Friday, March 11, 2011
A World Without Jay Saner
The following is the eulogy that I delivered at my Dad's Memorial Service on Wednesday, March 9, 2011:
It was either 1983 or 1984…the last time I stood in front of a congregation…in this church…in this spot. My Mom came home from choir practice that week with the not so exciting news that she had volunteered me to do a reading in church. I was 13 at the time and not at all thrilled about the prospect of standing in front of the congregation doing anything…much less a reading…by myself! I threw myself into the state of histrionics that only a preteen girl can and it wasn’t until my Dad sat me down and said…”Just look at me. Don’t worry about the rest of them. Just talk to me” that I thought I might actually be able to get through it. So Sunday rolled around. I’d practiced. I was ready. I walked up to the pulpit…looked over and saw my Dad’s smiling face. He gave me the thumbs up and I began. At the end of the first paragraph, I knew I was nailing it, so I decided to throw in the dramatic pause…with congregation glance. I gave the crowd the once over and then locked eyes with my Dad, who by that time had his eyes crossed…his tongue hanging out…and was mimicking my every word. When the giggles started…I couldn’t get them to stop and there he sat, with that Jay Saner smirk that most of you know so well. The only thing I remember about the rest of that reading was the sound of my laughter…trying hard to avoid my Dad’s face…and hearing the “Pst-Pst” sound coming from the choir loft, as my Mom tried to get the two of us to knock it off. My public speaking career at the Wellsville United Methodist Church came to abrupt end that Sunday morning…and, yet here I find myself again…trying to do justice to a life that meant so much to so many…this time, Dad, I’m talking to…and about you. I hope I serve you well.
I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you how difficult the last several months have been for our family, but I must tell you that I feel incredibly blessed to have shared so many special moments with my Dad during that time. I was telling a dear friend of mine about one of these moments and he said, “You know, Susan, being a Dad is the most wonderful thing about my life. I love my kids like nothing else in this world. I know that this morning with your Dad was a sweet one for you, but I know I speak for him when I say…for him, it was magical.”
John was right. It was magical for my Dad…and neither John nor my Dad had to tell me so, because if there is one thing that I have known without question every single day of my life, it’s that Jay Saner loved being my Dad…and I am so blessed to be his daughter.
Dad was born on March 12, 1934 in Kingman, Kansas to John H. and Elsie Saner. By all accounts, his included, he was a “busy” child and it was not a rare occurrence for my Grandma to get phone calls from people asking, “Elsie, do you have any idea where Jay is? The answer: Swinging naked from the trees along the highway…playing Tarzan…or dismantling his best friend’s Mother’s new washing machine, so that they could attempt to make a motorcycle, by attaching the motor to Dad’s bike. He was a good student and star athlete, but had a bit reputation for loving a good time…and more than the occasional beer. During those years, there were often tear laden threats by my Grandmother that he would be sent to Boys Town, yet he managed to remain in the family home until he left for college in 1952. During visits to see my Aunt and cousins, trips to Kingman generally meant that we would run into someone who had a Jay Saner story. One of my favorites was from the woman…one of my Aunt’s best friends… who told the story of being shot in the rear end with a BB gun by my dear Dad when they were all playing as kids. She’s in her 80’s now and still carries that BB in her bum today. During another visit, we ran into one of the girls who graduated from high school with him. She laughed when she found out that I was Jay’s daughter and made the comment that she was thrilled to hear that Jay had not only lived, but stayed out of prison long enough to become a father and a productive member of society.
In 1957, he met a girl. Barbara Booth. He married her on April 6, 1958 in the church just across the street. They shared almost 53 years of marriage, but a total of 54 years together as a couple.
I learned very early on that in our house, my Mom was the practical one…and my Dad while still practical was more of a dreamer. When I had crushes on boys, it was my Dad that I would go to, because he “got it” and would listen to my incessant rambling about how fantastic someone was and why we really would be perfect together…while Mom, on the other hand, would roll her eyes a bit and say, “Susan, you’ve never even talked to him. Now empty the dishwasher.” So, it made complete sense to me that when I got to the age when I became curious about how my parents met, that it was Dad that I would go to, to paint the picture.
When I asked the question the first time, he got a very serious look on his face and said, “I think we better call a family meeting.” My immediate thought was, “UH OH!” A family meeting in our house was serious business and not undertaken lightly. It was made quite clear very early on that business discussed during a family meeting stayed in the house and was not to be shared, so when the family meeting was called to discuss the beginnings of my parent’s relationship, I knew it was a big deal.
When we sat down that day for our family meeting, he took my hand in his and said, “Susie, this may not be easy for you to hear…and it is very important that you respect the code of the family meeting.” I sat there wide-eyed, shaking my head in agreement waiting for the bombshell that he was about to drop. With a straight face, he looked me in the eye and said, “When I was in college, I took a job at a women’s prison to earn extra money. Your Mother was an inmate.”
The real story, I later learned, was that they met through friends while he was working at Cooper Warren Funeral home in Lawrence and Mom was in nursing school at St. Lukes…and that they made each other laugh…that they could talk about anything and everything…and that Dad thought Mom was beautiful…and strong.
One of the great traditions that I grew up with was that every Christmas, I would get to go on Christmas shopping date with each of my parents. Neither my Mom nor I are particularly good or willing shoppers, so our trips were usually surgical and precise…with a celebratory Chinese food dinner when we were done. The trip with Dad, on the other hand, was a process of handling…and looking…and talking…and never…and I do mean NEVER settling for less than the perfect gift for “Saint Barbara the Devine” as he used to refer to her. ..or anyone else that he was shopping for, for that matter. You never knew, what he was going to come up with for Christmas, but you always knew that it was going to be special…and I always knew that the trip with him was going to be fun.
One year, he decided that my Mom needed a new nightgown and robe set, so in we trudged to Victoria’s Secret. When the saleswoman approached Dad and I and asked how she could help…Dad announced loudly, “We’re here to pick something out that will inspire me to give this one…a baby brother or sister.” After years of therapy, I no longer drop into a fetal position when I think about that moment…and I know today he has a huge smile on his face remembering that and so many other moments just like it.
Dad and I didn’t get to take our annual trip this year, because our holidays were spent in the hospital, but I have the incredible memory of 2009 when we only visited one store and spent the rest of the evening talking, laughing and crying over a three hour dinner. I’ll cherish that memory for the rest of my life.
I was lucky enough to have a front row seat for 41 of my parents almost 53 years of marriage, sometimes it was a drama…during the health scares and difficult times; sometimes is was like an action film...the moves across country or the home building/remodeling adventures and misadventures; other times, it was comedy…time spent laughing with friends or playing games as a family; still other times, is was a mystery…trying to figure out why exactly they were mad at each other and why my Mom was whistling through her nose; but there is one thing I know for certain…with all it’s good…and it’s bad…it’s the greatest love story that I’ve ever seen and I feel so honored to have been the result of it.
Whether during his career in the funeral business, in sales or as a restaurant owner, his genuine love for people and hard work was always evident. Even as a kid, I realized that he never did anything halfway. There was passion and purpose behind everything he did…and his expectation for those around him was that we would do and be the same. He pushed us all to do…and to be better…because he always believed we could. And, whenever possible, he believed in providing opportunity for those around him who might not otherwise have it. He wasn’t always easy…he could be demanding and difficult, but when someone around him would underperform (me included) and he would lash out…it was done more out of frustration with himself than the other person, because he felt that he had failed to properly motivate. I understand this as an adult, because I am the same way.
Although the P’s only had me, my Dad loved kids…and his capacity for loving them was unending. Whether you were one of my friends…my cousins…the children of my parent’s friends…kids who worked for him…neighborhood kids, if Jay Saner thought you were special, you knew it. And, that didn’t change when we entered adulthood either. To him, we were still “the kids”…and he followed each life with wonder and amazement…celebrating successes and grieving losses. In the final months of his life, I shared many conversations with him about the kids he loved. His memories were long and he shared stories with me that even I didn’t know. To each of you, who allowed him to touch your life, I thank you.
I’ve always believed that one of the greatest gifts that my Dad gave me was the ability to make people laugh…and the ability to laugh at myself. Laughter gets us through our darkest hours and lucky for so many of us, when we think about my Dad, it is so easy to laugh. It has been such a pleasure for Mom and I to hear so many of you share your fantastically, funny Jay moments. My childhood memories of my Dad are filled with laughter, whether it be my own…or that of the people around us. What a gift and legacy he left behind.
The day before Dad passed, a dear friend said to my Mom, “I can’t imagine a world without Jay Saner.” Neither can I. My Dad’s is the voice I hear inside my head when I’m trying to close a big deal…make a big decision or manage my team at work. He was my “go-to” phone call when I had something to celebrate, needed advice or my heart was aching. Sports, for me…especially Kansas Jayhawk Basketball, will never be the same….I will never be the same…the world, will never be the same.
In the last days of his life, I kissed and loved on him constantly…and I told him that if I gave him a million kisses it still wouldn’t be enough. He would always nod his head and when he could, he’d say, “that’s right, Suzie.” Dad took his last breath surrounded by love…and it was only after he passed that my Mom, Aunt Eve and I realized that he had a smile on his face. So fitting of a man, who left so many smiles behind.
Dad had a sage piece of advice that he used to give my Mom and I…my cousins…and our friends…before we would leave to go anywhere. So, in this spirit of this day…I return the advice to you my dear Dad…and say…
I love you beyond measure…I will miss you every single day…and, until we meet again, have a wonderful time in heaven… but, please…don’t embarrass the family.