Even in his last hours, Dad had a smile that could light the shadows of a room and chase away despair. He was that kind of man - the hail fellow with a bit of wit on his lips and the glitter of companionship in his eyes. No one ever minded seeing Don Watson walking toward them down the street. He was easy to be around, essentially forgiving in his nature, and blindly enthusiastic in his almost child-like wonder at anything that he found interesting, which made for quite a list.
Fishing (always at the top). Storms. Horseshoes. Cars. Boats. Power tools. Sharks. Dogs. Cats. Machines of almost any kind. James Bond movies. Castles. Model trains. Trees. Flowers. Drawing and painting. The History Channel. The Discovery Channel. The Weather Channel. Square-rigged ships. Miniature golf and the Masters. Bagpipes. Tommy Dorsey. Buddy Rich. War movies. Battlefields. Hats in all shapes and sizes. Any meal in any restaurant. Any beach on any coast. Songbirds and a whistle. Singing in the choir.
But most of all, Dad loved his family. This was easy on Christmas morning when the rollicking sounds of grandchildren mixed with the smell of pine and all the world was cool and jolly. Dad loved those occasions more than anyone. He'd wear his goofy hats, mix the drinks, and make the rounds. But anyone can do that. What made Dad's commitment to his family, to his marriage of 51 years, so special was his determination during the harder times.
Dad might not have wanted it well known, but he worked three jobs simultaneously for several years in the 1980s to put his children through school, pay the mortgage, and keep food on the table. After his full-time and part-time newspaper jobs, he'd often go home and put on a uniform - dark blue shirt, navy slacks, and heavy shined black shoes. We thought of them as Dad's "guard shoes" because he was moonlighting as a night watchman, running on coffee and four hours sleep - and a commitment to his family that he would not break. Most people who knew our Dad will remember his great good cheer, his quick one-liners, and his smile. But his family won't forget those shoes.
The American songwriter Lou Reed once wrote that if he had to pin one crucial aspect to the elusive quality of love, he'd choose time. How we decide to spend our time, and who we spend it with, is the simplest possible formula for determining the reality of love, a calculation free of roses and flowery words and good intentions. It's a formula that fits our father, because he always made time - and he gave his time freely. He never left. He was always there. His presence was the deeply-rooted foundation of our lives. It's a lesson that his nine grandchildren will undoubtedly understand clearly in the years ahead as they build their own lives and families. Alexandra, Veronica, Sean, Timothy, Daniel, Kelsey, Samantha, Devon and Conor were the leading lights of Dad's third act in life and he spent the best of times reveling in their young spirits.
In his last three months at home, Dad offered another lesson in perseverance and strength. Sometimes it's hard to find dignity in this world. But anyone who visited that bedroom and spent time there found dignity. Cared for so faithfully by our mother throughout his long illness, Dad was still the same "big guy" even as he grew smaller. It was a great gift to spend that time with Dad, watch a little television, listen to some music, and talk over the events of the day. He couldn't speak much but he'd still find a way to express his amazement with a simple "wow!" at something on television or a story from the world outside that room. The smile was constant, and the quips were still there. A few weeks ago, he was asked by a visitor if there was anything he needed. "Yeah," he said, his eyes sparking with mischief. "How about Elizabeth Taylor?"
Even in those dusky twilight days, Dad still provided the spark. And he still does now. His favorite poem was about a simple man going about his daily rounds - "picking them up and putting them down," as Dad would say. The man was Leerie the Lamplighter in Robert Louis Stevenson's poem from A Child's Garden of Verses, who lit the way each night to the delight of children who felt safer for his presence.
My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky. It's time to take the window to see Leerie going by; For every night at teatime and before you take your seat, With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.We were very lucky, indeed. Dad was our Lamplighter, the friend of the children and most faithful of men. We'll miss him on his rounds every day. But we'll carry his light with us.
Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea, And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be; But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do, O Leerie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you!
For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door, And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more; And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light; O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!
Thank you, Dad. Fond love, always.
Donald W. Watson
______________________________________________________________ Note: This was my father's eulogy. He died on Tuesday morning and was buried yesterday. Things have been quiet around this address for quite some time, but I hope to return to these precincts more often in the coming months. Thanks for everyone's kind thoughts.