I sat in the rear of the chapel, observing the impact of a life well loved. The room was filled with mostly family including supportive friends. Just his own children numbered seven. Multiply that a few times and you get grands- and great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, in-laws and more. A legacy and tribute to his life.
A memorial service for an elderly neighbor. Not just any neighbor. But, a neighbor from my early childhood, a long-time friend of my parents. It’s times like this that can surprise us with reminders of days thought long forgotten. I know it did for me.
Alan LeRoy Willard.
I’ve heard him referred to as “Al” and “LeRoy” at different times, but, LeRoy was the favored. For me, as a youth, it was simply “Mr. Willard.” We didn’t dare call adults by their first names in those days. It was considered disrespectful and presumptuous. Even now, that formality remains. It just ‘sticks’, and so, “Mr. Willard” is how I remember him.
The Willard family were our across-the-street neighbors on Pacific Street. Most of the houses on this long block were nearly identical in structure. Our family bought and moved into our two-level, four bedroom home in the mid-’60s. My dad, who knew no stranger, quickly acclimated as he puttered in the yard or wrestled with the wrench under the hood of our ‘woody’ station wagon. He and Mr. Willard would exchange words with knowing nods while bent and greased to the elbows under that hood.
I’m not sure how the friendship began between our household and the Willards’, but it very well could have been cemented from something as simple as that wrench.
Mr. Willard was the quiet sort. I really never heard him speak much, but he was quite involved in his community and children’s lives. My dad and Mr. Willard volunteered in Boy Scouts at different times, while their sons earned ranks and badges. They equally enjoyed coaching Little League teams at Montavilla park. Guitar and fiddle jam sessions, together with friends and extended family, made Saturday nights memorable.
My mom and Mrs. Willard also shared a friendship just as meaningful. So much of what they did in those days reflected the importance of family and community. As they assisted in Scouting as Den Mothers or keeping score for baseball games, their homes had the open-door of hospitality. These moms enjoyed the latest crafts when it came to macrame and paints. Tupperware parties and afternoon coffee were shared at one home or another. They supported their husbands and kids in the various activities and parenting that came with being neighbors. It was a friendship that breathed so naturally.
Our families were unique from each other in small ways. Their roots were from Tennessee, and, so I learned geography! I had no idea where this state was located. It could have been a foreign country for all I knew. But, they were proud of their heritage as much as I was of my Montana roots. In our youthful innocence, us kids would sometimes compare our understanding of faith in God, while grappling with our growing adolescence and world view of the ’70s. Regardless of where we worshiped, or what views we embraced, there was a moral fiber that needed no explanation. Our parents taught us by example and word.
Weekends always seemed to celebrate the long-awaited break from the work week. Most often we could find my folks at their house, or they at ours, playing Pinochle or Cribbage till late in the night. Summer time would take our families to Oxbow park for camping. I don’t know how the moms did it with all the preparations, because it seemed we would go just about every week. Invariably, our Oregon weather could be unpredictable, but rain didn’t deter us from these weekend get-aways. Us kids always found our own adventures on trails beckoning us to explore the out of doors.
The years just flew by. No longer children, we pressed into the adult world. The kids began to find their way through work, marriage, education or other. My parents would eventually moved out of state while Mr. and Mrs. Willard remained in their home on Pacific Street, nestled into their lives as grandparents and favored Aunt and Uncle.
Mr. Willard enjoyed taking quiet walks around the park behind his home. His daily strolls included feeding the rambunctious squirrels frequenting the area. Eventually, the years caught up with him, and his strength became less manageable.
So, on this day of his memorial, Alan LeRoy Willard was honored by military salute with Taps. He was a Navy veteran. The American flag draping his coffin, folded tightly into it’s traditional triangle, was presented to his wife, Barbara. He will be buried at Willamette Memorial cemetery.
This service, planned and arranged by himself long before his death, included the traditional hymns The Old Rugged Cross and In the Garden. Lyrics revealing the testimony of his life – of trusting faith in his future, and his daily walk together with his Savior, Jesus Christ. Giving the image of his solitary walks at Montavilla Park.
I struggled with the huge lump in my throat. The bond of friendship runs deep and strong. Even over the passage of time. It’s eternal. These moments of sorrow, also bring joy with knowing how important lifelong friendships are.
Sometimes what we see in hindsight, we wish we could have seen while in the present.
I hugged Barb, and two of her daughters, Linda and Vickie, chatting briefly. We experienced many things in those formative times, and those times were part of what shaped us for today. I am grateful.
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
~ Proverbs ~