Ralph was a dear friend of mine. He passed away at age 85. The father of 7 children, two of his daughters each presented an eulogy to their father. Enjoy.
Our dad was a man of many talents – I’d like to mention just a few: Aviation, charity work, cooking, acting, the arts and education.
From an early age, little Ralph showed a keen interest in aviation. As a small boy, umbrella in hand, he leapt from the lofty heights of his father’s barn roof. A true optimist. Our fly boy spent many hours in the air during WWII; between times refueling in England where he was based. Years later help kept his eye in by watching take-offs and landings at the local airport. His children often joined him, peering through the wire fence, keeping company.
His kids were too young, however, to participate in the more technical aviation discussions that took place at the Airliner hotel. Larry and Butch were sometimes sent to bring him home from meetings that dragged on too long (as these things are prone to do).
Which leads us nicely into the charitable side of our dear father. As if 10 brothers didn’t give us enough legitimate uncles, we would bring home extra ones from his office. These uncles would visit often; some he made so welcome they didn’t leave for years! Life was never boring.
Our home was also refuge for lost chickens. I remember Dad rescuing one (after a short chase in the back alley) and taking her home in the car’s trunk. She enjoyed remaining days in our basement, thrashing amongst the bottles and laundry.
Dad not only fed our souls, he fed our stomachs. Those times when Mom was in the hospital, we gorged on his rice pudding, 3 meals a day for days on end. Heaven. Some of my siblings have not enjoyed this dessert since – most likely because they’ve yet to find anyone who can make it as well. He was a dab hand at porridge too. You could entice him out of a warm bed on an early winter morning and have him all to yourself while he cooked you a pot. The best.
Naturally, with so many children, mealtimes could get out of control. That’s when dad’s acting skills shone through. One order from mom, “Dad, take off your belt!” would have our father the disciplinarian majestically standing at the head of the table undoing his belt buckle. Silence would immediately ensue. I personally never saw that belt come off.
Dad introduced us to the arts. The finer soliloquies of Foghorn Leghorn were studied over and over. For variety, he’d pile his offspring into the car and take us to the drive-in. As we all scrambled and fought in the back seat for the premium view position, he would sit quietly and demonstrate the fine qualities of a patient man. We also learned about the art of brewing beer from Dad during regular tours at the brewery.
Ralph (Sundown to some) really did celebrate life. He loved his seven children equally and open heartedly. His retirement years with Mom were wonderful times. He made us all laugh – friends, family, uncles, children, grandchildren, and of course the boss, his beloved wife of 59 years.
He was a very good, kind, gentle man. He taught us all that it can be a good thing to never grow up.
We've heard many times over the years, “Your dad is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” It’s true. He was. We feel very fortunate and blessed to have had Ralph as our dad.
Growing up, Mom was the disciplinarian – Dad was the softie. With all those kids in the house, Mom had to run a tight ship to avoid complete chaos, but we could get away with almost anything when it was just Dad around – anything except disrespecting Mom, that is. Our kind and gentle father tuned from a pussy cat into a tiger when protecting his family – especially his wife.
And that tiger was strong. Well into his seventies, Dad could put men half his age to shame. All those years farming and working construction put muscles on that six foot frame. As kids, we’d all pile on top of him, but he could easily shake us like flies. He was our Superman. One day, Mom informed us of Dad’s kryptonite – his feet. Our Dad had the most ticklish feet, which we tried (mostly in vain) to use against him in the ‘Dad versus Kids’ Stampede Wrestling matches.
Dad had a terrific sense of humour. We spent many Saturday mornings watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with Dad. The best part was not watching the cartoons, but watching Dad – especially during the Coyote and Road Runner segments – with tears of laughter streaming down his face. This carried into adulthood where we’d bring Farrelly Brothers movies over to Mom and Dad’s so that we could watch Dad laugh ‘til he cried at the ridiculous comedies. We are a family that laughs easily thanks in large part to Dad.
The one negative thing we can say about Dad is that he was not a great cook. His culinary repertoire consisted of bacon and eggs, beans on toast, oatmeal (aka ‘cement’) and - in recent years – extended to include perogies and sausage. And let’s not forget the rice pudding. Any time that Dad was taking care of us kids – which was usually when Mom was in hospital having another one of us kids – he made rice pudding. Not for dessert, but for a meal – for every meal until Mom returned home. Breakfast, lunch and supper were all served from that vat of rice pudding. To this day, some of us kids eat rice pudding with fond memories, while some us cannot even look at a bowl of rice pudding without feeling nauseous.
Okay, one more negative: Dad was not the handiest of fix-it man around the house and garden. He never seemed to have exactly the right tools, materials or patience to do the best job. Here are a few of our favourites:
It’s okay, Dad – we appreciate the effort.
Unfortunately, many of us inherited what we refer to as the “Ralph gene”. The result of this infliction is the imminent spillage of food on your freshly laundered clothing. You could often tell what Mom made for lunch based on the stain on Dad’s shirt just above his belly. We are pretty sure that the Tide pen was invented for our family.
One of Dad’s favourite things to spill on his shirt was Mom’s homemade date squares. Mom would make a few pans and then freeze the squares so that they were available when unexpected company dropped by. This attempt was in vain. Dad would disappear for awhile, then return from the freezer with date square crumbs stuck to his face. When you’d ask what he was doing, the mumbled response was “mmnuthinmm”.
Luckily, date square crumbs are easy to vacuum up. Dad liked to vacuum. His favourite appliance was his Black and Decker hand-held vacuum. Dad would use that thing to suck the crumbs off his shirt, chair and any remnants of anything that fell on the floor. Much to Mom’s chagrin, he also used his hand-held vac to dust the furniture. After a few dozen scratches on her TV stand and china cabinet, Mom put a stop to that.
When we lived on the acreage, Dad would announce that he was going down to the basement to vacuum. That vacuum would run for hours. The reason the vacuum would run for hours is that Dad would turn it on, then sit in his recliner and take a nap. We’re thinking there were two advantages from Dad’s perspective: he thought he was fooling Mom into thinking he was working, and the sound of the vacuum lulled him into a deep sleep.
Dad’s other household chore after retirement was doing the dishes. It was always interesting trying to find a kitchen utensil after Dad was around to unload the dishwasher. It was a matter of asking yourself, “If I was Ralph, where would I put the measuring cup?” Five months later you’d find the whisk and exclaim, “Hey, thanks, Dad!”
Dad loved to walk. He started walking to help him with his bad back, and it soon became a part of his regular routine. Every person and dog in the neighbourhood knew Dad. He often stopped and visited, which made the walks quite lengthy. We were all impressed with the stamina that dad had – he could walk for several kilometers in a day up until the time he got ill.
Dad’s love of walking and stamina to do so made him very popular with the dogs in the family. This was especially true with Jock and his dog-grandpa. Jock would get very excited as soon as he saw Dad because he knew that they’d be going for a walk – or two, or ten. Jock would stare at his leash, then off they’d go. As many times as Dad wanted to walk, he had a willing and eager walking partner in Jock.
Jock never tired of walking with his dog-grandpa, but Barkley finally did. During one visit, Dad went to put a leash on Barkley for about the seventh time that day, and Barkley refused to move. That’s some feat for a dog that would chase his dog-dad up and down the ski hill all day long.
Needless to say, we love our Dad immensely. We all have special, wonderful memories of our dad that we’ll carry in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Those beautiful, bright blue eyes that reflected an amazingly kind and generous soul will be with us forever.
Good now. (This was Ralph's favorite expression.)