This is an entry from my husband regarding memorial observances for his beloved father, my beloved father-in-law, Dr. Lawrence David Walker:
My father, Lawrence David Walker, passed away in Salt Lake City peacefully at 7:25 a.m. on Tuesday, January 27, 2009, aged 77, in Salt Lake City with my mother at his side. My brother Greg and I arrived to join my mother in Salt Lake City on the evening of January 28 from New Jersey and Taiwan, respectively. The three of us had agreed to wait until we were all together to discuss memorial arrangements.
On June 29th, the three of us went to Starks Funeral Parlor for a final viewing and to discuss funeral arrangements. We ended up staying two-and-a-half hours. Initially apprehensive, it soon appeared to us that Shayneh and Jason Starks, while skilled and properly licensed in the mortuary business, are really more in the business of helping people mourn, grieve, heal and commemorate the life of the departed.
They placed the obituary I had written in the Salt Lake Tribune, had a printer craft a portrait photo out of my parents’ 50th anniversary photo, (above) and started the process to obtain death certificates.
Shayneh Starks also suggested holding some sort of observance quickly, while community support was strongest. Given my father’s Celtic background, we settled on a wake. We set the date for Saturday evening, January 31, partly to allow my cousin, my father’s nephew Robert K. (Rob) Morris, who was flying in from Wisconsin and leaving Sunday night, to take part. Shayneh suggested gathering together some photos and memorabilia, and I thought it best to add some captions to them so people knew what they were looking at. A violinist would be playing adjacent to the viewing room, but we also discussed playing some of my father’s favorite music during the wake. The protocol was for guests to enter the funeral parlor, sign the guest book, go into the adjacent viewing room and linger for a moment looking at the cremation urn and the memorabilia as the violinist played, then proceed down the hall to the living/dining room and have a glass of wine or a cup of tea or cocoa and some fine hors d’œuvres.
Shayneh also suggested a “prayer card,” a small card with a photo of the deceased, his or her dates, and an inspirational quote or Bible verse on the back. My mother initially shied away from this after seeing samples with the 23rd Psalm, the Lord’s Prayer, prayers for the souls in Purgatory and the like. I felt that those present at the wake and those far away would need something to hold in their hand when they mourned my father in private. I promised to write something for the back of it when I got home. I wrote a eulogy which, though it cannot summarize him, does evoke him.
A professor for 25 years. A student for 77.
A man from the mountains of the American West who loved intellectual discussions, history, classical music, folk guitar, well-crafted movies, and books, books, books.
A man of many vocations – professor, teacher, steelworker, warehouse laborer, credit investigator, toll collector – but only one avocation: learning.
A Celt, both poet and pugilist, who embodied the soul of his people, never forgot their struggles, and understood the struggle of all who face oppression.
An historian who told the untold story of unknown people who lived under tyranny and risked everything to stand against it.
For many, their best friend. For many more, their best companion in respectful intellectual discussions in which two people journey together to find the truth. For almost everyone, their best correspondent.
A kind man, a husband and father who loved his family and whose family loved him beyond what words can tell.
We remember him always.
My mother picked out an artistic burlwood box to hold my father’s ashes, plus a small marble urn for a portion of his ashes eventually to be mixed with her ashes and scattered to the wind.
On Friday, January 30, Rob arrived at our house.
That day, Dad’s obituary was published in the Salt Lake Tribune, and Rob bought five copies. He drove me in his rental car as we bought wine and beer at the state liquor store and delivered it to the funeral parlor. Rob got a chance for a final viewing, before my father’s body was sent to the crematorium. Rob liked the comfortable, welcoming atmosphere at the funeral home, and we ended up staying well over an hour, discussing various aspects of the wake and writing a few extra captions for the memorabilia. The house is comfortable and welcoming, surrounded by centuries-old trees, originally having started out as an orchard farmhouse in the 19th Century.
Mom and Greg collected photos and memorabilia and identified music that he liked, while I asked questions about the stories behind the memorabilia and wrote captions to email to the Starks. Then I struggled for most of the night with CDs and iTunes, downloading or purchasing the tracks, converting them to mp3 format and burning them to a CD.
The day and the hour finally came for the wake, and Rob drove us over to the funeral parlor in advance of the 6:00 p.m. starting time.
When we entered the viewing room, we saw that they had turned my father’s burlwood urn along with his photos, guitars and memorabilia, with the addition of floral arrangements and candles, literally into a shrine to my father’s memory.
The guests began arriving promptly at 6 p.m. After signing the guest book, they proceeded into the viewing room as the violinist played next door. The guests looked at the shrine, then at the memorabilia, and then they began to read the captions. More people arrived and joined them in the room. People started talking with each other, sharing memories and stories about my father and discussing the memorabilia, photos and captions. They engaged in animated conversation, even laughter.
Most people present had known him only as a gentle man who loved books and music and strummed the guitar. They were surprised to discover things they had never known about him: that he had been a teenage boxing champion; that he loved the Warner Brothers’ Roadrunner cartoon character; that he had a Ph.D. from Berkeley.
Shayneh approached me to tell me that people had been picking up glasses of wine off the waitresses’ trays and taking them right back into the viewing room. She didn’t have a problem with this, given that they were only displaying a cremation urn. They were starting to pass hors d’œuvres, however. Whenever an open casket is on display, they never permit food in the viewing room, but in the case of a cremation, it is at the discretion of the family. I checked quickly with my mother, then told Shayneh to go ahead and pass the hors d’œuvres in the viewing room. The room grew more and more crowded, ultimately close to 40 people, and yet nobody left to go to the living/dining room. This was typical of my father’s charisma: even in death, everyone still wanted to hang out with him!
Eventually the staff were able to coax some people into the living/dining room with promises of scallop and potato soup, but what finally lured a couple of my parents’ neighbors was the offer of Squatters Full Suspension Pale Ale. Protocol generally calls only for wine and soft drinks to be served at a wake (and whiskey, I suppose, for the unreconstructed Irish), but I had thrown a case of my father’s favorite beer into the mix. Our neighbors, who had often joined him in a glass of his favorite beer, were pleased and toasted my father and each other with “Larry’s beer.”
The following are the pictures and memorabilia we displayed at the wake, along with their captions:
This picture of Larry was taken in December of 1933, a couple of months after his second birthday. Larry was a “surprise baby,” the youngest of six children. In the depths of the Great Depression, his mother still insisted on getting his picture taken by a professional photographer. Ever helpful, or so he thought at the time, Larry gave himself a nice haircut a few hours before the photo session!
Larry with his parents, Annie Frances Leonard Walker and Edward Robert Walker, Sr., in Colorado in 1937.
Larry, though not an athlete per se, excelled at boxing as a youngster, which he credited to being fast on his feet, having an extremely long reach and tough neck muscles, and being able to take punches and keep going. He boxed for Pueblo’s “Steel Y” and won a golden gloves championship in the welterweight category at age 16. Boxing was a useful skill to have while growing up in a rough steel mill town. He had the good sense to quit while he was ahead, fortunately, preserving his brain. Boxing reflexes stayed with him all his life, and when suddenly awakened or startled, he immediately raised his fists in a defensive boxing stance. Early in their marriage when Lee woke him up suddenly, he once even punched out a lamp. (He never did that again.)
This wedding photo was taken on December 18, 1954. Larry and Lee’s wedding was held during a brief Christmas break from Stanford at the home of Lee’s parents, Charles Arthur and Ellen Crose Barlow, at 1605 South Myers Street in Oceanside, California. Pictured in this photo are Larry’s mother Annie Frances Leonard Walker; Lee’s Cousin Donna Barlow; Lee’s mother and father (partially obscured); Howard J. (“Hopalong” or “Hoppy”) Cassidy, the husband of Larry’s next-eldest sister Anne, both of whom spend their latter years with them in Salt Lake City; the happy couple; and between them a glimpse of Larry’s father, Edward R. Walker, Sr.
This is a picture of the campanile, the landmark bell tower of the University of California at Berkeley, taken by Ansel Adams in 1966. (Official title “Campanile, Path, Tree,” part of his Fiat Lux series.) Larry saw this photo in his Cal alumni magazine recently and cut it out and had it framed. Larry was the first in his family to earn a doctorate. He discovered his love of learning, and his intellectual abilities while at Pueblo Junior College. Originally intent on joining the merchant marine, a teacher talked him into applying for Stanford, where he was accepted and where he met Lee. But his eyes were really opened at Cal, which he found to be a great university open to the world, its people and its knowledge. Though he came to it for his doctorate after completing his bachelor’s and master’s at Stanford, Cal was his true alma mater.
Larry with his beloved dog Charlie in their house at 369 O’Connor Street in Palo Alto, California, circa 1964.
Larry and Lee with sons Lawrence (back) and Gregory (front) circa 1964, when they lived in the Southern California town of Torrance. Lawrence is about nine in this picture and Gregory about four.
Books, books, books. Larry read and collected them by the hundreds, from the time he could first read up to his last days. Displayed here are several books that represent some of his chief interests later in life. Although the books mostly speak for themselves, two bear special mention. Hitler Youth and Catholic Youth 1933-1936: A Study in Totalitarian Conquest is Larry’s own book, based on his dissertation, which the Catholic University of America Press published in 1969. The book Decoding the Past is by his Ph.D. classmate and lifelong friend Peter Loewenberg, whom he greatly liked and admired. (See separate blog posting for my father's final reading list and Neflix queue.)
Larry was a big fan of the cartoon character Roadrunner, but unlike most other Warner Bros. cartoon characters, there was no merchandise for Roadrunner. So one year for his birthday, Lee drew the Roadrunner on a a white sweatshirt and embroidered it for him. He was so fond of it that he wore it until it became tattered. For many years, she would embroider another one on a new sweatshirt, and Larry would use the old one as pajamas. When Larry taught in Salzburg, Austria, in the fall of 1974, Larry, Lee and Greg lived in an apartment that came with maid service. In that rather status-conscious old-world society, the maid got a kick out of Roadrunner and made a point of laundering Herr Professor Doktor’s pajamas, ironing them and folding them and placing them atop the pillow to display the Roadrunner prominently.
Always a lover of beautiful music, Larry took up guitar again in his later years. He took the advice of a professional musician always to practice guitar a bit every day, to advance a bit and to keep his fingers callused and limber. His armchair was surrounded by three guitars: a large acoustic guitar, a small one, and an electric guitar. When he wasn’t playing guitar, he was usually listening to classical music on educational radio station KBYU.
Reunion on the first anniversary of the death of Larry’s elder sister, Anne Walker Cassidy. Anne’s four children are gathered at Larry and Lee’s home in Salt Lake City around Larry’s chair. From left to right, they are Sheila Cassidy-Federman, Brigid Cassidy-Claydon, Michael Cassidy and Joe Cassidy.
This picture was taken on December 18, 2004, at Larry and Lee’s 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty years earlier as they prepared for their wedding, Lee recalled the recent 50th wedding anniversary of her aunt and uncle and hoped that she and Larry would one day celebrate theirs. Larry turned wide-eyed and blanched at the thought of the passage of so much time and getting so terribly old. When it actually rolled around, however, he was far more sanguine, as the picture shows. In all, they were married 54 years.
The wake continued until 8 p.m. in the living/dining room, and then a core group of family and close friends went back into the viewing room. When the violinist went off duty, I asked Shayneh to pipe through the CD of my father’s favorite music. (The playlist and my father’s connection to the music are listed on a separate blog entry .) I filmed short video clips of the playing of three songs, Alison Krauss' "I'll Fly Away," The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and Ewan MacColl's "The Joy of Living."
At the end of the evening, the guests left, each taking one of the memorial cards. Rob drove us home, and my mother asked me to carry the burlwood urn, as it was far heavier than she had expected. I carried it into the house. Moments later, she asked me where I had put my father. “Where he belongs,” I responded. I had placed the urn in his favorite chair, along with his picture on the memorial card.
For my father's final resting place, please see the next blog posting.
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