To my Friends in Memory of my Father: Francis C. Rains 1919 - 2010

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Smiles.jpg


The death of my father on January 3, 2010 has slowed the publication schedule at Rolling Rains. com. Today is his funeral. I offer the following eulogy in his honor. My gratitude to all those who have supported me (even when they were not aware they were doing so) in the past year as Francis C. Rains reached 90 years old and rapidly failed.

Eulogy from the January 15, 2010 Memorial Service for Frank Rains

Anyone who came here expecting only a bunch of sad people moping around needs to check the address on their invitation. You came to the wrong place. This is a celebration of a life and the promise of what comes after!

keep in mind, this memorial service is for us. Dad is already out hiking - looking for a new hunting ground I'm sure. How do I know? Because we buried him along with his boots! (which he affectionately called his "dancing slippers.")

Five minutes before he died Dad's eyes became bright as a young man's. He fixed his gaze on the distance as if he saw someone he recognized. He smiled. He closed his eyes. He took a last breath. I imagine him not slipping but striding into the next life.

After all it was only three days earlier that he sat up in bed and said urgently, "I need to put my socks on. My brother is coming to for me."

There's an Irish blessing for this occasion - if there wasn't I would have to invent a fake one. It goes:
 
"May you reach the Pearly Gates a half hour before the devil knows you left!"

I have no doubt Dad was there in record time but here's the rub. Pearly gates, a city with streets paved of gold, folks in long white robes instead of lederhosen and hikin' boots.

Hmmm, I think he'd slip out of line and head down the first trail he found outside the walls. Then he'd strike out on a hike.

Dad didn't die with his boots on but he was buried with them - and with an elk antler from his hunting buddy Jerry Gillis.

Now those who do the math will figure out that Dad didn't meet Jerry until several years after Dad last went hunting. Doesn't matter. Dad had a charm, a wit, a passion, a way with stories, and an innocence that could make him hunting buddies with someone he never spent a night in the woods with.

To spend a night - or even an afternoon - in the woods with Dad was to be close to God.

People have noticed that "guys" seem to need to be doing something else in order to bond -- tinkering in the shop, watching a ball game, chopping wood. To step onto a trail with Dad was to meet a man who would you wanted to bond with. Handsome even from his younger days, strong, confident, knowledgeable of his surroundings, and skilled in surviving in them he made you feel safe; glad to be there. And that was just the surface.

To walk more than a few paces down a trail with Dad was to watch him turn inside out. All those outward-facing traits became the core; the skeleton. Over that emerged a skin with a vulnerable attentiveness - the kind that is difficult to risk in the presence of others. In that vulnerability even God overcame His/Her usual shyness and became more than usually present. Even God couldn't resist Frank's love of creation.

Dad would fiercely enforce silence on us as we hiked.

He said it was so that the animals would come out. We rarely saw the animals we hoped for but he taught us to see whatever did reveal itself - plant, animal, mineral, weather, vista, passing hikers - all with an immediacy that was life-changing. We always saw a man who came alive in the woods. It fed us. It was the sacramental moment of Frank's spirituality.

This attentiveness had a history though. It was nicked and scarred.

Dad served his country in the US Coast Guard from before World War II until afterward. He was there when Douglas MacArthur, as he would, "got his boots wet", at Leyte Bay going ashore after the Battle of the Philippines. Dad told the story of a man standing next to him being blown to little pieces that then clung to Dad's clothing He told the story of a car backfiring years after coming home where the next thing Dad was aware of was looking up from the ground. He had flung himself there on instinct trained by five years of war from the Atlantic to the South Pacific and finally to the Bering Sea sailing with the Russian Navy.

Mom once confided in me that she had watched the best and brightest men of her generation damaged for life by war. She cited her brother shot down over Borneo and picked up by headhunters but indirectly she was trying to tell me something about Dad. Dad explained to me when I was teenager that he carried a gun in the woods to overcome his fear of guns - and probably the guilt over the men's lives he had ended with them.

Dad was a hunter but his favorite story was about the "one that got away." Once he came up on a buck deer with a trophy set of antlers. Dad brought up his gun. Sited a perfect shot. (He was a first class marksman with Boeing's Gun Club even decades after the war.) Then he looked up from the scope right at the deer and said, "Bang!" The buck sprung away. Dad went home a little closer to healing.

Dad came home to the woods. There he was transformed. Wilderness made more sense than civilization to him yet, paradoxically, he drew the deepest lessons of society from wilderness. He took on a magnitude of personal responsibility and taught a code of ownership for one's actions that shaped not only his children but a generation of young men he raised in Boy Scout Troop 290. I tell my friends that my mother taught me religion and my father taught me to pray. Those who knew him in one of his families - with Gracie, with Lois, or with Dee - know how endearing he could be. Those who also knew him as a hiking, camping, or hunting buddy got to touch his greatness.

Dad had a knack for attracting "Number Two-and-a-half Sons" like Mark Milachek and Jerry Gillis but he was also father to my ski buddies like Vern Peterson and my first best friend Pat Weible.

I can still picture Pat hanging on the gate to our back steps the day we moved into our house in West Seattle in 1959. Dad seemed to be getting a little irritated. There was this 6 year-old limpet clamped to the gate. He swung with every moving box that passed by. Knowing Dad's feeling that family means everybody pitching in he probably was wondering why Pat didn't get with the program and sign himself up for some chore like hefting boxes.

Even then I knew I had found a friend for life. As Pat pelted us with questions he erased the boundaries between his family and mine.

Last weekend I sequestered myself out at Kalaloch to gather my thoughts in a rustic environment where the excellent staff accommodated my disability with five-star quality. As I prepared for that trip I knew I could invite Pat along as the kind of friend to be both together with and alone with at the same time. Years of our families camping together, sharing holidays, fighting, and dreaming make me very grateful that Pat, Terri, and Paul Weibel were able to make it today. It feels like family.

Dad had a special fondness for my spouse Patricia. Sometimes it was embarrassing but I think he was trying to teach me from his own experience how not to let my love for her grow cold.

He never tired of telling the story about how we "fell for each other" in the front yard but I think I'd steal Patricia's thunder if I retold it now. Dad liked to tell the story about hearing us laugh together just like mom liked to tell the story about seeing Patricia take charge once when we visited before we were married. Mom knew that a son who inherited the full genetic complement of Frank's stubbornness - supplemented by a lifetime tutorial from him in how to use it to full advantage - needed a friend who was stronger than the average person. Patricia has been more supportive and forgiving of me than anyone ought to be asked to be. Thank you.

Over more than a decade Dad has loved and been loved by Dee McClellan, her children and her grandchildren. You were as close to his heart as his biological children. He kept us constantly updated on your lives. His pride in you was real. His wonder at being welcomed into your love as family was the surest sign I had that he had won his inner struggle and made a decision to continue living after mom passed away so young. Thank you for being here today and thank you for surrounding him with love all those years. It extended his life.

In his last months Dad found a new home. I knew it was a fit when Dad asked the two adult day home staff fluttering around him, "What language are you ladies speaking?"

"Russian," they said.

As quick as he could call up that deadpan look that he kept ready for such occasions he said, "Ni ponimayu!" That's Russian for, "I don't understand."

Even quicker one of the ladies quipped, "Oh, ponimayu, ponimayu. You don't fool me. You know exactly what we're saying!"

Mariya, Marika, and Chuka lost a good friend in Dad.

Dad started a new friendship just days before he died. I guess you could literally say it was a friendship made on the doorstep of heaven.

Newborn Lila Grace met Francis Clarence Rains when words were failing him but love was not. The beautiful smiles of great grandpa meeting newest great granddaughter made one of the most touching photos of Dad I have ever seen.

It is appropriate to celebrate Dad's life in the land of the Duwamish with a final potlatch. After this memorial we will distribute to the younger generation the collection of stuffed animal toy birds that grew around him because friends and family brought these memories of the outdoors to him at home.

As we turn Frank over to the Trinity and to all who have gone before us I want to say thank you to Dad and thank you to you for listening to my story.

It takes a long time to tell a man's story - more time than we have here today. However, I hope this short story was long enough to tell a man's truth.
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3 Comments

I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing such an eloquent story. It did express so beautifully the essence of this person.
Mary Lee

Your Dad was a wonderful person and a great friend to my family. We will miss him in our own journeys in the physical time that we have left.
Yet, I am confident that he will be there to meet me at the end of my earthly path and he will insist as always in a loud whisper: "Ssh! Come on! Look at the deer."

Thanks a lot for telling me that my grandpa died. It is pretty sad that I had to find out my grandpa died by doing some research on the internet and I come across this.

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