|Dad with his Aunt Ada Miller|
[This piece, more than anything, is for my children and grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephews all the way down our immense family tree. It is a snapshot of your grandfather. I hope that when you read it, you will in some way see yourselves in my descriptions of Raymond Claude Miller. He was a wonderful, simple, complex person. Funny, sad, friendly and very private. You should know about him. Your are his descendants. And part of him undoubtedly lives on in you.]
Today is my Dad's birthday. July 3, 1910. I guess that makes him 104 years old. He passed away many years ago, when I was a young teenager. He was never a rich man, but he left me something very precious... the gift of having known him. In a way so few really did. Only close family and a few valued friends were ever privy to this man his friends called Ray. I got to call him Dad. He was your great-Grandfather, great-great Grandfather. Or beyond. You probably never met him; so I'd like to tell you a little bit about him...
He was kind and gentle-hearted. He was nice to people, and liked you for what you were. He especially loved children and animals. And they could sense it. Very often at family gatherings you would look over and see small children wander over to him and crawl up into his lap, without his ever asking them to. His gentleness drew them to him. I remember times when Dad would be mowing our lawn, Bruce, our little neighbor boy would come over and quietly walk behind him the whole time, mimicking every step. Dad limped, Bruce limped. When Dad stopped to pet the dog, Bruce patted the dog's head. No words were said; no words were necessary. Being near him was enough.
He was quiet--not shy-- purposefully quiet. And perceptive. He noticed things that others miss because they are so anxiously clamoring to be heard. If you were feeling blue about something, you didn't have to tell him. He'd already seen it in your face; your expression. Sometimes when I felt bad he'd look at me and say, "Let's go on an excursion!" We'd head off down the road in the old blue Ford Fairlane...he was the pilot, I was co-pilot and Honey, my dog played 'navigator-- riding with her head out the window. We'd stop at a country store and he'd buy me a bottle of grape soda and sing silly songs to cheer me up. How I miss those rides! Happily, it seems that quietness of spirit is an inherited quality. I've noticed that several of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren --who never met him--him have this same attribute. If you are one of them, be grateful. I know it is difficult to be so in this overstimulated age where many believe that those who shout the loudest are the most well-informed. Not so. Your quietness is a rare quality...a gracious gift possessed by so few.
He was witty. When a quiet, thinking person speaks; their words are meaningful. And if they find something is funny enough to tell; it's often something that's been overlooked by most. And so, when my Dad quipped about something he thought was funny; it would bring the house down with laughter. For days we'd be chuckling about something funny Dad said.
He was flawed. I wouldn't be real if I didn't mention this. Dad drank too much. There were factors, I believe, that contributed to his problems. His parents divorced--something almost unheard of in the early 1900's. After a bitter custody dispute, he and his younger brother were awarded to his father who was a traveling salesman. Since his father traveled for a living, often for days; the boys were left at the boarding house to be looked after by the woman who ran it--but for the most part; they raised themselves. He had no nurturing mother-figure in his life. It was only in his adulthood that his mother pursued a relationship with he and his brother. There seemed to be a sort of melancholia in my father's personality. Perhaps it was a result of his childhood. Perhaps it was a sort of depression. Whatever the cause, it seemed like a few beers served to lift that cloud of sorrow from him for a few hours. Sadly, the relief was temporary and over time, the alcohol stole my father's health and was the cause of much unhappiness for him. But if there is a bright side to this part of his life it is this: I have observed that those who suffer with obvious problems (we all have our vices--but for some, it is more public), those who grapple with demons in their lives, are so much more compassionate and forgiving of others who suffer. This is so true of my Dad, who loved people that others would write off as undeserving or worthless. (A note dear family, about addictions. If the addictive personality is truly genetic; we would all do well to use caution. It would be nice to see this kind of heartbreak torn from the pages of our family's story.)
He was smart. Dad was a wizard with math. He seemed to have a sort of photographic memory for numbers and could quickly calculate problems mentally that most would need a paper and pencil to figure out. Like many young men of his day, Dad had to leave school to get a job in his teens. He worked hard in lumber camps and mills. He was promoted to being a lumber grader. In this capacity, it was he who decided the quality and grade of the lumber being shipped out from the mill. He was good at this, and was offered a job as a lumber inspector, a promotion, which would have meant traveling around the state and inspecting the lumber and systems of many mills. He turned it down. He wanted to stay home with his family. For which I am grateful. And I am also grateful for the intelligence that has been passed down through our generations. It's wonderful to see all of the talented people we have in our family!
He was handsome. If eyes are truly the window to one's soul, then my father was a beautiful, beautiful soul. His were soft and expressive; tinged with melancholy, but on occasion they sparkled with amusement. And kind. Always kind. (It warms my heart when I see those same eyes in my grandchildren, my nieces and nephews and their children.) He was tall--over 6 feet, with long arms and lanky legs. His hair was thick and dark. His face was usually quite serious, but when he smiled, it seemed as though the sun had broken through the clouds. Many folks remarked about what a striking resemblance he bore to Abraham Lincoln! And he smelled like the woods! I loved to bury my face in his flannel shirts, which always smelled of cedar and pine from working at the mill.
He was simple. As mom would say it, 'he never put on airs.' He was not impressed by wealth or a person's station in life. It really didn't matter to him. Nor did he feel compelled to try and impress anyone. Which to me, is very impressive!
He was generous to a fault. Mom used to complain that Dad would give someone the shirt off of his back. It was true. He was always giving somebody a bag of spuds from the garden or peeling a few dollars out of his old leather wallet for somebody who need gas money until payday. We didn't have much, but he always found a way to be generous with what we had. In their earlier years, it was pretty common for my folks to invite family members who were down on their luck to come and live with them until they got back on their feet. Sometimes they supported whole families and their children for long periods of time.
So this is a snapshot of Raymond C. Miller. There is more to say about him, but I find myself at a loss of words to describe who this man really was; and what he meant to me. But I will tell you that every now and then I see him. In you. Something about you... your quiet demeanor; they way you chuckle, watching you with your children...it reminds me of my Dad. And it makes me smile.
We are all here today because Raymond C. Miller was born on this day in 1910! Light a sparkler in his honor tomorrow. He would like that.