November, 27 2012
I eulogized my father today.
Two weeks ago, when it looked like he might pull out of his recent health spiral, we were talking about final arrangements should things go sideways with his health. He said he wanted two hymns and he would like a Bob Wills song. He wanted to be cremated. No open casket. He also said he would be very proud if I spoke.
I said I would. Still thinking that this would still be some time off in the future.
Dad passed on just after midnight on Saturday, November 24.
Today we had his memorial service.
I spoke. Here were my notes.
First, let me thank all of you on behalf of my entire family for coming here today.
I’d like to talk about my dad.
Alfred Wesley Renfroe was born in the hills of Southeast Oklahoma on December 21, 1933. It was during the depression, but dad would said no one really had anything much to begin with so it was kind of hard to notice they were actually in a depression.
He was the only child of George and Ara Renfroe. When telling stories of his childhood he would tell you they lived so far back in the hills that they used panthers for milk cows and hoot owls for laying hens.
When he was a teenager, my grandparents and dad moved from their home in the hills to the little square house and the section of land along Highway 70 and beside the railroad tracks. It was located just outside of the little town of Ft. Towsen, Oklahoma. That’s the place I always knew as grandma and grandpa Renfroe’s house. Now, if you don’t know where Ft. Towsen is, it is between Hugo and Idabel. Let’s just say that dad had a rural upbringing.
He graduated as an A student at the age of 16 from Ft. Towsen High School. He worked his way through college and later veterinary school by working summers at various jobs to pay for his tuition, books and room & board. He was a hay hauler, truck driver and worked for a while on an assembly line at the Coleman plant in Wichita Kansas making camp stoves. He also served his country in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Dad first lived in Arkansas in 1958. On the advice of his department head, he took off a year from vet school to intern at a veterinary clinic located on Broadway Street in Little Rock. He said that experience put him years ahead of his fellow graduates when he returned to his studies.
He graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1959 from Oklahoma A&M. These days they call it Oklahoma State.
For a while dad practiced veterinary medicine in the Dardanelle and Russellville area. After marrying my mom they lived for a while in Charleston, Arkansas, where worked as a Government inspector in poultry plants. Then in 1968 he moved mom, my sisters and me to Conway and bought the Conway Animal Clinic to start his own practice.
I suspect a great many of you here today know him from his time at the Conway Animal Clinic.
Dad loved being a practicing veterinarian. While he like working with small animals, he never lost his love of working on large animals. And if the number of calls he went out on were any indication, he was pretty good at treating cattle and horses. And he loved it despite the long days, extreme heat and cold, the unpredictable hours and danger that come with a large animal practice.
Some of my earliest memories were going out on calls with him. By the time I was five years old, dad and I had traveled most of the back roads of Faulkner County in a maroon 1968 GMC Pickup. We even used the old Toad Suck Ferry when we would go into Perry County on a call.
A series of injuries to dad’s back caused him to have to sell his practice in 1976.
He found ways to keep busy.
Having dad at home a lot meant he was available to to help me & my sisters at almost anytime. And he was always very generous with his time.
I got involved in boy scouting about that time. Dad got involved too. A few of you knew him as a Scoutmaster for Boy Scout troop 392. He would go with us on camping trips, although our camping styles differed a bit. He had a camper shell over the bed of his truck and a nice mattress to sleep on. We were in tents on the ground trying to sleep on roots and rocks. He was no dummy.
Some of you knew him as a staunch supporter of hunting and Second Amendment rights. He taught hundreds if not thousands to be safe hunters as a volunteer Hunter Education Instructor for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Later on, he taught many how to safely own and carry a firearm as a concealed carry instructor. He worked on and fixed a lot of guns for some of you. Dad was a fixture at some of the gunshows in the area, and most folks knew where Doc would have his table set up year after year.
Dad loved deer hunting…a lot. When I say he loved to deer hunt I mean he loooooved to deer hunt. I believe November was his favorite month of all. Around September, he would get that gleam in his eye and start talking about the upcoming season. He’d go down to deer camp and scout around to pick out where he would have his stand. We usually ended up with a freezer full of venison each year.
When I was a teenager we had this in common: We really could not stand each others music, and to be honest he was not crazy about my hair either. Dad really liked Texas Swing music, especially Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys. I was more of a Van Halen guy.
A few years ago, the Texas Playboys were playing in the area and I took dad to see them. We both had a great time. But, I never got him to go to a Van Halen concert with me.
When I was a kid, I would hear that music and roll my eyes. And, now when I hear Bob Wills I smile. Because it reminds me of dad.
He liked to laugh and to make others laugh. Even in the midst of his many health issues the last few years, he managed to keep a sense of humor. I asked him a while back how a visit to the doctor went. He replied, “Well. I am not pregnant.”
Dad liked to tell a story. Sometimes the same ones over and over and year after year. I never minded. He had a way of telling a story that made you want to listen, even when you had heard the same one a couple of hundred times before. One time, Debbie and I traveled with him to Oklahoma. He started telling a story when we left Conway and one story led to another for the entire five hour trip. It made the trip seem shorter.
He loved his animals. We had many dogs, but his favorite dog ever was Sody. We never could tell what breeds made up Sody. People would ask dad “What kind of dog is that?” Dad would respond, “Male canine”. He and dad were inseparable buddies. Dad loved that dog and that dog loved dad.
Dad made sure during my youth that I was in Sunday school and church almost every Sunday morning. Whether I wanted to go or not. He never made a huge show of it, but I am convinced through my many conversations with Dad that he knew Jesus as Savior. Because, like all of us he was not a perfect person and he knew he needed a Savior.
And I am convinced as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, that right now there is a reunion of family and friends happening in a place not of this world, but in the very presence of God.
He loved his friends and his family. He adored my sisters and loved his grandkids. And he especially loved his wife. My mom Lucy.
To many of you he was known as Dr. Renfroe, Doc Renfroe…or just Doc. To some he was Al, Uncle Al, Grandpa or Poppa.
To me, he was and is Dad.
Thank You for being here and God Bless you all.
Going to miss you dad. More than I can put into words.
- I can’t wait for this election season to be over. Everyone on Facebook and Twitter seem to think I care what their political opinions are. I am a grown man in my middle-years, you ain’t changing my mind.
- I never want a James Bond type missile launcher in my vehicle more than when someone pulls into an intersection during heavy traffic and is blocking it when the light changes. Are you listening Detroit?
- If you let any celebrity’s political stance determine your own, do us all a favor and sit this one out.
My middle school through high school years were fairly typical, I guess. There was a clearly defined social structure that developed about the time we were hitting 6th grade.
School was a minefield. One miscue, a bad hair day, an embarrassing incident or any little perceived imperfection could, and often would, get you labeled and relegated to whatever social strata the accusers would assign you.
Some kids were jerks. This is nothing new. Some were jerks to cover for their own insecurities or to impress another jerk that was higher up the food chain or just giving into pure mob mentality. Some were jerks because they were just jerks.
What has surprised me most is how we carry these scars into our adult lives. Comments we could easily brush off today as adults can leave lasting impressions on our psyche when made by our peers during our formative years.
A classmate of mine recently posted how an offhand comment that was made for a cheap laugh when she was in 10th grade has haunted her everyday for over 30-years. She told how everyday since that day, it has affected how she sees herself.
And all because some guy thought he was being cool at someone else’s expense.
Another classmate confided a few years ago that she was so painfully shy, that she would eat lunch with one of her teachers everyday instead of facing the jungle of the hallways. I had always saw her as one of the more popular kids and was surprised at her admission.
I guess I was fortunate that I never was a target for a lot of attacks. But a lot of kids were. And are.
What’s scary is that today it may even be worse that it was when I was in school. The rise of social media has seen a type of bullying come out that is more vicious than ever. People feel pretty tough behind a keyboard.
Recently, 15-year-old Amanda Todd from Vancouver, B.C. was driven to suicide by a cyberbully. I can’t even imagine what it was like for this young lady. I can’t fathom what she thought was so bad that she had to end her young life.
And what hits me hardest is what she had on a hand made sign that she used in a YouTube video she made shortly before her death describing what she was going through. The sign reads, “I have nobody. I need somebody.”
Words mean things. And mean words mean a lot more to a kid.
Parents, explain that what they say or do can hurt others. Practice this in front of your children. When they are the jerk, don’t just let it slide. And when they are victims of the jerks, make sure they know they have someone.