Saturday, April 14, 2007

In Memory of My Father

My father passed away on April 2, 2007. Dad had been battling a number of health problems for the better part of a year. These included COPD and a minor stroke he suffered last summer. He had just turned 73 on February 20th, and I'm glad I got to spend that week with him. Here is a copy of the eulogy I read at his funeral service, held last Saturday, April 7th:

Clarke McCullough Rainey was born on February 20, 1934. My sisters and I knew him as our father, but he was also a son, a brother, an uncle, a husband, a grandfather and a friend.

He liked to say that he was born in the middle of a snowstorm, which is why he was always trying to get warm. When he was born, one of the hospital nurses thought he looked like the baby from the comic strip “Baby Bunkie”, and from then on, he was known to his family as Bunk. As he grew up, friends and co-workers knew him as Red.

As a child, one doesn’t get to know their parents as anything but a parent, but my sisters and I have been lucky to have been able to get to know our Dad as a youngster and a young man through the countless stories we heard from longtime friends like Red Harvey and Charlie McCarthy, and our Uncle Bob and Aunt Gloria.

Dad himself was also an entertaining storyteller, and as children, my sisters and I would listen to many of his stories at family gatherings—many of which he told again and again. One of our favorite stories had to do with the time his brother, our Uncle Bob, who was six years older than Dad, had been scaring Dad by telling him that the shadows of trees were ghosts flying around their house. Dad became so scared that our Grandfather made Bob crawl the perimeter of the roof, with Dad watching from the windows, to show him that there were, in fact, no ghosts. The brothers also had teasing rhymes. Bob would tease Dad by saying “Skunky Bunky can’t go out, Skunky Bunky sit and pout”, and Dad would reply with “Slobby Bobby can’t go out, Slobby Bobby sit and pout”.

At age 11, Dad became an uncle for the first time. His sister Gloria had eight children and numerous grandchildren to whom Dad was an uncle and great-uncle. And for over six decades, Dad enjoyed friendships with Red Harvey and Charlie McCarthy, friendships that sustained him in good times and bad times, and we should all be similarly privileged.

Dad was also a lifelong baseball fan. He got his love of the game from his father, and he passed this love on to me. As you all know, being a Red Sox fan is far from easy, and I’m glad he got to see them finally win a World Series, and I’m especially happy that we watched the Series together.

Dad had a wonderful sense of humor, and he was always there for my sisters and I as an advisor and mentor. He wouldn’t always give us the answers we wanted, but he was always there to help pick up the pieces when needed.

Dad was always fairly easy going, and he and our mother Lenore were married for 38 years at the time she passed away on February 5, 1999. The old adage that opposites attract was true in their case, as Mum seemed to worry about everything whereas Dad tried to take everything in stride. Somehow, they both knew when to laugh at themselves and with each other.

One of our mother’s quirks was her fear that some small animal or animals has somehow gotten into the house because she would hear noises that she couldn’t readily explain. Dad would dismiss this as her simply hearing things or saying that “the house was settling”. One time, while watching TV at their home in Clinton, Mum thought she saw something zoom by out of the corner of her eye, and she told Dad about it. He dismissed it in typical fashion saying that it was just her imagination. The next thing Dad knew, Mom was screaming, “It’s a bat!” and then hit the deck. Dad’s response was “Lenore, what are you doing? You’re hurting yourself, there’s nothing there!” At which point, the non-existent bat dive-bombed Dad, which put an end to his usual easy dismissal of Mum’s claims.

Mum and Dad also loved their three dogs. The first dog was Silky, who joined the family in 1971, which did not thrill Dad at all. In fact, he was adamant that he’d have nothing to do with “it”. Of course, that proved to be the opposite of what happened as he soon began teaching the dog how to bark. Samson joined us in 1978, and was only around for a couple of years, but he would always make for Dad’s easy chair whenever he left the room. Foxy joined us in 1993 and was the constant lap dog companion, first to Mum, then to Dad until she died last year, and she was definitely Daddy’s baby girl. Not too bad for a man who at first wanted nothing to do with animals—especially dogs.

Both Mum and Dad shared a love of big band music, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and all the crooners. As kids, my sisters and I were subjected to Saturday evenings watching Lawrence Welk. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the torture would be increased when they would sing along and dance to the show’s music. This could be one factor that explains my love of heavy rock and heavy metal music. Judy, however, got our revenge by making him watch American Idol when he moved in with her. Dad also became quite a fan of Nickelodeon and Noggin as a result of his grandson Conor’s influence. Dad would counter by threatening to change the TV to the news whenever Conor misbehaved.

For nearly a year, Dad had been battling severe health issues—issues that led us to the painful decision to move him last September, to western Pennsylvania to live with Judy, her husband Ron and son Conor. This is ironic given the fact that, in the middle of Judy’s college years, Mum and Dad moved from Ashland to Clinton without giving Judy a forwarding address or phone number. Chris thought that we were in the clear, but Judy eventually tracked us down, despite our best efforts.

During most of the last six months Dad got to be with Conor, which was time well spent enjoying his grandson’s liveliness and developing personality. Although the house was far from quiet, with two dogs (Midas and Murry) and a four-year-old running around, the energy within probably helped him sustain his health better than he otherwise would have.

While Dad was in hospice, he made it clear to everyone that he was a Massachusetts boy, and the nurses all referred to him as Mr. Boston. He wasn’t able to talk on the phone, but he did ask us to call all of you, Gloria, Harv, Charlie and the rest of you, to say that he was thinking of you, and how much he loved all of you.

It’s impossible to tell you all about our Dad in just a few minutes. We have tried to share with you some of the highlights and interests of our family. He was very special to us and we will miss the stories, the laughter and the love.

My Mother, Lenore, passed away on February 5, 1999, long before I began blogging, so this tribute to my father is also, as you can read, a tribute to her. I'll be taking a break from posting for a bit due to the demands on my time in tying up some loose ends having to do with Dad's estate. My thanks to those friends, neighbors and co-workers for you support for me and my sisters during this difficult time. It means a lot to us.

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