith is the measure of the hopefulness of man, that his deeds on earth will let him know peace, now and through the ages. I think my father had a good life. I think he is now in a place of peace.
February 15, 1997
Valley Center, Kansas