On this date, thirty years ago, a man who had a great impact on me as I grew from newborn to new dad, and a few years beyond, passed away. My grandfather fought a valiant battle against cancer, but like so many who were struck by that deadly disease back then, he lost. He used to tell me, “Jim, cancer’s not going to kill me. I’ll just have it when I die.” Many times I think he might have been right.
There towards the end he wouldn’t take the prescribed morphine like he should. I had to argue with him, but, looking back at it, he had, in his mind, a valid point. He’d say, “I don’t want to get addicted.” I don’t know if he was serious, or not, but he’d have a bit of a smile touching the corners of his mouth, and a glint in his eye. I think he just wanted to feel life as long as he could—prolong the numbness of death.
Anyway, the reason I write today is that I’d like to share with you a short piece I wrote for his funeral. I was asked to read it, however that was not going to happen. There was no way I could stand in front of all those people and read something I’d written about, and for, a man that meant so much to me.
Oh, to get an idea of what kind of man he was, come back and watch this video. He gave this interview a year before he died. And, then, that statement he makes there at the end? Think about it. Could he be right?
“Born December 20, 1901. Deceased July 28, 1986. A span of 84 1/2 years. During that time civilization has gone from the mule to the moon. And, with it rode a kind, generous man. A stern individual, but one with a gentle touch and kindness in his heart. A person who always searched for the silver lining in a dark cloud—and found it. He walked through life with a smile in his eye, and always found the time to share that joy with his fellow man.
“Early in life he travelled with his family by covered wagon to a new frontier. And, while taming an unsettled region he acquired the foundation of his soul that, for the past 3/4 of a century, weathered many storms. Hard work, practicality, and a touch of humor was the basis that led a child into adulthood.
“The depression years saw many homeless families and hungry children. Men wandered from town to town in search of something, anything, that could put a few coins in their pocket to see them through another day. Oscar joined their ranks, and during the days and months of traveling he acquired the skills and knowledge that helped him through his golden years.
“In 1936 he met and married the woman who became the nucleus of his life. For her and his sons, he gave up his many vices, and finished building upon the foundation that stood through the ups and downs of 84 years of life.
“A complex man, but one that appreciated the simple things in life. A man of wisdom and generosity that touched many. Oscar always found the time and effort to help his friends and neighbors through any crisis they might face.
“In his sons and grandchildren he instilled his simple philosophy—hard work, practical when possible, and always walk through life with a smile. And, regardless of the situation, there’s always time for a little happiness.
“Oscar Wheeless was a true leader among men. He was fond of saying that you could lead a horse to water and allow him to drink, but you could not drive him there and make him drink. When it came to a task that needed to be done, he was always the first one to arrive and the last to leave.
“His simple approach to life had a profound effect on all those he met. Regardless of how well you knew the man, you could never forget him. His friends and family will never forget. A man like this comes around once every hundred years. And, it’s doubtful if any here will ever again be touched by a human being of such caliber.
“We’re gathered here not to say goodbye, but to say farewell. For he has now become a part of each of us. And, his memory will live forever.”