Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham
Sorry that I’m keeping this personal again this week.
Those who read last week’s column know that my father, William Mark Graham, Billy, as he was known by most, Dad or Papa, by some of the others of us, passed away on Jan. 2.
It was sudden and quite unexpected – we had an autopsy done, and the preliminary report lists as the cause of death a pulmonary embolism, basically a blood clot gone awry.
After a lot of soul-searching, my sister and I decided to do a personal service – with me delivering the eulogy.
Which seemed like an easy thing for me to do – until I had to actually do it.
I want to share with you here the eulogy that I read during Dad’s service on Sunday.
If you take the time to read along, you might learn a little bit more about him.
Those of you who were able to make it out last night to the visitation might have heard one of the songs on the CD that my sister and I put together to honor our father’s memory, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
We both thought it appropriate because Billy Graham was a simple kind of man.
I mean that endearingly, because a lot of us are.
I know I am.
The fundamental thing that made Billy Graham who he was was that he liked to smile.
And that he liked to make others smile.
And his policy regarding both of the above goals was pretty much by any means necessary.
Even if it meant embarrassing himself.
A million stories involving my dad come to mind here.
I’m sure you’ve got a million of your own right now.
I want to share two.
I was a rambunctious todder, or so I’ve been told since then.
And my parents, I’ve been told, had a hard time getting me to even go to sleep at night.
My mom tells me that she’d put me in my crib at night, and once I learned to stand, I would grab the rails of the crib and jump up and down, up and down, up and down, for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, sometimes, before I’d finally fall asleep for the night.
Well, one night, I guess my dad decided that it looked like I was having fun, so it might be fun for him to join in.
Now, this was before he was the strapping, muscle-shirt-wearing Billy Graham that he became later on. He was 21 years old, and from the pictures that we had of him at that time, he was all of 130 pounds.
Which of course was still more than enough to do some damage to a baby crib.
Needless to say, when my little sister was born, mom and dad had to go out and buy a new one, because the one that they’d thought they could use from my infant years had been reduced to a pile of rubble that night three years earlier.
My next most favorite Billy Graham story involves, of all people, Smoky the Bear, or as he came to be known around the Graham household, Mokie the Bear.
We were driving down the road from where we lived in Crimora to Waynesboro, and standing out in front of the old Dooms Volunteer Fire Department was a man in a Smoky the Bear costume.
Now, my dad was until the very end the absolute biggest kid in the world, so when he slowed the car down to a virtual crawl so he could get a better look, and keep in mind, this was back when that stretch of road was two lanes, so there were cars behind us honking their horns, that wasn’t a big surprise.
Neither was it a surprise when he almost stopped in the middle of the road and started waving.
And then saying as loud as he could, “Hi, Mokie! Hi, Mokie! Hi, Mokie!”
My mom, I’m sure, is turning red as we speak right now.
That was just what he did. He was fun, and if you were around him, you were probably having fun, too.
That’s why so many people are here today and were here last night to pay their respects to him.
And I have to say, a lot of them knew Dad well enough to know the two other fundamental things about him.
The first was that he liked to smile and make others smile. The other two are cleanliness and cars.
And he got it honest, even back before he was even close to getting a drivers’ license.
Billy Graham made sure that the first wagon that he got as a child was as shiny as the space shuttle before takeoff, and that theme stayed with him throughout his life.
And we’re not just talking about the outside of his many, many, many cars and trucks and trailers and the rest. My sister and I were not familiar with the concept of fast-food drive-throughs until we were teen-agers.
You did not eat in one of his cars. You did not drink in one of his cars. You didn’t wear dirty shoes in them. You didn’t touch the windows and leave fingerprints.
And he loved to tinker with cars. He owned literally hundreds of cars from the age of 16 on, some of them for a few months, just long enough to buy them and restore them, some of them for longer.
But he never seemed like he was ever done with them. I talked with someone at family night last night who said something that a lot of us who knew him well would remember – that he always saw Dad in the guardhouse at Hollister reading either one particular car magazine or the Bulletin Board.
He knew cars, he knew where the bargains were – there was no doubt about that.
Billy Graham lived an interesting life. He was married three times, laid off from jobs, began a relationship with his oldest son, Stevie, my brother, when Stevie was an adult, and become close to him in the last two years of his life.
He was surrounded by a lot of people who loved him, and I think it important to note that he had recently begun to go about the task of repairing some of the broken relationships from years past.
And I know that it meant a lot to my mom, Kathi, and my stepmom, Barbara, that he had reached out to them in what ended up being the last months of his life and made peace with both of them.
My one regret is that my dad and I had not been able to do the same thing before he passed.
Which is why I’m going to do one thing that I know my dad would not done at his funeral, and that is preach.
Anybody out here listening who is having a hard time with someone important in their lives – and I can bet that there is someone out there right now who is going through something like this – don’t just assume that it will get better one day.
Don’t take life for granted.
I did, and my last words to my father were spoken last night as he lay in his casket.
Now that I’ve finished preaching …
I’m sure Dad is watching us right now and is probably getting a little antsy.
He wasn’t a big fan of this formal kind of stuff.
He’s probably mad that he’s wearing a tie.
But he’s also smiling as he looks down at us here right now.
See those rollers right there?
Is that chrome?
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.