A fitting conclusion to this story to let my mother speak in her own words. Here is what she wrote to my father on their 50th wedding anniversary February 1, 2002. At her request, I included this letter in the eulogy I delivered at my father’s funeral. I’m sure, if she remembered writing these words, she would approve of my sharing them with you today.
Happy Anniversary to my Darlin’ Dillon [a nickname comparing him to Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke].
An ordinary card with a stranger’s poem would not do for this one—the Big 5-0. I can’t believe it, but while I am getting used to it, I want to say I love you for a million reasons, a few of which I want to mention:
My dear wonderful one, you are a gentle man. You never criticize me for doing dumb things, and when I make a wrong decision, you never say, “I told you so.”
You are so supportive of me when someone has been mean or hateful, but you always leave a little room for the erring one and always encourage me to give them the benefit of the doubt.
You make room for people to make mistakes. Anyone can feel comfortable with you in their imperfection. You listen to needy people, because you know they feel better with someone to listen to them. You don’t judge people. You just take them as they are.
You are so willing to help people out. Anyone needs a ride: “Oh, yes, we can drive to Tallahassee to pick you up.” You think of little things to make people happy like bringing our neighbor your leftover fish. You’ll even save part of your own dinner.
You are generous to a fault. You never buy anything for yourself, nor do you even want anything, but if I mention shopping or needing something, you’re ready for me to go right then and get it.
You have a heart for little creatures, like how did we get four cats in our lives who have names and identities? [These were all strays.]
You love the room full of Shepherds [a church ministry to the mentally challenged my father worked in for years]. You’re always there. They know you love them. Your sister knows you love her because you see her every week. Holly and her family know if they need Papa, he is there morning, noon, and night.
You buy the groceries and put them up. And if I ever mention wanting something to eat, you get it the very next time you go.
You wash the sheets on Thursday and the towels on Friday. You fold the clothes and you make them look like they just came out of the package. You do things right even when no one knows or cares, especially the recycle people.
Sometimes when you feel bad, you don’t even tell me. And all my trips to California [to see her family] there has never been a complaint. You know I need to go, so I go with your blessing.
You know what, darlin’, your 60% of a heart [he had had a heart attack by that time] is bigger than any ten people I know. And I love you for it. It’s no wonder my friends at school call you St. Carl.
You really are the love of my life.
And on top of that, you’re still handsome.
With all my love forever and ever,