Eulogy for Curtis

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There was a room in our house in southern Illinois that Dad had carved out for his own.

Today we’d call it a man cave.  Back then, it was simply his escape from the demands of his doctoral studies and his highly active – and loud — family.

It was a small 3 bedroom, one bath ranch with a single car garage.  Our family would never come to have a garage where you could actually park a car.

Instead, our garages would function as extensions of the storage units Mom and Dad would steadily accumulate over the years to house their beloved antiques and prized flea market finds.

This room in the house Dad that called his office . . . I think it was more like his sanctuary.  The room was tiny, crammed with stacks of books, record albums, old cameras and random electrical equipment, and a turntable.

Hanging on the wall above the phonograph was a blackboard where he wrote out his many ideas.  I remember there was always a thin film of chalkdust that would drift onto the record player below.

This was one room where Mom and her ever present roll of paper towels and spray cleaner weren’t allowed.

But me?  When I’d knock on the door, it was always – “come on in, sweetheart.”

I said this was like Dad’s Sanctuary.  I don’t use that term lightly.  When I entered, I felt like I was encountering something holy.   Something sacred.

NO matter what was going on in the house – TV blaring, piano practices, somersaults on the living room couch – I remember this room as always being quiet.

The smell was that of Amphora tobacco, and the stale smell of old, first-edition books.  I remember Dad listening to Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel and Jesus Christ Superstar on the dusty turntable.

On the shelves were books that spanned the wide, constantly evolving range of Dad’s interests.

Books on schizophrenia, clairvoyance, rocks and crystals, recipes for Middle Eastern dishes, Christianity and Hinduism . . . in fact, one day I saw the Upanishads on the shelf, and I asked him if I could read it.  At 9 years old, I didn’t get very far.  But that didn’t deter Dad from trying to explain the concept of a still mind and meditation.

In the summer time, Dad’s “office” extended to his shed in the backyard.  An even wilder playground for a kid, his shop was filled with gutted radios, rusty tools and farm implements, a lathe, welder, table saws AND drill presses – even, on occasion, a black snake made its home in the corner.

When I would get bored, I would venture to the shop and Dad would give me a pair of plyers and these lengths of wire.  He’d tell me he needed me to cut the wire into tiny pieces, for some secret but very important “project.”

For hours I’d sit in silence beside him, absorbed in my “task” while mounds of tiny wire clippings grew on the floor beneath my stool.

Later I came to understand that there was never a project, just a ruse to keep me occupied while we enjoyed just being together.

My Dad’s ability to simply be with people without judgment – wherever they were – whether in mental distress, addiction, depression, or joy – was a gift that didn’t get accolades or make headlines.

Dad was the quiet presence in the corner, encouraging Mom and his girls to take center stage, while he basked in pride and the afterglow of residual attention.

However, where Dad wasn’t afraid of attention was when he sang hymns in church.   Mom was the songbird in the family, but that didn’t stop Dad from singing with vigor, confidence….and volume.  While he didn’t always hit the right note – at the right time – Dad thrilled at his voice blending in unison with the voices of others.

And so, in honor to Dad, and his fearlessness in raising his voice to the heavens, my partner Chris and I offer this tune to Dad.  I’m a beginning guitarist, and did not inherit Mom’s voice – but Chris and I took great joy in visiting Dad in the nursing home and singing/playing for him and the other older folks.

This is a song by Doc Watson written by his wife Rosa Lee Watson, called “Your Long Journey.”


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