Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lindley Woodford

A week ago last Saturday an era came to a close. You'd think the world would have shook, but there was nary a tremble. My father in-law, Lindley Woodford, passed away.

I met this man at the Kansas City airport 3 days before I married his daughter. Our first encounter included a trip to the Jackson County courthouse in Kansas City where we were granted a waiver on the normal waiting period before being given a marriage license. He drove, I sat in back, and I don't recall much of anything being said.

I proposed to his daughter 3 months previously - you'd think he'd be full of questions and stern fatherly warnings for someone about to marry his erstwhile favorite daughter. He didn't. Instead he pointed out various points of interest while on the way to the courthouse. This was to lay the foundation for our relationship for the next 25 years.

He was a quiet man. Tall, gentle, and a devout Christian. In the truest sense of the word. He was tolerant of all, accepting of most, using his dry humor to test each of us. He liked to drop quiet little bombshells to test the waters of our beliefs. He liked to tease. Being soft-spoken, my (at the time) young daughter would often ask that he repeat himself. He would tell her she was a little girl who could not hear. Fed up with the taunt, she once responded that he was an old man who could not talk. He would repeat that back to her occasionally as she grew up. I think he found it funnier than we did.

With me being in the military, we moved a good bit and visited when we could. He and I shared an interest in military history and this led to many a discussion. His father (and uncles, too, I believe) served in world war one, and he served in world war two. He was a sheet metal mechanic in the Army Air Corps in Africa and Italy, working on various aircraft. He had 3 brothers, all of whom served in the military. He transcribed his father's war diaries and collected the war-time experiences of his brothers, entering them all into Word documents which he then printed, bound, and distributed to various family members. I have my copy stored in my desk.

After the war he worked for the government as an inspector, checking on the production of various war materials. He eventually became a tool and die maker. He met and married Ellen Kennedy in 1948 and they had 8 children. They came in 2 waves with a 10 year break in between the first 5 and last 3. 7 girls, 1 boy. I married Laura, oldest of the younger 3. There are 5 surviving daughters and his one son, 4 of which live in or around Kansas City. Holidays were always celebrated at his house, filled to overflowing with children, grandchildren, and eventually great-grandchildren. I don't know what Thanksgiving or Christmas will be like without him to provide the center, our center, the unquestioning focus of the family gatherings.

He was in many ways typical of his generation. He provided for his family and his wife kept their home and raised their kids. There was that clear separation of duties - all things domestic was her responsibility including supper on the table when he arrived home from work. About 11 years or so ago, soon after he retired, his wife Ellen started to have a series of increasingly debilitating strokes. It wasn't long into this that she ceased being able to take care of him. So, he took care of her. It was as if he had done it all of his life. He not only took care of her, but he took to keeping house as if born to it. He had the kitchen remodeled to suit him. He bought every kitchen gadget he encountered. He would ask his daughters for their recipes and would approach them with the same diligence he did when designing a new die. How many minutes at what temperature, how many times and when do you turn it? He made notes and tried his own variations. He tested various cleaning methods and materials, finding those he felt did the best job. He bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner when it came out.

In between these new domestic duties, he nursed his wife. He quietly teased her into doing her mobility exercises. Her strokes slurred her speech and he would pick at her until she would "yell" at him - for once forming her words clearly and correctly where everyone could hear her. He'd kiss her forehead and ask her what she was hollering for. Towards her end, he would sit by her bed, hold her hand and talk to her in his quiet way. He fed her, cleaned her up, shifted her so as to avoid bed sores night and day - all the while silently whistling some tune only he could hear. He never questioned this change in circumstances, but merely did what was necessary. I've not met a man more devoted to his wife than he.

Another thing he did after retiring was discover computers and the internet. He scoured garage sales for cast-off computers. He'd clean them up, reload operating systems and software, and then give them away to his (now grown) children. He was downloading music from Napster before they were shut down. He would make CDs and hand them out. He discovered movie-discs and players as well as eBay at about the same time, buying up old players and refurbishing them. He had contacts all over the U.S. for parts and repair advice. He bought out a local library's entire collection of movie discs. He did nothing by half.

He was always giving things away. When one of his daughters moved back to town, she asked to borrow his lawn mower. He then went, bought him another, and gave her the one she borrowed. When a microwave went on the blink, he "loaned" his out, bought a new one to replace it, giving the loaned one to the borrower. Laura went to help nurse her mother towards the end of her life. He had bought a jeep (a deal too good to pass up), but was unhappy at the stiff suspension. He gave it to my wife when she came home.

Lindley was 86 and full of life last December when he got a cold. The persistent cough would not go away. After about 2 months they x-rayed his chest and found cancer. 4 months later he was dead. He always said he didn't want to linger, laying in bed day after day not able to do anything for himself. When the initial radiation treatment did nothing to prevent the cancer from spreading, he stopped the treatment and decided it was time. He had had a good life and was not of the mind to linger over-long. He didn't. His passing was fast and peaceful.

He lived his live in such a way as others only aspire to. He was the most honest man I knew. His faith was unwavering. He was even-tempered, I never once heard him raise his voice or respond angrily to anyone. He had a ready, if sharp, wit. He had a restless intelligence, always asking questions seeking new answers.

You don't think of these things as extraordinary when they are around you. He was my father in-law for 25 years and while recognizing that he wasn't your run-of-the-mill man, he was just there - Laura's dad. Now that he is gone and there is a void in our lives, I see the truth of who he was in effect he had on others - and on me.

He is now at rest, and such answers as can be had I think he has found.