February 15, 2021 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
This is the eulogy I wrote for my father, Harold Robert Reed, who died on January 21, 2021. Due to COVID-19 interstate travel restrictions, I was unable to get to New York to attend his funeral Mass. My brother Scott read the text for me, and I promised to publish it here.
My father was born at home and he died at home.
Not many people can say that these days. He went to a one room schoolhouse close to the farm he grew up on in Muncy, Pennsylvania, and to the high school there.
Like my mother, he was the first person in his family to get a college education.
They met teaching in adjacent classrooms in a school in Garfield Heights, outside of Cleveland, Ohio. My mother was, as the saying went then, “something of a clothes horse” – she had come from a frugal working class family of five children and was enjoying the freedom of being a single woman with her own income.
I cannot now think of their courtship without remembering the play that their grandchildren researched and staged one year to celebrate their long marriage. In that play, Dad’s pickup line was something like “What a nice sweatshirt! You have so many clothes! Would you like to go out sometime?”
Except for one brief period in New York, that was the only time they worked in the schools together.
Dad spent the bulk of his career as principal at Fassett School in Elmira.
Occasionally as kids we would go there with my dad on a weekend, doing (after asking permission, of course) things that kids did not normally get to do in a school. Race each other down dark linoleum hallways. Visit the supply room, with its concentrated school perfume of lead pencils and crayons and colored construction paper. Play in his office with the P.A. system, its switches and knobs, that big, Walter Cronkite microphone.
It has been a joy to see the comments come in on the website, the messages on the phone, of memories of my dad as principal, and even as teacher. “Were it not for him, I am sure I would never have learned my times tables.” Thank you, Nancy – we wouldn’t have learned our state capitols either.
My father was indeed happiest when spending time with his family.
He was the guiding force behind the Reed Reunion, and its associated competitive sports: the ping pong tournament, the bb gun shoot, the bocce ball games, and the popular, if less healthful, M&M jar count contest. Later I realized that not all family reunions had business meetings with goals set for self improvement each year. Fortunately we all still have much to improve on, and with the birth of Theo and Henry, a fourth generation to bring into this august tradition.
My dad always liked mowing, even before he had a riding lawn mower. When we moved into the house on Greensview Drive in the mid 1960’s it was one of the first houses built there, on the edge of the new golf course. On the other side of the street the lots were cheaper, and no one built on them for a long time. The grass over there was taller than any of us kids.
One hot day at the beginning of summer, he revved up his push mower and entered into the wilderness across the street – disappeared, like a man going walkabout. The engine choked and sputtered and whined; its sound wound its way through the weeds. After an hour or so he emerged, bits of grass stuck to his face, his arms, his chest, smelling like sweat and Old Spice, like green and gasoline. That Dad smell. He had made us a maze. It was a-Maze-ing.
By the time his kids had their own kids, my father had a riding lawnmower, and he had morphed into Pop-Pop. I think Hillary gave him that name. At Family Reunions, the grandkids drove the riding mower up and down Greensview Drive, steering for themselves.
The year my family moved to Tennessee we bought a new minivan for the trip back east. Maggie drove the lawnmower up and down the cul de sac, waving at her brother, while Aidan waited impatiently for his turn. Steering was harder for Aidan. He was only four.
Pop-Pop walked beside him and helped till he seemed to have figured it out. Then he let him steer for himself. But Aidan’s arms tired out before his enthusiasm did. Coming back into the driveway, he couldn’t turn the wheel as fast or as far as he had before. Dead ahead was our brand new Windstar.
My father didn’t think twice. In fact he probably didn’t think at all. He just stepped between the lawnmower and the car. “Pop-Pop has a lot of extra blood,” he told the crying driver while he held a rag to his leg. “And look! The bumper’s fine.” Aidan’s dad turned to me and whispered, half in horror, half in awe,” “It’s a bumper! That’s what bumpers are for!” Dad carried that scar proudly until the day he died, though there were so many more by that time it would no doubt have been difficult to find.
And how he cared for my mother – fiercely, tenderly, with love and anger at the disease which took her from him bit by bit, memory by memory.
In 2016, exhausted and ill, this caregiving almost killed him. By that time he had begun to understand that he needed help if he was to keep her at home – that much as he valued family, the family as it was could not do this alone. So family grew larger, encompassing the expert, compassionate and good-humored women who cared for them both – K.C., Doreen, Aleisha, Krystal and Dee Dee and his CareFirst nurse, Suzanne.
I remember my first funeral well. My father’s mother died. I was fourteen. During the visitation I remember going up to the casket with my dad, watching him carefully tuck a blanket which had been somehow disturbed around my grandmother’s feet. He seemed so alone in his grief.
In that moment I grasped, briefly, a profound truth – that we were not just father and daughter. That we were both human beings, sharing time on this planet together. It was a truth I would conveniently forget whenever I thought I needed someone to rebel against. But the image of us there together has never been lost.
Someday, I remember thinking, it would be his body, laid out in a box. Someday it would be me, tucking him in. Now I find I must do this with words, and not with my hands – hands that, when I look down on them today at the keyboard, seem so much my mother’s hands.
These are among the mysteries of Incarnation we acknowledge when we honor my father, who has indeed, run the good race, who has been heavy laden, who with my mother, now rests in the hand of God. And may his memory be a blessing. Amen.