Yesterday, April 29th, was a tough day for my mom, sisters, Lori and Lona Sue, and me. You see, it marked the 15th anniversary of when we lost Daddy, Pat Elder. My mom went to school as always in the morning. Lori busied herself with city council business, Lona Sue continued to deal with legal problems (not her own) as she works in a major law office in Garden City, and I spent a good portion of the day working in my flower gardens as memories of Daddy went through my mind and heart. Eventually, Mama and I went to Lori's house to eat tamales before Mama went with me to the cemetery so that I could plant a beautiful Blue Daze plant at Daddy's gravesite. Last night, Stan, the girls and I took Mama and Grandma (Neva Kiefer-Duncan) to Scott City to enjoy some good ol' Chinese food.
I am sure that many of you knew my Daddy but I want to pass on some facts about him that you may not have known.
Pat, not Patrick, Duane Elder was born on October 23rd, 1932 to Roy and Helen Graham-Elder at their home in Southwest Wichita County. He was the youngest of 12 children--6 girls and 6 boys. When he was 2-years-old, he lost his father to pneumonina. He had no recollection of him. When he was 5-years-old, he lost his mother whom he loved so very much to a liver that had "turned to stone". That is how the doctors phrased it. Today, we assume that that was in fact, liver cancer. Some of her sons including Daddy had liver cancer which is defintely an inherited disease.
During the Great Depression, Daddy's mother had moved her last daughter and sons from the farm into Leoti. After the passing of his mother, Daddy went to live with one sister to the next. He had lived with the 5 older sisters. After Grandma had married, he was brought back from a sister's house in Colorado Springs to live with her and her husband on a farm in Wichita County. He then worked the farm and went to school in the county. When he went to high school, he became very involved in sports. He was a very good football player and was also good in track. He was also in basketball but he told us that he was not that good of a player. Eventually, college recruiters came to Leoit and offered him a full scholarship to play football. It had always been his dream to become a doctor and he definitely had the intelligence to do that but he ultimately turned the scholarship down in order to join the U.S. Air Force. He was involved in the Korean Conflict.
The Air Force gave all of the troops really nice jackets. One day, he was walking down a sidewalk in Biloxy, Mississippi, I think, when a professional photographer stopped him and asked him to pose for photographs to be used for advertisement purposes. (Daddy was a very handsome red-headed man.) To this day, Mama possesses an 8 x 10 of this picture. A few years ago, my Aunt Thelma brought me an 8 x 10 picture of his senior pictures.
Eventually, his days in the Air Force reached an end and he returned to Wichita County to family and friends. He intended to be a farmer. For awhile, he worked for brothers and other farmers. His other dream of being a farmer with his own farmground never came to be. While he was farming, he met my lovely mother and began dating her. Of course, she was a teacher at that time, fresh out of college in Hays. Back then, teachers were to have flawless reputations unlike today when anything goes. For example, today, if you want to live with a person whom you are just dating, that's fine by our current standards, (not mine). But, then, that was totally NOT accepted. Mama was definitely NOT living with Daddy but members of the school board instructed Dr. Robert Bruce Stewart, the school's principal at the time, to instruct Mama to cease dating Pat Elder IMMEDIATELY as he was a well-known drinker and wild person around town. Dr. Stewart did talk to Mama but he refused to tell her to drop Daddy. Instead, he told her that he knew that Daddy had had a tough life so far but that he could see great potential in her boyfriend. Years later, many of those school board members apologized to Daddy and Mama for their harsh judgement of him.
They continued dating and on November 22nd of 1959, they were married in Johnson, Kansas. After their honeymoon, they came back home to Leoti. Their marriage was not always great in the beginning. Daddy had begun smoking and drinking in high school. These habits followed him into the service, back to Wichita County and into their marriage. I was born in 1961 and I remember that Daddy continued to drink until late May of 1971. My mom had grown tired of Daddy's drinking. One evening, she packed suitcases for herself, Lori and I so that we could move to Stanton County with her parents for awhile. When Daddy arrived home and saw this, he broke down in tears. It was the first time that I could ever remember seeing Daddy cry. He begged Mama to stay. He promised never to take another sip of an alcoholic beverage if she would not take his daughters and leave. Mama gave him just one more chance. That chance was all that he needed. From 1971 until his dying day of April 29th of 1995, he kept his promise and never drank again. Lona Sue was born on June 3rd of 1971. His world was complete.
Today, we hear of alcoholics checking into alcohol rehabs to got off of "the juice" or at the very least, joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Daddy had the strongest will of anyone I have ever known. The day after he promised Mama to never drink again, he went to his one and only AA meeting. That was it. He was done drinking forever.
Since Daddy's death, more than a few people have come to me and told me that Daddy had saved their lives and their families from alcoholism. Daddy was a major mentor in their lives. Did we know it at the time? No. That was a very private subject for Daddy. His cigarette usage continued until 1984. Stan and I had just been transferred from working in JJ's Country Store in Tribune to JJ's in Garden City. When we arrived in Garden City, we discovered a big box that was filled with outdated cigarettes and cigars. Instead of throwing them out, we gave them to Daddy to smoke. At that time, cigarette prices had reached an all time high price of $1.00 a pack. Daddy believed that that was ridiculous. He told us that once he had smoked the contents of that box, he was done smoking. He was right. After the last cigarette and cigar were smoked, he never smoked again. I only wish that I had his willpower! I would be a skinny Minny if I did. LOL!
Daddy eventually left farming and became a carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc. In other words, when he was contracted to build a house, he did the entire job himself. No other companies needed to be hired. There are still homes in Wichita County that he built. One of them is just a few doors north of our house where George and Debbie Eckert live today. As I drive past their home, I think of how Daddy constructed it all by himself and a couple of men whom he hired. He continued his business until after his health had failed in 1994.
Daddy loved dogs. He also enjoyed going to the dog races. So, he ended up purchasing a couple of greyhounds and went into the business of raising dogs for the racing industry. I don't know how many he owned but it was somewhere in the hundreds. Every dog of his who ran on the racetracks had the first name of Leoti. For instance, Leoti Buck, etc. He named many of his dogs after his relatives. Daddy's dogs ran in Mexico and everywhere in Colorado. It was such a thrill to get to watch our very own dogs at the racetracks!!!
To this day, people still tell me of how much they enjoyed seeing Daddy pull into the grocery store to purchase his dog food. He bought several 50 pound bags at a time. He always instructed the carry out boys to place them on the hood of his pick-up. Then he would drive home and unload them from there. That way, he didn't have to reach down into his pick-up bed to pull them out. But, dog food was not good enough for his dogs. Meat cutters in town gave him meat scraps that he mixed with the dog food. Oh, how his Leoti dogs loved that!
Our Daddy was the greatest father!!! We always knew how very much we were loved. There was nothing that he would not do for his daughters! When Daddy was alive, he awakened his daughters on their birthdays by seeing "Happy Birthday" to us. That didn't change after we had moved away from home. We always knew that Daddy and Mama would be calling us early in the morning to sing to us. To this day, when I awaken on October 29th, my birthday, I am saddened because Daddy won't be singing to me. After all of these years, Mama keeps up the tradition that Daddy began so many years ago. There are times that while she is singing, I can actually hear Daddy also. I don't know if this is my imagination or if God actually allows Daddy to sing along.
In 1989, Stan and I became foster parents. Daddy loved those children so much. He went out of his way to make these kids' lives as happy as he could. He played with them, etc. More than once, the kids came to our house with little more than the clothes on their backs. Daddy took the kids and me to Scott City's ALCO and used his very own money to buy clothes, shoes, boots for these little guys who had seen so much hardness and hatred in their short lifetimes. Those kids still remember Grandpa today.
Eventually, we adopted our first foster child, Adam. Shortly after that, Rob and Lona Sue delivered their son, Hunter, to our family. When Leif and Lori married, Daddy was blessed with four more grandchildren whom he loved much. Mercy, how Daddy loved and adored his grandchildren! Unfortunately, they would be the only grandchildren who Daddy would ever get to love. Lori was pregnant with Lars the day that he died but no one knew it at the time. Leighlyn and Abigayle came along later than that.
Leighlyn once told me that she feels like she knows her Granddad by the way that we all talk about him.
In 1990, Daddy became ill with lung and brain cancer. Doctors told him that he would have 6 more months to live. God had other plans though. Daddy lived for another 4 years. Daddy made the most of those years. He continued to work, dream and most importantly, he continued to love Mama and his family.
In late 1994, the cancer had taken it's toll on Daddy's body. He was racked with unbelievable pain. He was forced into retirement. He had tried all of the radiation and chemotherapies that were available to him at that time. At the beginning of this time, his family and many friends stopped by often to drink coffee with him. As his health worsened, fewer and fewer people stopped by to visit. It was too difficult for them to see Daddy in so much pain. Through these months, nurses dropped by on a daily basis to help with Daddy's care. He came to love them as family.
His last week on earth was probably the worst in his 62 year lifespan. By that time, Stan, Adam and I had moved in with him and Mama so that we could help care for him. He was no longer able to get in and out of bed by himself, etc. He became much worse the evening of April 28th. I called Grandma and Grandpa Duncan over to the house late that night. They, along with both of my sisters and families and us gathered around Daddy's bed for the rest of the night and into the morning. By that time, Daddy had lost the ability to speak. We sang hymns to him that he loved and told him just how much we truly loved him with all of our hearts. I remember watching as he looked from person to person of us. But, then, his eyes raised above our heads. He slowly went from side to side for a long time that night but we couldn't imagine what he was looking at. More on that in a bit.
God lifted Daddy's soul out of his tormented body and took him to Heaven with Him on the morning of April 29th. Our lives would forever be changed. A very large hole still exists where Daddy used to live. Thank God for all of the beautiful memories that we have with our Daddy!!!
Normally, after a person departs, his/her funeral is held three days later. In our case, that third day would have been on May 2nd--our wedding anniversary. Mama would not stand for that. She did not want Stan and I to have to blend such a wonderful day as our anniversay with the day that we formally said good-bye to Daddy. So, his memorial service was held on May 1st instead.
May 1st was a dark wet gloomy day. People made their way to the Methodist Church for Daddy's services. Before the service began, we learned that the sanctuary was filled except for where his immediate family was to sit. Then, the balcony filled, followed by all of the Sunday School rooms and the Fellowship Hall. Still, people were coming to the event. Even though the weather was not good, people gathered in the yards outside of the church. The mortician from Johnson was able to find a PA system at the church and set it up so that the people who were not fortunate enough to be inside the church could still hear what the minster was saying. Later, people recalled that it was probably the largest funeral in the history of Wichita County. Folks, that should tell you just how much my Daddy meant to the world around him. He had touched so many lives while he was here.
A week or two after Daddy had died, the Garden City Telegram published a magazine insert on the subject of Death and Dying. My family and I were sitting at Mama and Daddy's house as we read it. We came to a point in the magazine where it discussed what happens at the very end of a life. God never wants any of us to die alone so he sends not only angels, but our most treasured loved ones who have gone before us. For many of us, those numbers are great. I am sure that that is how it was for Daddy. Remember when I mentioned Daddy looking around his bedroom over all of our heads? Well, those were Daddy's family members and friends whom he was looking at. The magazine reported that for us looking in to a room of a person who is dying, the room may look totally empty, but, in fact, it may be bursting at the seams with loved ones. Isn't that just a wonderful feeling???
God, I just want to thank You for blessing me with such a fine man in my life as Pat D. Elder.
Daddy, if you are listening to my heart or reading what I am writing, I just want you to know that we love you so very much and our pain of not seeing your bright sunny, smiling face will never come to an end until you come with the angels and our other loved ones to guide us to Heaven...
Your loving daughter, Lynnie