My father would have loved his funeral.
The service was about twenty five minutes–a simple graveside. All of his living children were there, as were all his living siblings. Many friends and family from his present and his past were there. When the service was over, we all stood around for over an hour talking, laughing, telling stories. Dad would have told the most stories, done the most laughing, and enjoyed the talking.
He would have loved three specific things about his funeral.
- He would have loved that it had rained the night before, and we were basically standing in a big bog of East Texas red dirt.
- He would have really loved the picture my sister chose for the program handout. It was perfect. I love that it was from when he was in his mid forties–about halfway through life. (Editors Note: That is the present age of Greenbean right now, and he
looks nowhere near as cool and awesome as his father did at that age.)
- He would have loved that we buried him in Nacogdoches. Most of the stories I heard about took place there in that area north of Nacogdoches—Timpson, Tenaha, Appleby, Garrison, and Pisgah (which the Greenings all pronounce Piss-Key).
I would not be who I am were it not for him. This is true of all of us–for good of or for bad our parents are an important part of our formations. Jack Greening was not a complicated human being, nor was he perfect. But he was smart, and he lived life by a kind of ethical code that, at its baseline, could be summed up in two ideas.
- The only true virtue is hard work.
- Leave well enough alone.
I could go one and on about his methodology. One example will do.
Me: Dad, how tight should I tighten this bolt?
Dad: As tight as it will go.
Dad: And then one more half-turn for good measure.
There was almost nothing he could’t do. He left school at 9th grade to work and help with the family after his mother died, nevertheless, my father could do complex mathematical calculations in his head as fast as any machine or computer. Seriously. I’ve seen him do it. He only had two fingers on his right hand, yet his penmanship was elegant and beautiful, like a scribe of ancient lore. He was a hard man, but little children melted his heart. He could make you smile and laugh one moment, and the next infuriate you to the boiling point.
Five fun facts about my father:
- He saw a UFO in Arkansas once. This experience later led him to murder a mylar Smurfette ballon that landed in his pea patch, thinking it was an invader.
- He could call owls from a large distance, and converse with them.
- To avoid paying an electrician, he rigged a system of extension cords in our home to provide power from one side to the other. This system lasted over two years.
- In the forty-five years of my lifetime, I’ve never known him to change the oil in a car or truck. He just runs them until they die. This is why we never had reliable transportation.
- When he was a long-haul truck driver, and I was a very little boy, he would always buy me a Moon Pie and RC Cola in the lounge when we’d go pick him up from a long trip.
There is one thing, though, that is special and unique to me. Of all his other children, and all his other relationships, there is this one thing. Jack Greening is not my biological father. he met my mother when I was two months old. They married a week before my one year birthday. I was raised in his home as a young child, but I was not his son.
That changed when I was twelve yeas old, and had reached a sort of legal moment when I could make a choice. I chose to be his son, and he chose to be my father, and he adopted me, thus I became his son, his only son. He chose me knowing full well who I was, where I came from, all my baggage, and the quirks and peculiarities about me as a human being. He chose to be my dad. He didn’t have to, and no one would have thought anything untoward about it if he hadn’t. But he did. All the years growing up, before the adoption and after it, he never treated me as other or different. He treated me exactly as he would have treated any son.
I tell you honestly this experience has always shaped my understanding of the biblical usage of adoption–that we are adopted children of God. Jesus is the firstborn, but we, through faith in him, choose to have God as our special father, and he likewise chooses to have us as his children.
I tried to explain this to my father one day. He didn’t quite understand it, but not because he was stupid, but because he couldn’t perceive that it could be any other way. I’ve often hung my hat on this, for my father was not a spiritual man, but maybe he was able to intuit some of the things of God in a way differently than the rest of us. Maybe that was the farmer in him. Folks who work the dirt tend to view the universe differently than other people.