"Where the Flowers is..."One of the great things about writing a personal blog, even one such as this, is that you get to write about whatever and whomever you want. One the of the hardest things about it, though, is that sometimes the things or people you want to write about are so close to you that it's difficult to do. I don't know exactly why. Maybe it's because you're exposing a piece of your heart to the world. Is that such a bad thing? I seem to wrestle with this a lot. In the end, I think it is only right to share that which is special to us with others, so that they, too, may be enriched in some way. And so it is with my husband's late parents, "Bing" and Pat Tully, both of whom were like a second set of parents to me.
How Dad Impacted the World
The following is taken from a remembrance I gave about Dad just after his death at age 85:
As we gather here today to remember Bing, I find myself also remembering his wife Pat, who died during a very stormy January ten years ago. Back then it seemed that the whole earth was missing her. Even the clouds were shedding tears.
But today, here we are, celebrating Bing and his birth unto new life, and it has been a sun-filled day and a bright, sun-filled week. And somehow that, too, seems right, doesn't it?
Welner Clayton "Bing" Tully - I have to call him Dad from here on out, because he really was like a second father to me - well, he was like the sun: shining brightly, filling our lives with his sunny smile and warm sense of humor.
He loved this time of year and never failed to entertain us with one of his silly rhymes, remembered just for the occasion:
Spring is sprung
The grass is riz,
I wonder where
The flowers is?
He certainly would have loved all these flowers here today. But even more, he would have loved to see all of you. We'd like to think that he does see you - from Heaven, where he is finally reunited with Pat, his parents, his sister Vivian, and the rest of his family. They must be very happy.
So why are we sad? We miss him, his smile, his twinkling blue eyes, his gentle ways, his corny jokes. This simple man, humble to the end, who managed a faint smile and thanked his nurses for their help, just minutes before he took his last breath. We couldn't get enough of him, and here we sit, wishing we had more time with him.
If he were here, he'd probably have this to say: Things could be worse.
I'm sure many of you have heard him say this throughout his life. No matter how bad the situation, he always found a way to look at the bright side of life. And whenever he said this - things could be worse - people just felt better. Yes, they'd agree, it could be worse, so maybe things weren't so bad, after all. Hearing those words seemed to give people the strength and encouragement they needed to get through whatever challenges life had given them.
Dad's life was not without its own challenges. He and his older sister, Vivian, went to live with their father's sister Amelia (nee Tully) Bining when their parents became ill and unable to care for them. It was the beginning of the Great Depression, and Amelia, who lived in a poor area of East Los Angeles, had children of her own and must have wondered how she would make ends meet with two new mouths to feed. But..."things could be worse."
Amelia couldn't say no to her family, and she raised Dad and Vivian as her own. She had little money but lots of live. Dad grew very close to her. He worked alongside her in her little grocery store, learning enough Spanish to help the customers, and he took on odd jobs to help the household. As soon as he was old enough, he moved out on his own so he would not be a burden on his aunt. He eventually the Army and was sent to India and Burma as a radio operator.
After the war, Dad returned to California and put down roots in Santa Monica, going to night school and earning a Bachelor's degree in engineering. He dated his fair share of ladies but was smitten in particular by Patricia Fay, a dark-haired, independent and fun-loving young woman who lived in the apartment below his. Pat's confidence belied her own struggles, having been orphaned just after her 15th birthday. I think they must have been good for one another and maybe together resolved not to let these tragedies get the worst of them but rather make the world a better place in spite of them.
Dad had a child-like sense of wonder, which endeared him to any kid who knew him. When Charles and Kathy were little, he was always helping them build things, or steady them on their bikes, or take them off to play tennis and grab a milkshake on the way home. All the kids in the neighborhood knew that Bing was fun on two feet, and many of them would knock on the door to ask if he could come out to play. He lay out on the grass with them, telling stories about the clouds, hung tire swings from trees, and built clubhouses out of boxes.
When our own kids were babies, he'd bundle them up in his navy blue terrycloth robe and quietly rock them to sleep. He and Michael used to take trips to Home Depot to buy supplies for projects, read astronomy books together, or camp out in the back yard.
Our own kids could not get enough of Grandpa. We recently learned that sometimes they would fake being sick from school, just so they could spend the day at his house. When a TV show called Pokemon was all the rage, Dad bought a Pokemon poster with pictures of the 100 or so characters on it. He framed it and hung it in his living room, and he memorized all the character names so he'd know who the kids were talking about.
There's this little yellow Pokemon character, kind of a fur ball and cuddly, with with big eyes, called Pikachu. Kevin loved Pikachu. So one day, Dad found a paper cup at a garage sale, with a Pikachu on it. Every time we'd go to visit Dad, he'd get that cup out, fill it with something or other and give it to Kevin. Then he'd carefully rinse and dry the cup so Kevin could use it again next time. This went on for about a year, until the cup finally fell apart. I think Dad was more upset about it than Kevin.
The kids loved rummaging through the house, because Dad always had some kind of treasure there. Once, when Kevin was about 5 or 6, he found a book of matches and brought them out to Dad's back yard to ask if he could light them. Dad said, yeah, fine, just do it in the dry grass so you won't catch the good grass on fire.
Once, when I was at work and Dad was taking care of Erin, he fell asleep in his chair on the porch. Erin was just learning to tie her shoes, and she got this bright idea to tie the laces on Dad's boots together. So she tied the laces over and over in tiny knots. Then she ran into the house to hide. Her giggling woke Dad up, and he called her to help him, but she thought she was in trouble, so she locked the front door and sat on the couch to watch cartoons. Dad worked his way over to the window. He started knocking and startled her so much that she fell off the couch. Neither of them could untie all the knots, so she had to get a pair of scissors and they cut the shoelaces to get the boots off of Dad's feet. He wore Velcro after that experience.
Dad wasn't beyond his own sense of mischief. Over the last year and a half, while he lived with us, he and Sugar, our Golden Retriever, became constant companions. Dad loved to feed Sugar, especially when he had no appetite but didn't want anyone to know. In the morning he'd always have two slices of raisin toast, but on the days he couldn't eat he'd wait until my back was turned and slip the toast to Sugar, who was only too happy to help. Once in a while I would catch them in the act, and Dad would give me that sheepish grin of his as if to say, "gotcha!"
Perhaps due to his Depression experience, Dad was a thrifty man, saving odds and ends for a rainy day or a chance to help someone else. I think I could safely say that they helped most of the people who knew him in one way or another. He never talked about it much, unless he wanted you to know where he'd been so no one would worry. But the little things he did meant a lot, and it gave him great joy to know he'd erased someone else' burden a bit.
He once pulled over the side of the freeway near Santa Maria to help a stranded traveler. He drove the man to a restaurant, bought him lunch, and got him a motel room, then went back and worked on the man's car so he could be back on his way the next morning. He did things like this various times, and when we'd find out, we'd worry that someone might take advantage of him, but they never did. It was as if he had an angel on his shoulder.
Another time, when he was living in his little house in the Rose Garden neighborhood, Dad saw a homeless man pushing a grocery cart down the street. He went out and gave the man some fruit, then invited the man to come back to the house once a week, so Dad could give him soda cans and bottles to recycle.
He retired early from his job so he could care for Mom when her health declined. It was a busy retirement, even after Mom died. Dad was never idle. With his engineer's mind, he loved mechanical challenges and was always fixing cars or appliances for us or others. "Why call someone else when I can fix it better and for less?" he'd chide you gently. He got a kick out of mowing neighbors' lawns and sweeping their gutters, or giving friends a ride to the grocery store.
His neighbors knew they always could count on him for a hand with anything. He never could say no to anyone and made time for all. To him, what is important in life is not how much you have but in how much you give to others. "My pleasure is double when they come to me in trouble," he loved to say.
In the last year and a half, Dad's health began to decline. His latest heart attack and kidney disease began taking their toll on his once strong body. He had difficulty caring for himself and began to lose his short term memory. He got in his car one chilly afternoon in February and disappeared for several hours.
Chuck combed the Rose Garden and beyond, hoping to find his Dd in one of his favorite haunts, but no luck. We got a call at about 6 o'clock that evening from a worker at the Taco Bell in Mountain View. Seems that after becoming lost on the freeway, Dad had pulled off the road and was in a daze. The Good Samaritan, who was on his lunch break, recognized something was wrong, took Dad to his house and fed him, then brought him back to work with him at Taco Bell while he tried to find Dad's family.
Days later, we learned that Dad has driven all the way to the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco, where the parking lot attendant helped him into the lobby for a cup of hot coffee while he checked the tires and fluids and sent him back on his way again. A fitting assist for a man who'd done much the same for another stranger many years ago.
Dad came to live with us after that. Though he came back from his many health setbacks like a cat with nine lives, he never really recovered fully and preferred lying on the couch, reading poetry, watching Judge Judy on TV, and discussing the day's events. No longer could he do many of his favorite things, yet he never complained.
He was always grateful for the slightest thing and took pleasure in listening to his grandchildren tell him about their day. On good days, he'd quote Shakespeare or Kipling, who he loved. Once he read me a new poem, in his then-halting voice. It went like this:
True worth is in doing, not seeming -
In doing, each day that goes by,
Some little good - not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by.
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth,
There's nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And straight, for the children of men.
We cannot make bargains for blisses,
Nor catch them like fishes in nets;
And sometimes the thing our life misses
Helps more than the thing which it gets.
For good lieth not in pursuing,
Nor gaining of great nor of small,
But just in the doing, and doing
As we would be done by, is all.
- Nobility, by Alice Cary
When he finished reading, he studied the poet's name closely, as if trying to memorize it. "Hmm...Alice Cary," he said slowly. "Well she must have been a pretty nice gal."
On really good days, Dad would mosey over to the window and marvel at the flowers. He loved the purple hibiscus and lavender roses out front, and he'd remind us that purple was his favorite color, though he'd add that he looked best in blue. He missed his friends but relished getting cards and calls from them and would read the cards over and over again.
In recent months, as his gaze became more distant, I used to ask him what he was thinking about. He'd smile slyly and reply with a wink, "I'm thinking about my wicked past."
When he went to the hospital three weeks ago, he was exhausted and weak. It was hard to be cheerful, but he mustered a smile for us and the hospital staff, never one to give a hard time. After all, he managed to whisper, things could be worse.
I think that what brought him the most comfort in his final days was seeing Charles and Kathy and Michael and Kevin and Erin. His eyes lit up when they entered the room. It was clear just how proud he was of all of them. They and Mom (Pat) were the core of his life.
I have no doubt but that Dad's memory will live on in our own lives. He would have liked most of this - knowing that we are remembering him here today. The one thing he might have scoffed at is the idea that we chose the poem we just read to remember him. The title is "Nobility." Dad never would have thought of himself as "noble" but rather as someone just trying to live his life the only way he knew how. Still, I think it's a fitting title for a poem about someone who put others first. Sorry about that, Dad, but remember..."things could be worse."
Now I think I know "where the flowers is." He was our sunshine, and we were his flowers.
Thanks, Dad. We love you.
Did you know any of the people mentioned in this story, or are you a member of the Hoppin, Tully, Fay, Moreno, or Binning families? If so, share your own memories and comments below.