Rabid Fun

John Cowart's Daily Journal: A befuddled ordinary Christian looks for spiritual realities in day to day living.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ginny's Dad

Jack Worthington, 1921-2007

Ginny’s dad intimidated me.

He excelled at anything he set his hand to do.

Jack Worthington was a white-haired giant standing about six foot four. He and Alva would have celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in June. They were the parents of five sons and two daughters.

Jack & Alva Worthington last year

Although he never finished college, as a young man Jack scored a 98 on a Civil Service exam and went to work for the Navy Department in Washington, D.C., where he helped defend America by developing naval ordinance. Over the years he earned Civil Service super-grade status.

Jack was an orphan and spent his childhood in extreme want. As a man he reacted to the poverty of his youth by accumulating every sort of possession and by treasuring the things he accumulated.

For instance in the side yard of the home he build with his own hands (he taught himself carpentry, wiring, plumbing, stone masonry, etc, to build it) he kept two boats, a van, a motorcycle, a huge model train layout, and a vast collection of geological specimens.

He developed a vast array of interests which he followed with enthusiasm. His watercolor paintings won awards. His photographic darkroom contained extensive equipment. His garden took top honors again and again. He brewed excellent beer and bottled his own fine port wine. He amassed an extensive library.

But his main interest was people.

For years Jack was a Boy Scout leader, district scout commissioner, and served on the Eagle Scout Review Board. He helped found a neighborhood association, a geology club, a garden club, and a bird watching group. He built top-notch exhibits for an area museum, collected fossils, taught exercise classes for seniors on a tv show, worked on archaeological digs, supported Democratic causes, organized dances, sponsored Elderhostel events, designed and planted a neighborhood butterfly garden, and was involved in no telling what all else.

He lived to be 86 years old.

On Monday, March 12th, after a full day’s activities (I think he was planning the Spring garden) Jack died in bed beside his wife without making a sound or moving a muscle.

Obit from a local weekly newspaper

Vicious weather struck the night of his memorial service at Faith United Methodist Church, Accokeek, Maryland. Bitter cold. Snow. Sleet. Roads closed. Traffic accidents everywhere as cars slid off the highways.

Yet, so many people attended Jack’s service there was standing room only in the church. Whites, blacks, American Indians, Philippines, old people, Boy Scouts in uniform, teenagers, family — all assembled to honor this man.

I met one couple at the service who said they’d only met Jack a month before when he helped them in some home garden project and he impressed them so much that they just had to attend his service.

Besides the two pastors of the church, other speakers included someone from the garden club, the geology group, the neighborhood association, the state museum. An Eagle Scout, a former White House aide, and several of Jack’s sons also spoke.

Earlier that afternoon I was surprised when Alva indicated that she’d like me to say something also. I sat down at the crowded kitchen table and amid normal family turmoil wrote up a few of my memories of this man who intimidated me so.

The Worthington Family in the late 1970s (There are a lot more now.)

Here is what I said at the service:

Hello, my name is John Cowart. I’m Jack & Alva’s son-in-law. I’m Ginny’s husband and marrying into this wonderful family was the best thing that ever happened to me.

In case you haven’t noticed, Jack Worthington collected things.

He was a child of the Depression when the universal credo was “If you don’t have it in hand, you’re not likely to get it”.

I understand that.

I collect things too.

In fact when we go to a yard sale and I want to buy something, Ginny says, “One man’s trash is another man’s trash”.

But Jack accumulated more things than I’ll ever be able to. And he held on to what he had.

Once when I was writing a project I needed information about a certain type of bomb used in Viet Nam. It contained fleas used to locate concentrations of the enemy. I needed to know what one looked like so I called Jack.

As soon as I said what I needed, he started telling me about it’s size, weight and color markings and the serial numbers on the casing…

“You can remember all that!” I said.

“No,” he replied, “I’ve got one right here beside the telephone on the stairwell”.

“What!” exclaimed Alva who was listening on the extension.

“Don’t worry,” Jack said, “It’s been defused”.

Another thing I remember about Jack:

As you may know, he frowned on smoking. When I’d visit he insisted that I stay 50 yards from the house to smoke my pipe; so I set up a lawn chair at the end of the drive where I could go to smoke. And early in the mornings (I usually wake up at 4 a.m.) I’d sneak out of the house and down to the end of the drive to smoke my pipe, pray, and think life over.

No sneaking out of the house with Jack around. He’d hear the door squeak and come down to the end of the drive to sit and talk with me.

Since at that time he and I were the only two men with children in the family, we often talked about the challenges of being a dad.

It’s the hardest job on earth.

Jack said that having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain!

Many men can’t take it. They sire children and leave. There’s not a dad alive who hasn’t been tempted that way.

Jack said that a Dad has two duties:

One duty is to make his children happy.

He told me about giving his kids wheelbarrow rides and about constructing this pulley on a cable between a tree on top of the hill and a tree on the bottom — Nothing OSHA would approve but the kids loved to zoom down that dangerous ride.

Jack said the other duty of a dad is to make his children unhappy — to guide them away from mistakes we ourselves have made.

I remember that back before cell phones, Jack had this radio-telephone thing installed between his house and the car. When one of the guys (I won’t embarrass anyone by saying which one) was out late on a date, Jack would grab his radio base phone, yell, “Breaker! Breaker!” and demand a return time, demand that the girl be returned home, ask what road they were driving on, and all that stuff.

Boy! I’m glad he didn’t have that damn thing when Ginny and I were dating!

Anyhow, some people would say that such behavior was controlling, aggravating, frustrating, being an old fuddy-duddy.

We dads call such behavior — love.

So, the one thing I’d like all of you to remember — if you forget everything else I’ve said here tonight remember this.

No matter who your father was, no matter what he was like, no matter how hard it was for him to say it — Remember this — Daddy loves you.

Please, visit my website for more www.cowart.info and feel free to look over and buy one of my books www.bluefishbooks.info
posted by John Cowart @ 9:04 AM


At 1:18 PM, Blogger Morning Glory said...

It sounds like Jack stood tall in more ways than one. My sincerest sympathies to you both.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger along the way said...

Dear John and Ginny, all Fathers -- even the "in-law" ones are special and this one sounds like one of the best. I know you will miss him.
I'm glad you are safely home.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger Seeker said...

Your last sentence says it all.
Thanks for sharing the good memories...


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