by David Perkins
I speak for my mother, my two sisters, and the rest of the family when I say thank you for coming to say farewell to my father.
Dad was always a bit of a would-be-entrepreneur, and had he realized what a turnout we were going to have here today, I can’t help but think that he would have encouraged me to find a way to run a cover charge. I’m not sure he knew just how many people considered him an important part of their lives. I guess that was part of his charm – he was almost totally without pretense.
A few years ago, he was a pallbearer at three funerals of close friends who died in a very short span of time. He half-joked to me that, when his time came, he hoped we could still find six friends to carry his box. Because of the nature of today’s service, which is the way he wanted it, we have no pallbearers. But I’m certain, that if the call went out, a line would form as far as we can see, of volunteers who would consider it a privilege to “carry his box.”
Marshall Alexander Perkins touched a lot of people in his life, and most were happy to be among them. The others, no doubt, were misguided. My intent today is not to make him out to have been a saint. He was not. He was a good and decent man who dealt from the same sense of fairness with everyone he met. As a friend, his generosity with his time, his money, his counsel and his shoulder could always be counted on. His concern was always genuine, and his offer of help always sincere.
As an employee and a co-worker, he could give no less than his absolute loyalty and his best effort on the job. Whenever conversation turned to bad-mouthing the Postal Service, he would always jump to their defense. As you can imagine, with over thirty-six years of service, this would involve a lot of jumping on his part, in what was almost always a losing battle. It’s not that he was blind to the shortcomings of the system, it’s just that he was keenly aware of the many people who work very hard, as he did, to make it better.
But, he was all too knowledgeable of the abuse a package was subject to when placed in the loving care of the United States Postal Service. He tried to explain it to Mom once, several years ago, when I was overseas in the Air Force. She had baked a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, packed them very carefully and, when she was ready to mail them, took them to Dad for his professional opinion on whether or not they would make it safely all the way to Southeast Asia. He looked the package over. Kind of shook it a little as he held it to his ear. Then, suddenly he hurled it across the room, where it slammed against the wall and fell to the floor. Mortified, my mother just stood there, speechless. Dad looked over at the package on the floor and said, “Yeah, it oughta be okay.” Possibly, in part, because they never witnessed that event, he was almost universally respected and admired by his colleagues and by the public he served.
As a father, he possessed the unusual ability, in a parent, to remember. He knew that there is a long list of lessons, some simple – some terribly painful, that every generation of children must learn for itself. As much as he must have wanted to, he never tried to protect us from our own mistakes unless they were potentially life-threatening. And once we had made them, he was never there to say, “I told you so.” He was always there to pick us up, dust us off, and help us figure out what lesson it was that we had just learned.
I don’t think he was called on very often to dispense justice to my two sisters. They must have been more adept than I at not getting caught, but God knows that I gave him more than enough opportunity to practice. Anytime he had to mete out some punishment, it was always tempered by that ability to remember. By the knowledge that, somewhere in the not-too-distant past, he had done something just as bad, or just as stupid.
As a husband, he loved and was devoted to the same woman for forty years. His life was dedicated to making hers, and theirs, a happy one. I believe he was successful. And I know that he considered it a life well-spent. Except for the occasional disagreement regarding the testing of packages for mailing, harsh words between them were a rare sound in our house.
Dad was religious, but for the most part didn’t care for churches. Doctor Smith is here to preside over this service today because he is a religious leader whom Dad enjoyed and respected. He couldn’t understand how so many other men of the cloth got their theology so screwed up. So he determined to study the word of God on his own, running amok through the Bible without the benefit of counsel or adult supervision.
He was not entirely squeamish about using profanity himself, but he didn’t appreciate it coming from his television or the movie screen. He expressed this to me one day by saying, very seriously, that, “When a sonofabitch has to resort to foul language to entertain me, I can find something better to do with my time!” He didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop laughing.
During the last few months of his illness, I think his faith became an even more important source of strength for him. In going through some of his personal things over the past several days, I found some writings that would seem to reinforce this. Things that he had photocopied, or clipped from newspapers and magazines. I have one of them here, that I would like to read. I have no idea where he got it, but it seems to have been particularly important to him.
“A man is not completely born until he is dead. Why then should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals? We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us while they afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge or in doing good to our fellow creatures is a kind of benevolent act of God. When they become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain instead of pleasure, instead of an aid become an encumbrance and answer none of these intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we get rid of them. Death is that way.”
My father’s body had begun to afford him pain instead of pleasure. He was mentally and spiritually prepared to meet his death – and he was not afraid.
On the evening before he died, he called family and friends to his bedside to say goodbye. His last request was that we not grieve too deeply nor too long. We had a long and happy life together, and he would rather we celebrate his life than mourn his death. Then he looked around the room at all of us gathered there and smiled and said, “I hope I do this gracefully.” As anyone who was in that room will attest, he did it with much grace, and much dignity.
Those of you who knew him were lucky.
Those who were colleagues and clientele were privileged.
Those of us who knew him well and loved him, and were loved by him, are truly blessed.
So, along with my mother and my sisters, I will try hard to honor my father’s last wish. And we invite you to join us – not in mourning his passing, but in keeping with you that special warmth that came from being his friend and, from time to time, take a moment to be grateful that he was with us for awhile.