Don, my father-in-law, recently passed away at 82. Back in the 70s upon learning that his number one (first) daughter Mary Ann was dating me, a black guy, Don said, “If I see that guy on my street, I will shoot him.” Well, Mary and I got married anyway. Neither her family or mine attended our humble wedding in a park.
After a year or two, Don saw that his daughter was happy. Over time Mary’s parents grew to accept and respect me. One could not ask for more loving and supportive in-laws.
I have black friends who assume white people freely use the “n-word” when in all-white company. Mary told me such an ugly word would never be allowed to be used in their home when she was growing up.
Mary and her two sisters adored their dad. All three felt they had a special relationship with him. Don’s daughters married men who love and respect them. They in-turn, treat their men well. Mary said in many ways, I remind her of her dad.
As you can imagine raising three headstrong, bold and confident daughters can be quite challenging for a father, especially in their rebellious teenage years. Don loved them, was there for them and survived all of their adolescent stuff.
In times of trouble the girls knew they could count on dad.
Early in our marriage, Mary and I were traveling to a Mary Kay Cosmetics sales meeting at which Mary was a finalist in a big regional sales competition. Our car broke down. Mary called her dad and he drove us to the meeting. Keep in mind, Don still was not too keen on having a black son-in-law. However, his daughter needed him and nothing was going to stop Don from coming to her rescue. We rode in silence all the way to the meeting. Mary won the top sales award.
Don was a hard-working man who not only provided and nurtured his family, but his extended family, and anyone else in need. Mary said as a child she remembers washing dishes for 11 people in their household. Don and my dad, who also took on a lot of responsibility at an early age, were from a generation in which families did what they had to do. If a family member needed assistance or a place to stay for a while, you took them in your home.
Mary parents were frugal, not cheap.
Don’s memorial was held at the local fire hall in their West Virginia small town. His daughters wanted to make it a catered affair, but their mom insisted that it be covered dish in keeping with the way they did things. It was a lovely warm event.
As the minister eulogized Don, there were rumblings by the new babies of the family in the background; also typical of their family gatherings.
The eulogy revealed that a total of 17 needy or troubled kids passed through their safe haven household over the years. One kid stayed four years.
Mary’s parents continued their tradition of stepping up in times of need well into their senior years. A troubled relative had triplets born prematurely. Don and Mary’s mom took on the task of feeding the tiny babies every two hours.
One of the triplets is married with her own baby. She, her husband and their baby attended Don’s memorial.
The fire hall was filled with family and friends. I planned to keep a low profile and sat in the back. Mary’s sisters insisted that I sit up front with them. The minister asked over the microphone if anyone was scheduled to sing. Spontaneously, Mary’s sister asked if I would sing Amazing Grace.
She introduced me over the microphone, “We will have Amazing Grace sung by my brother-in-law, Lloyd.”
As I sang, Mary’s mom, Mary and her sisters wept.
I could not help but reflect on God’s grace. The same guy that Don threatened to shoot had become a beloved and respected member of his family.
Don was a very good man. He is extremely missed. Mary has good days and sad days.