It’s been almost six months since my father died in a tractor accident. I had expected a phone call at some point – he was 83 at the time. But I was not prepared for the acute sense of loss I felt that day and for many weeks afterward. Part of that loss was in remembering all my father taught me about life and knowing those lessons would end.
Henry Whitley remained very active until the time he died. He had problems walking, but he still drove a tractor. Over the years, he was involved in several organizations. He was a 20-year member of Wood County Crimestoppers board and two years ago, even as he was having difficulty getting around, he went to the Alba Golden Sweet Potato festival and set up a booth for Crimestoppers. In the last few years, he found time to visit the domino hall in Winnsboro two or three times a week to drink coffee and play dominoes with the other old men. My father taught me a lot about living a full life even as age and infirmity crept up on him.
I remember when I began seeing my Dad in a different light. He was my age when he was raising my brother and sister by himself. After working at the lumber yard all day, he came home and worked three and sometimes even four hours a night on the farm – also every Saturday and many Sundays. I found a new level of respect for my father and what he accomplished in life – from the young boy from East Texas who carried his lunch to school in a syrup bucket to the man who provided his family with stability, security and love beyond anything he knew growing up.
My Dad was proud of having lived in Wood County all his life. He believed growing up and being from someplace means something because your life is entwined with the lives of those around you. You have a responsibility to help those people in any way you can. A few years ago, my parents started a community dinner for people in Winnsboro who, for economic or other reasons, didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. My parents were known for that sort of selfless act. It’s one of the reasons so many people came up to me at the funeral, often with tears in their eyes, and told me what a good man my father was.
I’ll never be able to talk to my Dad again, never be able to ask him questions about his life, never be able to tell him what he meant to me and how much I appreciate everything he did. But I take comfort that Henry Whitley’s life made a difference in his community. He touched people’s lives and he lives on in the things he did while he was here. And in my small way, I try to live the lessons his life taught me.