Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day


       Good morning.  My name is Rebecca O'Donnell.  I have had the great good fortune of knowing my stepfather, Charlie Dodd, for the past twenty-six years, ever since he first met my mother.  It is an honor to speak about him today.  I’ve always considered him my second father.  I’d like to start off by reading a Cherokee poem, in deference to Charlie’s Cherokee blood. 
Do not stand at my grave and weep.  I am not there, I do not sleep.  I’m a thousand winds that blow, I’m the diamond glints on snow.  I’m the sunlight on a ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain.  When you awaken in the morning hush, I’m the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.  I am the stars that shine at night.  Do not stand at my grave and cry.  I am not there.  I did not die.
And here’s a note Charlie’s neighbor handed to my mom last night:  To work with him – to know him – to call Him Friend, My Friend, what a blessing.  I can still remember his kind smile and encouragement, how he cared for others, his example in living right – this I will keep and cherish forever.
The Sunday before he died, Mom and Charlie went out to eat after church.  He was so happy, sitting there eating his favorite pork dinner with his favorite lady, and they talked for a long time.  He said,  “You know, we’re all sinners.  Only one of us was pure enough to pay the price for our sins.  Only one.  His Son Jesus paid the price for all of us, and we should live our lives to show we are worth it.”  Charlie lived those words every day of his life.  So many people got to see him unexpectedly that last week, from chance meetings in the super market to unannounced visits.  It was almost as if God was giving us all one last treat before taking him home for good. 
Now, a eulogy is supposed to be a tribute to the life of those who’ve passed, a synopsis of things remembered.  So, I thought I’d begin at the beginning and share what I know about this precious man.  Charlie was born on June 14, 1922.  He first showed his incredible survival instinct when he was only a toddler, fending off a rabid dog which had been terrorizing the livestock in the area.  When the dog attacked him, little Charlie wrapped his legs around it like a wrestler, grabbed its ears, and forced its head down to the ground.  It bit both him and his dad when Charles senior came to the rescue.  After the dog’s disease was proven, they drove into Springfield to the doctor’s office.  Charlie regarded this as a treat (before the shots, anyway), because he saw his very first streetlight from the doctor’s fifth floor window.  He stood on the window ledge and watched the colors change, certain that if he didn’t blink, he’d catch that quick little magic man who was running up there and switching those lights from green to yellow to red.  Charlie thought the man was hiding behind a truck parked at the curb.  He began baking at a young age, that is, when he couldn’t charm his mom into making the biscuits for him; being worn out by farm chores was the most popular excuse.  But his generosity was already starting to show itself.  He was visiting his grandmother every Sunday to do her laundry by the time he was a teenager.  He took care of his wild and wooly Grandpa Fuzz, and bought root beers for friends and strangers alike if he had an extra nickel, which was rare.  He began dating Florence “Babe” Spain fresh out of high school, when he got a job at Krogers and Babe attended stenography classes at Brown’s Business college.  On Friday nights, Bud and Babe double dated with his pal Tuffy and his girl, driving around reading Burma Shave signs and eating at the Steak & Shake.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Bud and Tuffy joked about how soon they’d enlist and win the war.  Bud quit his job at Krogers soon after the fall of Corregidor and the Bataan death march, but his mother convinced him to wait a few months before enlisting.  Popular expectations at the time were that the war would only last six months now that America was involved.  By early 1942, Bud realized the truth, got the afternoon off from his state job planting trees around Lake Springfield, and went to the post office, where the Marine recruiting station was.  Always sensitive about his height, he’d been intrigued by the Marine Corps recruiting poster which read, “After All, Only 100,000 get to be Marines.”  He liked the idea of elitism, and wanted to win a secret bet with his buddies.  Since Marine requirements were at least 5’8” tall and 165 pounds in weight, his friends bet him ten dollars that he wouldn’t even have the guts to go and try to enlist.  After the recruiting sergeant measured, weighed, and scribbled on a pad, Bud was told to show up a week later at the Springfield train station, where the train would take him into Chicaco for the full physical.  Stunned, Bud asked, “But, ain’t I under height?  Ain’t I underweight?”  The sergeant stopped scribbling, looked up with a slow grin and said, “Didn’t you know?  We waived those requirements two weeks ago because of the war.”  Bud swallowed his fear, ate a bunch of bananas to gain weight for the physical, and was bundled off to San Diego before he could blink twice.  He got one trip home to visit his family and marry his sweetheart, then it was duration plus six months, the tour of duty he’d signed up for.  Deep in the Pacific war, Bud became part of the Third Marine Division and fought on Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima.  While there, he suffered through dysentery, intestinal malaria, dengue “bone breaker” fever, grenade shrapnel, torn chest ligaments, skin lesions, fungus and a parade of insect problems.  He was shot twice by friendly fire, saved the lives of countless buddies, loved Boogie Woogie and polkas, stole an entire truck of army beer, risked his life to get twenty canteens of coffee for his platoon, and crawled out of his foxhole to pull a wounded man to safety during a mortar barrage.  He became squad leader on Guam, and fiercely protected his team.  They loved him as much as he loved them.  A con man refused to share a can of peanuts within the squad, and Charlie short-sheeted his bunk, filling it with crumbled saltines that stuck in the thick humid heat.  A non-commissioned officer called Bud’s squad a bunch of pantywaists, and Bud got in a fight with him.  Unfortunately, the non-com was a pro wrestler back in the states.  Bud woke up in the hospital just in time to ship out to Iwo Jima, where he saw the famous flag raising and took part in the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history.  After the war ended, Bud traveled home by ship, cattle car, and open truck in the winter, where he saw Babe for the first time in two years and toasted in the New Year, 1946.  He got his old job back working for the state, found he could no longer bear closed spaces or talk of war, and swore he would never have a job indoors again. 
      The time between 1946 and when I met him in 1979 is known far better by most of the people here than by me.  I heard him speak of his days on the railroad, when he met his most beloved best friend Jim Wilkins, how he qualified on his postal exam, happy to have a job outdoors for always now.  His wife Florence died tragically on New Year’s eve, and some years later, friends set him up on a blind date with my mom.  I first set eyes on him as he pulled up in our drive, and liked the looks of him right away.  The twinkle in the eye, the glee and orneriness, the gentleness, generosity, and thoughtfulness of Charlie Dodd.  Anybody who’s ever known him know just what I’m talking about.  The great goodness of the man is legend.  For example, when he got money as a gift at Christmas, he’d tuck it in his pocket to give to someone less fortunate, stranger or friend.  He fed sparrows and starlings when other people fed cardinals and robins, insisting that God had made them all and they all had to eat, pretty or not.  Not blessed with children of his own, he became father, uncle and grandfather to every child he knew, including my own.  He loved my mother with all his heart, as she loved him, and they had such fun together.   He had that delightful, skewed humor, like the time he went over to Mom’s house while she was at work and laboriously wove toilet paper from the bathroom roll through the rungs of Mom’s kitchen chairs, wrapped it around the garage door knob, drew a happy face on it, and left it all for her to find when she got home.  Or the time Mom’s neighbor caught him, only a few years ago, at the tip top of the antenna on Mom’s roof, painting it.  When the neighbor yelled for him to get down from there, Charlie just grinned and said, “I noticed yours needed painting, too.  Want me to do it?”  She forbid him from touching her roof and yelled for him to come down before he broke his neck.  A few days later, she came home to find her antenna painted.  This last Wednesday, while I was cleaning out his house, I found a can of peanut brittle in a drawer.  When I opened it, three giant cloth worms flew out.  I looked heavenward, my head covered with worms, and said, “Good one, Charles.”  And he was always there to lend a hand.  He fixed countless plumbing, laid miles of electrical wire, hammered and sawed, mowed and weeded, fed and cleaned, prayed and laid to rest scores of loved ones.  Staff at the hospital thought he was a pastor, he tended to the sick so often.  No one could believe he was doing it just to be kind.  But that was the core of Charlie Dodd.  He always did it just to be kind.  He never asked for anything, and he hated suffering.  It was as simple, and as beautiful as that.  A few years ago, he was at a Marine Corps reunion, when a stranger came to his table while he was in the bathroom.  The stranger asked if anyone there knew who carried his uncle down the hill on Guam in 1944.  His uncle had been sliced open by a samurai sword, and some unknown Marine from third squad had carried him a mile downhill to the hospital tent.  The stranger had been trying to locate this hero for years.  As Charlie returned to the table, his friends asked, “Hey, Dodd, didn’t you carry Smith down to the med tent after that big banzai charge?”  Charlie said, “Yeah.”  The stranger threw his arms around him and burst into tears.  It had been Charlie.  Of course it had been Charlie.  Whether it’s Texas cake therapy, pecan pie and apple cake comfort, Wednesday meetings, polka dances or roof repair, Charlie has been in the business of saving people his whole life.  He was, and is, a prince among men.  Charles Fredrick Dodd was the greatest man I have ever met.  I have little doubt that he will remain so until I die.  There will never be another one like him, and from the depths of my soul, Charlie, I love you and I always will.  You will be missed.

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