Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Eulogy for My Father

Dayne Sherman
September 26, 2013
Words: 1,599

My father would have turned seventy-six years old today. He has been gone almost two years. This is the text of his eulogy, which I delivered at his memorial service in Baptist, a small community outside of Hammond where he was born and died.

Eulogy for Ronald Paul Sherman
December 17, 2011
Hammond, Louisiana

Thank you all for coming this afternoon. My father would have been pleased to see so many friends and relatives. Today I hope to celebrate and remember my father as I knew him. He was an unpretentious and humble man, and he might take umbrage over an event such as this one called in his honor. Those of you who knew him will have your own stories and memories, but these are my memories, or at least a few of them that I am willing to speak about in public.

My father, known as “Ronnie” to everyone, was born in Hammond during the Great Depression, and he lived his whole life in Tangipahoa Parish. He was the youngest child in a very large family of eleven children. Much of his early childhood always seemed sketchy to me. Dad’s father was a farmer, and he died when my dad was very young, perhaps under five or six years old. My father’s mother was a really tough lady who was in poor health for a long time, and she died when my father was in his late teens. The family lived in houses not far from downtown Hammond, and they raised a garden and kept chickens and hogs for food in the backyard to get throughout the Depression and World War II years. Dad picked strawberries for money, and he hunted rabbits with his two dogs, Tippy, a Chihuahua, and Gracie, a Greyhound, which must have been the strangest-looking pair of hunting dogs in Southern history.

The Great Depression brought hard times to Hammond. In the Vindicator newspaper during the weeks around the time my father was born in 1937, there was an advertisement offering land for sale in Tangipahoa Parish suitable for dairying and tung oil farming. The cost: four dollars an acre. 

The newspaper ran a glowing article about the brand new Strawberry Stadium built at Southeastern Louisiana College, as it was called back then, through President Roosevelt’s WPA program. Dad’s older brother, my Uncle Harry, told me he had worked on the stadium as a ten-year-old boy doing manual labor, pushing a wheelbarrow full of wet concrete up zigzagged planks to build the structure, which still stands today 74 years later, and I’m sure extra money was needed to take care of the new baby in the house.

Dad was a mischievous boy and he continued to be so all of his life. He more than once told me about going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans as a child and using a long lady’s hatpin to stick somebody ahead of him in the crowd just to see a big fight break out. Likewise, he accidentally shot a neighbor with a .22 rifle, the neighbor referred to only as “The Cajun.” Well, he was never really called “The Cajun” in the story, but I don’t care to use the real word in this particular setting. Regardless, the Frenchman made a complete recovery and Dad didn’t have to go to prison. If these stories aren’t totally true, Dad rarely let the bare facts get in the way of a good story.

After eight years of Catholic school, my father started working full-time as a dump truck driver at fourteen-year-old, even though he didn’t have a driver’s license.

He loved mechanic work and running bull dozers and backhoes, and he really liked operating cherry pickers and cranes. He was a proud union member, but he was probably the happiest when he was working on a car in our driveway, and the greasier he got, the better he enjoyed it.

No matter what he was doing for work, he always spent time with his buddies, most of them Italians, doing what he called “bumming around.” Basically, just hanging out and fixing cars. If I had to say his life had a theme, it would be just “bumming around.” No agenda. No plan. No worries. And no deadlines. Bumming around and enjoying himself is what he did.

As a result of making time to bum around, my father always had great friends and a close-knit extended family. When I was a kid, there was little surprise one morning when I awoke to see a stranger sleeping on the couch. The “stranger” was somebody my father had bailed out of the parish jail the night before, an old friend in trouble and needing help.

There were some distinctive things about my father. He liked to keep his hair cut as short as peach fuzz. He enjoyed deep fried soft shell crabs and oysters. His answer to almost any personal problem was to go wash your face with a towel drenched in warm water. He woke up every morning at about four-thirty and rarely missed the six o’clock Swap Shop on WFPR. He liked scrambling quarterbacks, CB radios, truck stop cafes, and watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Beside his bed, he did not keep a handgun for self-defense. Instead, he had a big can of wasp and hornet spray that he swore could blind an intruder as far away as the other end of the house.

My father could get riled up occasionally, and nothing was more dangerous to public safety than messing with his mailbox. The maddest I’ve ever seen him was when someone beat our mailbox with a baseball bat when I was a kid, and it was a good thing he never found the person who did it.

He never wanted much. He said he wished to be cremated, and I suspect he did this just to save the family some cash. He was satisfied driving old beat-up Ford trucks and drinking coffee from his own pot and eating honey buns most days for breakfast. He was a humble man in every way, and he came into the world poor and left it just the same. But in a country where greed seems to be the current pastime, I can say with confidence that he never cheated anyone out of a dollar, and he didn’t have a greedy bone in his body.

One of my favorite teachers used to say that when an old person dies, a library is lost forever. This was certainly true with my father. To say that he was an authority on the Hammond area would not be an overstatement. And he knew about all kinds of different things from how to rebuild carburetors to when to plant okra, and if he didn’t know the answer to your question, he’d tell you a line about something or other and hope you were happy with that instead.

Dad loved to talk about the weather. More than once I’ve heard the phone ring, and he’d say, “Hello. Where are you?” And then a moment or two would pass, and I’d be thinking he was talking to a friend. Then he’d say, “What’s the weather like there?” After a few follow-up questions, he’d always say, “No, podner, I don’t want none of that today.” Dad was talking to a telemarketer, and he’d just hi-jacked the phone call for a weather report in Oklahoma City.

He could be a hardheaded man, and it was frustrating at times. The last day he was home from the hospital in mid-November, my sister, Melissa, was horrified to see him lighting a cigarette inside the house while on oxygen. She told him that it was dangerous, so he just took the little nose piece off his face and draped the plastic line over his walker and smoked anyway.

Dad loved his grandkids, and he had special names for each of them: Tristen was “Poodle Doodle,” Parker was “Scooter,” and my son Nate was simply “The Boy.”

He was a tough man, growing up where he did and how he did. When I look at his illnesses, and I can count at least fifteen deadly medical conditions that he fought ranging from lung cancer to stomach bleeding to staph infection to name only three, he made it as long as he did out of general toughness and the desire to hang in there as long as he could.

During my father’s prolonged illness, which started three years ago next month, he had perhaps thirty different hospital stays and countless calls to 911. A few lines from “The Great Litany” of the Book of Common Prayer have given me a measure of comfort during the time. The petitioner asks to be delivered from the following: “From all oppression, conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared.” Today, most of us would like to suffer very little and die suddenly in our sleep.

My father was in a long, slow decline, and at least we were able to try to look after him when he would let us. We saw the end coming well in advance, but it doesn’t make it any easier to face now. At least it allowed us to try to say good-bye a little at a time over the past few years, and for this I am thankful. Still, it is a reminder to be prepared for death and be careful to say our good-byes and make our peace God and one another while we have the opportunity.

Please join me in committing this man to a merciful God, committing this father, grandfather, husband, uncle, cousin, neighbor, and friend to the Lord’s grace.

Ronnie Sherman, my father, will be deeply missed. He is already deeply missed as a member of my family and this community. And thank you for being here today to help me remember his life.

Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula, Louisiana. He covers the South like kudzu and promises that he never burned Atlanta. He is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is
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