Eulogy for my Father
William Joseph Patrick White
March 18, 1926—March 20, 2015
Back in March of 1926, my grandmother fell down the back stairs. At the time, she was pregnant with my father, and that tumble sparked early-onset labor. Claire and Bill White drove to the hospital in a Model T, along East Street in Pittsfield. It was mud season; the roads were deeply rutted, but they made their way to Saint Luke’s Hospital in time for their baby boy’s birth. William Joseph Patrick White weighed in at just over three pounds. The nuns sent them home with little hope for the baby’s survival, but Bill White, Sr., was a clever new father. He rigged a cigar box with electric light bulbs to keep his tiny son warm. Claire and Bill kept their boy in that box behind the stove, and made the trek to Hinsdale every day for fresh goat’s milk; it was the only nourishment their child could tolerate.
Billy White, ‘Budoo,’ as he called himself as a young child – he had difficulties pronouncing ‘Billy,’— was a devilish kid from the start. He painted the family dog and himself in the process, with oil-based house paint. He rode cows at Warren’s Farm, on High Street, and tipped a few bovines on night raids, too. He pilfered pumpkins from the neighbor’s gardens, and for his troubles, Bill got a dose of rock salt delivered by way of a shotgun. He teased his younger sisters, Kaye and Anne with salt in the sugar bowl, messages written on the bathroom paper, so as they rolled it out, their paperwork included an anecdote. In Bill’s retired years, he delivered fresh-baked bread all over Berkshire County, stopping at his sister Annie’s house to turn pictures on the wall upside-down, or cut a perfect cube out of the center of a cake she’d readied for an event that evening. But my personal favorite was when he and some buddies once borrowed the Dalton Police cruiser on a Friday night and locked it in the Crane Paper Company’s garage, where it was not discovered until Monday morning. I hope the statute of limitations has run out on that one. But it is too late, now. My father has left all of us wanting a little more of him. One more story, another clever joke, and a prank over which we can shake our collective heads. He won’t be back in this neck of the woods, and we are all less without him.
Bill left high school when he was seventeen to join the US Navy, and serve his country during World War II. He became a signalman on the landing craft USS LMS 449 in the Pacific Theater. In doing so, he forfeited his senior year, and high school graduation. That was rectified when Bill was invited as an honorary graduate with the Wahconah Regional High School class of 2000. He was invited to speak at the graduation ceremony, an honor he accepted with the solemnity of the occasion. He spoke about Iwo Jima; about the Marines who captured Mount Suribachi and did so because they understood what was needed and put everything on the line. They did not measure the gain, or calculate the accolades. That group of Marines became more than the sum of their parts. They forged ahead, courageous and selfless for the greater good. My father spoke of that kind of selflessness that has been brushed aside all too often in contemporary America. He encouraged the class of 2000 to consider the meaning of the greater good, and apply that to their lives. I’d like to believe that some of them took their oldest graduates words to heart.
Were there a recipe for my father, it would include a dash of magic and a touch of mayhem, liberal measures of compassion, a whole lot of courage, dedication, and determination. He had rosy cheeks to the end of his days. A wagering chap would say he was born with them. He bought a drink from every kid who ever had a lemonade stand along his mail route. He was a mentor to all the ‘boys and girls,’ his affectional title for his students at fire houses across Berkshire County and beyond. He was most always cheerful, had a smile for everyone, a joke, a laugh, and stories—so many narratives about his life on the roads of Dalton.
He’s on Heaven’s back porch now, along with his parents, his sister Kaye, his grandson, Jimmy, and daughter-in-law, Lisa. Of course Earl and Betty Horton, my mother’s brother, and his wife are there, too. Earl and Bill somehow have smuggled a bottle of Pea-Pod Wine into the Great Beyond. They are laughing and telling stories, and attempting to pass off their brew to the new arrivals into paradise. The two of them created that miserable concoction back here where they have left the rest of us. And that’s another story…my father initiated, or rather hazed, each of his future sons-in-law into the White family. He took them down to the basement and offered each a taste of a delicious homemade wine. Of course it was terrible and those young guys swigged it back, gagging but not wanting to insult their future father-in-law. Of course he howled and laughed. That gleefulness stayed with him always. Maybe my father’s gag was his way of saying you take all of it in marriage, and in life, too – the bitter with the sweet. And you’ll be better for having done so.
Thank you all for being with us today, holding us, and loving us through our sorrow. We will not forget your kindness. I wish my father were here today, sitting in the front row, listening to all of us. He’d be proud and humbled.
Rest in peace, Dad.