My eulogy from Dad’s memorial:
The quiet worries me.
We’ve been wiggling through Texas all week and are finally heading back home from some fairground’s flatbed trailer stage. My hair still smells like funnel cakes and cotton candy. Dad chooses a back road that winds through his old stomping ground, Fife, Texas, the place he feels most at home. We stop at the Finlay family cemetery and wander through our generations: Finlays, Shorts, Mitchells. I walk around aimlessly for a while and then look back. Dad’s stopped. He’s staring at his father’s headstone. His head nods softly toward the ground. I think about the first time my dad described the grandfather I was too young to meet, James Finlay, Jr.: “He was the strongest man that ever lived, ” Dad said. “Daddy was strong in every way. He did things well. He could shoot a jackrabbit in the head at two hundred yards with a twenty-two.”
My father stands at his father’s headstone. Seconds turn into minutes as he shakes his head over and over. Then suddenly, he looks up and signals toward our old orange Chevy van. We walk over together, climb in and start the five-hour trip home. We don’t speak. I tuck my legs under myself and curl up in the overstuffed front-seat captain’s chair, resting my head against the threadbare arm. My father weeps gently. I listen to the air and gravel out the window and cautiously eye my father. He coughs and tries to shake it off, noticing that I’m watching him. I’m nine years old, unsure and uncomfortable.
So I sing:
“Talking to myself again, wondering if this traveling is good…”
Dad loves singing in the van. We learned this John Sebastian song off an Everly Brothers cassette and it’s one of his favorites. It’s not one of mine. I know we’re not working this one up for a gig and we don’t have time to sing “for fun.” We have plenty to learn for work already. Dad’s still softly choking back tears, though, so I have to do something. This is what I do. It’s the only way I know to say, “It’ll be okay, Dad.”
“Is there something better you and I’d be doing if we could…”
I wait while Dad stares straight ahead. I can’t read him like usual – my friend, father and duo partner. I realize I’m holding my breath unintentionally but I can’t let myself breathe just yet.
Then he sings:
“But oh the stories we could tell
And if this all blows up and goes to hell..”
I sing harmony and Dad’s tears turn into a smile.
“I can still see us sitting on a bed in some motel
Singing all the stories we could tell”
We sing the song together and we sing another and another, all the way home. Our harmonies fill the air the entire trip.
“Thank you for that,” Dad says hours later when we climb out of the van and unload the gear. “Thank you.”
I stand here today at my father’s memorial. But suddenly I’m whisked back in time. I can see Dad there bird-doggin’ our old van right now. And all I want to do is walk over to him and climb in and head back to the house.
But of course, I can’t.
He’s left without me.
I’m no longer nine, but I’m still unsure and uncomfortable. Sad. Lonely. Really, really lonely without my dad.
But you know what? I also feel incredibly blessed. Grateful. Thankful. Think about what a man he was! Sitting in the captain’s chair by Dad’s side, I learned so many lessons in integrity and inspiration. Dedication and devotion. Living life to the fullest. Dreaming. Making dreams come true.
Thank you all for being here to celebrate my father, Kent Finlay. I can tell you without a doubt: He was the strongest man that ever lived.