On a rainy Wednesday afternoon last week I attended a funeral for a man named Chuck Gibson, my friend Laurie Mesa’s dad. Like most people, attending funerals isn’t one of my favorite things to do, especially after burying my mom and dad more than a decade ago. Since then, I’ve been to many memorial services to support friends and family, and I’m always inspired by the stories. In just a brief time, those in attendance learn something special about the person being honored.
Chuck’s service was no different. Other than being Laurie’s dad, I didn’t know him. Nevertheless, I joined his friends and family by laughing, choking up, and feeling warm inside while listening to the anecdotes. He was a family man, a good friend, and good neighbor. He was a tinkerer and a handyman who could fix anything no matter how complex. In that one hour, I came to admire Chuck for being a man who was selfless and always available to give a helping hand.
After the service, I went to visit my parents’ grave site at the same cemetery. Standing for just a few minutes in the rain, I said a prayer and reflected at their grave markers, and thought about them on my drive home. Although tales about my parents and people like Chuck won’t be told in history books, their small acts of kindness impacted people in ways they’ll never know. One Thanksgiving, my parents did something that left an indelible mark on my life.
My dad was old-school and taught us, through counsel and by way of example, to work hard, play by the rules, and have respect for ourselves and others. There was no variation from this formula. My mom was the epitome of the warm and loving maternal parent. She taught us unconditional love, faith, compassion, and perseverance. Even during the last days before in her death in 2003, she remained strong in her faith and convictions.
While any indiscretion on our part would be met with my dad’s scowls and rebukes, my mom would react with gentle counsel and loving support urging us to do better the next time. She was our biggest cheerleader encouraging us to be the best we could be. Each morning she would remind us that every day was good because God gave us another day, after each meal she insisted that we say “thank you God,” and she encouraged us to pray the “Our Father” before bedtime.
Although my mom never had much herself, she would share what she had with others to make their lives just a bit better. One evening, right after Thanksgiving, when I was about eight or nine years old, I remember a family calling at our front door. A young couple, with a little girl sitting in a rickety stroller and a baby boy sleeping in his father’s arms, stood at the porch. The man, in a whispered southern accent, explained to my mom that they were hungry and looking for something to eat.
It looked like they had been walking around for some time as the man was unshaven wearing dirty pants and shirt, and the woman looked tired with hollow eyes wearing a dress she may have made herself. My parents invited them into the kitchen and shared the few leftovers from our Thanksgiving meal from the night before, which I’m sure my mom was going to use to make some fried concoction for dinner. The couple gratefully ate at the small kitchen table like they were having a meal in a fancy restaurant.
After they finished eating, my mom packed a few more leftovers in a paper bag and wished them luck. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but I’m sure it was something like chopped up weenies scrambled with eggs and potatoes, our usual type of dinner on the days leading up to payday. How that young family came to our door and why they chose our house I’ll never know. I just know that my parents’ generosity that night was an incredible lesson in compassion and giving to others.
We always seem to wait until funeral time to celebrate the neighbor who helps fix the furnace on a cold winter night or a couple who opens their humble home to those less fortunate. In an age of 24-hour news and instant communication, heroes rise and fall in the blink of an eye rarely making a lasting impression on people. For me, it was good for the soul last week to spend an hour at a memorial service and a few minutes standing over my parents’ graves.
As families come together for Thanksgiving this week, I’m sure the dinner table conversations will include the latest about the NFL’s winners and losers, family gossip, and debates about politics. In those exchanges, we’ll be looking for heroes and villains to explain why things are the way they are. I’m sure that I’ll be a full participant in the banter, but I’ll also be sure to take a moment to be thankful for people like my parents and Chuck Gibson, the enduring heroes in our lives.