Have you ever had a wonderful time at a funeral?
I did recently when I attended a service for Lloyd Webb of Creston, Iowa, who farmed into his nineties and met his literal deadline of turning 100 with four months and three days to spare. The service made my heart sing. It started with a recording of Paul Harvey’s classic “God Made a Farmer” and ended with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ duet of “Happy Trails to You.”
What a pleasure it was to hear Harvey’s vocal quirks again as he declared in a voice meant to sound like God’s, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, “Maybe next year.” After one of Harvey’s trademark dramatic pauses, the recording continued in his own voice, “So God made a farmer.”
Lloyd was father to a steadfast friend as I have ever had, Linda Buxton. Thanks to her family’s talent in photography, the backdrop for the service was a tapestry of images of Lloyd with kids, dogs, birthday cakes, cows, his beloved late wife, Anita, and contraptions held together with baling wire, spit and prayer. Displayed with the usual spray of flowers was a pair of well-worn boots and the wooden tool box Lloyd made in high school. Later his ashes were taken home in that toolbox via the John Deere 60 that his children grew up riding, and were returned to the earth he once worked.
The family circle is unbroken because that earth is now farmed by Lloyd’s grandson, Levi Buxton. Lloyd had no sons but called his quartet of daughters “The Fellas,” for each could work as hard as any man. The eldest daughter, Rozlin, was three when Lloyd married her mother, Anita. He treated the toddler as his own blood. She couldn’t pronounce her new dad’s name properly, and proudly announced to everyone, “We married Yoyd!”
Lloyd’s grandson Levi feared he might be too choked up to deliver the eulogy he wrote, so the Reverend Jim Morris read it for him: “Grandpa came in at night with a paper grocery bag that held his old gallon milk jug he’d re-used for water. He’d fill it up half full of water at night, take it to the deep freeze, and the next morning he’d fill the half- frozen jug up with water for a refreshing ice-cold drink to last him all day. As a child, it was fun to go with Grandpa to work, and when thirst called, we’d share the ice-cold water. Grandpa was frugal – never drank out of a store bought, insulated jug.”
Another of his grandpa’s quirks was parking his tractors on the little hill in the driveway by the garage so he could “roll-start them,” popping the clutch in to save wear on the starter. And before manufactured lights were available on tractors, he rigged his John Deere two-cylinder with lights so he could work longer. Linda remembers stories of how her dad trapped mink and used the proceeds to buy his first two cows. He was so thrifty that he not only sold the skunks’ pelts, but also once traded their grease—which was good for arthritis in the hands—with the watch repairman in Shannon City.
Reverend Morris wrapped up the service by observing wryly that he’d done the one thing his friend Lloyd had warned him against: going on too long. Still the stories continued down at the Eagles Club afterwards, with sandwiches (beef, of course!) and desserts made with that mixture of Cool Whip and cake mix and love that honors the dead and comforts the living. As I drove home through the hills that ribbon their way through southwest Iowa, the sun shone – uncommonly bright – on a life well lived.
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Rebecca Christian, an Ames writer, is a former Dubuquer who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org