Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saying goodbye to Ferd

"Well, that was pretty good!" he said, smiling, after my sermon

My 88-year-old father-in-law was sitting in the back row, just in case he needed to slip out. I was surprised that he heard every word. To him, "pretty good" meant what I would consider "great," and so his words warmed my heart. My father died from cancer several years before giving a sermon was even a possibility for me, so Ferd's support meant so much. I'm not sure he knew how much. At one point I would have assumed he wasn't at all sure about seeing a woman behind a pulpit. Blessedly, his actions proved that assumption wrong. My husband, David, was also beaming. Today, I wrap this memory up with a string, cradling it like a treasure.
Ferd Burden, Jr., 2/19/23-3/13/12
Ferd's multi-faceted personality and life make him an enigma to me. He arrived a generation before my own parents and could have been my grandfather. A World War II vet who served in the Merchant Marines on the Pacific, he easily lived nine lives. There was the accident shipboard where he moved for what seemed like no apparent reason before a piece of machinery crashed down where he had been standing. Without moving, he surely would have been killed. With 12 siblings total, his family's constant prayers of protection surrounded him.

There was the colorful story of Ferd serving in Papua New Guinea, when he was surrounded in the woods by indigenous people. With laughter, he described pulling the cigarettes from his pocket and giving them as a peace offering. A few of his grandchildren sat there with their mouths open at the mention of nicotine. Ferd gave up smoking in his late 20s, a lifetime ago.

He lived through the Great Depression and hated to spend a dime. Married at the age of 39 and promptly had five children in rapid succession. All but one of them are still living. Survived a chemical spill to his face at the BF Goodrich factory, had a heart attack and lived to tell about it, and also recuperated from a life-threatening stroke several years ago.

After he recovered from that stroke, he began praying at family gatherings again, and inevitably his invocations would simply begin: "Our Father, we love ya...."

My brother-in-law, Jay, remembers waking up in the middle of the night in his childhood and finding his dad in the kitchen with a flashlight, poring over his Bible. It was the King James' Version, of course. No one could ever successfully convince him that this isn't the only (or even the best) translation of the Bible, though many have tried. (Me included.) I'm not sure I've personally known someone who is so familiar with Scripture that if you asked him where something was he could name chapter and verse.

At yesterday's funeral for Ferd, following his death from kidney failure last Tuesday, a holy understanding permeated the sanctuary and words of deep love rang through the church. As my sister-in-law Shellie read a tribute, she shared words that had been given to his grandson Malachi at his 13th birthday: "I'm going to live another 20 years. And you can, too, Malachi, if you read the Scriptures. The Scriptures will bless you."

A man at Ferd's country church of 40 years stopped me in the hall yesterday. I really will miss him, he said, his eyes misting. He didn't speak that often, but oh, when he opened his mouth, you knew he had something so important to say. You wanted to listen. 

We are still listening, Ferd. Listening to your legacy. I cannot imagine the sight that greeted you when you slipped away this week, leaving the pill bottles and the congestive heart failure and the bad kidneys behind. Although it still seems like a lifetime, we are not far away. And we will never forget you or the God you purposed to love all your days.

Say hello to Laura for us. And when you get to it, say hello to my Dad, too. I can't imagine how thrilled he'll be to hear from you.

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