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Three score and ten or more

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A Wonderful Joyous Funeral.

I know, the words in this title seem like total oxymoron, but Clifton Dayley’s funeral was, for me, a joyous event. Let me assure you that it was not a joyous event for his wife of almost forty five years, and that it was not a tearless event for me, but I will always think of it in terms of joy. I will try to detail the entire trip to you, and let you judge.

I think I began to feel that this week was going to go well when I debarked from a long Northwest Airlines flight and trundled our baggage to the Avis counter. I had reserved my car through RCI, the timeshare trade company, because I have never been able to equal their car rental prices from any other source. When I reserved the car, the telephone clerk asked me what kind of car I wanted, and I replied “The smallest, cheapest, and best on gas.”

He noted that he would reserve a Chevrolet - - - (I cant’ remember the name, but he assured me that this mini-chevy would be comfortable AND cheap). When I presented my reservation printout at the Avis desk the young lady looked at me, and with a smile, said, ”Suppose I didn’t have a Chevy—in stock, would you be satisfied with a new silver grey Cadillac at the same price?”

Grinning to show that I was a good sport I replied, “Sure, I would take two at that price (which was something just over twenty dollars a day.)”

There was a medium long pause and the attractive young lady said, “No, I’m serious, I am out of small cars, would you object to the Cadillac?” I was a little taken aback, and mumbled something about “I was hoping for good mileage”.

She assured me that the mileage was much better than the three SUVs, which were my alternative, so I took the Caddy. When I opened the trunk of the four door silver/grey 2006 Cadillac DTS and realized that it would not only hold our baggage, but, as one of my favorite Gospel Singer/Comedians often says, “It would also hold missionaries on furlough.” I felt a little lump in my throat. When I deposited my own more than ample carcass in the front seat and leaned back just in time to hear Janet say “I love leather car seats, and that new car smell,.” I knew instinctively that MY week was off to a good start. (I had no way of knowing that up in Idaho, things at my sister’s home were a bit less pleasant, as I noted in a previous post.)

I saw a television commercial for that model just this afternoon. The value price in the commercial was over forty two thousand dollars. That car is worth more than the combined prices of the first two homes I bought (on thirty year mortgages). Oh well, as the L’Oreal commercial spokeswoman says “I’m worth it”. Since I was in Utah, even though I had driven to my sister’s home in Bountiful before, I accepted the fact that anyone who can get lost going to Wal-Mart (me) should get directions so I took my handy-dandy new Kyocera/Alltel cell phone (You would think I was getting paid for commercials) and called my sister for directions. After receiving them, I said, nonchalantly “Just look for the new Cadillac Sedan.” By then I am feeling more and more like Hyacinth in the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, The only thing I lacked was some famous geek to wave at me from the street. (or at whom I could wave???)

Seriously, it was really comfortable, and if I could have figured out how to use all of its features, I wouldn’t have had to call for directions. It had a little map gizmo in the front, and Onstar (which I wouldn’t have used anyway being a skinflint at heart), and though I would not consider paying a monthly fee for Sirius radio, I did enjoy the commercial free music as we drove along We arrived at the home of my sister and brother-in-law where we settled in and spent several hours (till 4:00 A.M. visiting, with much of the conversation dealing with family, family health, and the funeral in Boise of my aunt, the previous week, which I really couldn’t attend, but I was eager to be filled in on the house and health of all of my family members. When you reach “a certain age” reacquainting with people that you love is very fulfilling. If we hadn’t a funeral to attend, other relatives to mix with, if there were nothing else, the long discussions that evening would have justified the flight to Utah.

Our plan was to drive to Magic Valley the next day, taking my older brother with us. We would then focus Friday and Saturday on Clif’s funeral and the attendant activities, then on Saturday evening, after the funeral Virginia and Sherman would drive up to Idaho and we would spend the rest of the weekend going to church, reminiscing , going to church, wandering about the farm, etc.

It didn’t turn out to be that simple. Early in the morning we received news of Deedee and Dan’s adventures with the swat teams, and my brother called to let us know that he could not travel with us that morning. He suddenly didn’t feel well, and, not being sure whether his blood sugar was messing up or his heart was giving a problem, he felt that he should see his doctor that day. After having pie for breakfast, and going out to lunch with Virginia and Sherman, Janet and I were faced with the ordeal of a two or three hour drive in our “new” car. Sigh, the agony of it all.

For someone with my family background, the drive from Salt Lake City up to the Magic Valley (Magic Valley is a term that includes the counties of Cassia, Minidoka, Twin Falls, Filer, and a couple of others. It stretches almost from the Utah border on the South to and past the Grand Canyon of the Snake River up to Lincoln County in the north). It is a remarkable area. It was regarded as part of the great American desert till irrigation made it one of the most fertile areas in the world. The crops, literally bursting from the ground contrast with visible flows of lava cropping up amongst the sagebrush and the cheat grass almost at the fertile field’s edge. Lava rock was considered one of the easiest and best building materials in some areas, and the town of Shoshone has some remarkable buildings made of lava rock, while the town of Oakley and the area surrounding it an hour or two to the south, are famous for top quality granite that is exported as far as California.

Not long after the turn of the century, my mother’s family found it necessary to move from Ogden, Utah to Lewisville, Idaho north of the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and not far from the Craters of the Moon National monument. As they moved by wagon for the several hundred mile trip, they had a newly freshened cow with a calf that would be unable to move as fast as the wagons. My mother’s uncle Charlie, then about 11 or 12 years old was given a pack and directions and followed on alone with the cow and calf, starting up toward the Magic Valley, and cutting off to the Northeast somewhere along the path, trying to avoid as much of the Reservation as possible but still having to ford the Snake and several other rivers by himself, arriving at his destination some two or three weeks after the rest of the family. I have been shown, by relatives, at least six different routes for his journey, and a variety of tales of his adventures, and was shocked to learn that, only a few years later the family was found back in Ogden, where my mother was born, only to make the trek again (this time with the help of the Union Pacific Railroad for more than half the way) a few years later.

Even when you have been away a long time, as I have, traveling through these valleys and over these passes brings a wrench to the heart. A part of me will always be in the mountains and valleys of Idaho no matter where my bones are finally buried.

We made the trip up to Minidoka and Cassia counties in short and comfortable order. There is no comparison between “shank’s pony” and a ride in a new Cadillac. When we arrived at my sister’s home we heard all about their adventure with the swat team, but things had become largely peaceful, and we had a long and fruitful visit with the family, making a trip that evening to a small town to the south, the name of which slips my memory (I want to say Albion, but it may be just mental confusion because we made a lengthy visit to that town a couple of days later) for a wonderful prime rib dinner, then we went back to the farm to visit, rest and get prepared for the funeral the following day.
We had expected some kind of family activity preceding the funeral, but, though we used up all our phone numbers we couldn’t seem to locate anything.

Janet called her sister in Pocatello and made arrangements to meet her on the way to the funeral so she could ride with us. On the way they shared all the family news. We got to the funeral almost an hour early so they had time to visit with people they hadn’t seen for several years. As people came in, some of them ooohed and aaahed at the Cadillac wondering whence came such prosperity. (You could never guess that we are plebeians all.)

To discuss the funeral, or more accurately, the celebration of the life of Clifton Vere Dayley, it is probably necessary to talk a little about the man himself. I have a great source. My wife, Janet spent the better part of four years writing (or editing) his autobiography. I can’t really go directly to her text, but I can tell some of the things I learned about Clif Dayley while helping her select pictures and do layout. One of the most revealing things would be her impetus toward the project. She took a class dealing with biographical records and the instructor made the statement “Is there anyone you know, or who is in your family who has made such an impact on you that you would be devastated if his or her story was not told? If there is, you now are aware of your task.”
This became a true labor of love.

No one could be more average than Clif. He was a farm boy and a good athlete who grew up in a small farming town in Idaho. He worked on the family farm almost all his life, but he was able to make himself known as a High School Football Player and he won local, state, and regional accolades as a Golden Gloves Boxer. He joined the navy right out of high school, because the Second World War was underway. He wanted to be a chemist, but the navy made him a cook, a baseball player, a boxer (he boxed with world championship level boxers in the navy) a Shore Patrolman, and did most of these on the way to, or while stationed in the Philippines. While he was in the navy, he got in a real fist fight, and knocked his opponent out with one blow, an experience that sickened him to the degree that he made a vow never again to hit another man in anger. He swore that he never did. When he arrived home from the navy, with the GI bill in front of him, his father took him aside and revealed that he (the father) was leaving, and that he(Clifton) was now the man of the family and had to run the farm, take care of his mother, and raise his little brother (two other siblings had already married and departed from the house). He did.

He homesteaded a little farm of his own next door in order to have more acreage, and ran the farm for many years. Not too long after his return he began to have trouble walking and was diagnosed with tularemia (parrot fever in the tropics, rabbit fever in Idaho) which he had contracted while in the navy. In his forties, he met a wonderful woman with three children and married her, only to extend her family a bit as their time together went on.

He worked on the farm as long as he could, then moved into town and worked for the Irrigation company, for the Bureau of Land Management, and for other farmers (One of my favorite stories is the one where he went to work in the harvest, in his wheel chair, and they used a fork lift to get him out of the wheel chair and into a tractor seat..) Eventually he had to move into an extended care facility and from there into a nursing home, but he continued to always raise a garden at these facilities. Over the years he was treated for the tularemia, and also for multiple sclerosis, and a variety of other disabling diseases. It is said that no child ever met him who went away without a lollipop and a feeling of love and caring. He said once, that the best job he ever had paid five dollars an hour, but he only worked there one day.

His extended family includes teachers (my wife, for instance) long haul truckers, commercial fishermen and a wide variety of other folks.

His funeral was held in the Shoshone, Idaho LDS chapel. He had asked to be cremated and have his ashes distributed over the fields and river of his home area, so there was no “viewing”. The rather large crowd attending included old (several in wheel chairs, motorized and not) and young, in dress ranging from suits with white shirts and ties, to tie dyed shirts, men in jeans and work shirts, a woman in a miniskirt, and a group of young men and women dressed in extreme, but respectful goth gear. The funeral itself was rather informal with the music consisting of singing mostly Mormon hymns dealing with children. My wife and I were both in tears when the principal speaker celebrated Clif’s life, dedicating most of his time to reading sections from Janet’s biography of Clif. That moment was worth the trip, the money, anything we might have had to do and didn’t in order to get there. (have you noticed how many moments were like this?) The actual funeral was followed by a movement of the crowd outdoors where a ceremony was held by a group of elderly gentlemen from either the VFW or the American Legion which included a several gun rifle salute and a presentation of a flag to the widow.

Almost everyone at the funeral then moved into the cultural hall where old friendships were renewed and new friendships were made as the mourners ate a meal which had been prepared by the women of the Shoshone Ward. There was a lot of hugging, “aren’t you ---?” and “remember when--?” questions, introductions, as well as re-introductions, with the flash of digital cameras penetrating almost every moment.

The fellowship between widely varied people, who had almost nothing in common except the experience of love and regard for and from Clif Dayley, was remarkable. Everyone seemed reluctant to leave, and the ‘over the table’ fellowship continued long after all the food was gone. It was only after we had said our reluctant good byes and departed that I remembered the large bouquet of lollipops which had graced the pulpit, and from which everyone was invited to take a souvenir. I am still a little irritated with my self for not taking one home.

As we left Shoshone, we made a decision to take the long way, and to drive through Twin Falls. We had spent two very happy years in Twin Falls while I was teaching High School Speech and Drama and Janet was teaching Junior High School English. I suspect that we would still be living in Twin Falls if the local banker had not made it clear that the combined incomes of two teachers was inadequate for an eleven thousand dollar loan to purchase of a little tract house. We left his office determined to go to graduate school to qualify for a bigger salary.

It was still a happy time, and we determined to drive through the city and refresh memories. We were both a little shocked at how the city had changed (after all, it had only been about forty five years since we left.) When we were teaching there, the area between the High School and the Snake River Canyon was a dry mile or so of flat land covered with sage brush and cheat grass. One of our saddest memories was of a group of five or so high school students who had decided to drive their car across that mini desert to chase jack rabbits. Apparently they were so intent on the rabbits that they didn’t notice the canyon rim and they drove off the edge, killing all aboard the car.

Seeing the canyon is still a shock, appearing abruptly in the flat plain, and dropping several hundred feet to the river with lava cliffs on either side. Most people in the U.S. are only familiar with the Snake River Canyon because Evel Kneivel a famous daredevil made a spectacle of it and of himself attempting to jump the canyon on a motorcycle for national television. It is spectacular. The Shoshone Falls at one end is superseded in width and height only by Niagra Falls, though the Snake River falls is often dry because the water was taken up for irrigation. Nearer the city of Twin Falls the canyon is crossed by the Perrine Bridge, from which you can look out over the Blue Lakes Country Club and wonderful orchards at the bottom of the canyon.
I was shocked by the buildings hard against the canyon wall at the top. The plain where the ill fated car was chasing jackrabbits is now covered by shopping malls and a massive Home Depot store, with two or three housing developments behind them. Borah Street, which was fairly long street, the site of our home, is now only one block long, and the area where stood our house is now an enormous church and its parking lot.

This thing is getting as long as Moby Dick, and, since I am not doing well with picture posting today either I think I will draw this part to a close and try to post the remainder of our Magic Valley, post-funeral journey in “Wonderful Joyous Funeral” part two.


At 3:21 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Part one was much more enjoyable than the Sunday papers and I look forward to part two.

At 5:27 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Wow. Excellent! I have been too involved to get to my usual blogs. Glad I took the time to stop by. I admire your gift of writing, Richard. Thanks for the first installment. I am with Patrick, can't wait for the next.


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