Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Here are materials from Dick's funeral--a link to a video of it all, and the eulogy for I wrote for him.
It was a most perfect day on his farm, with a large (and socially distanced) gathering of local friends and members of his family. Following a summer with no Memorial Day gathering, no Steak Roast, no Monterey Day, it was such a joy to be together, and has me in a deep hangover of funk. I deeply miss you all, and will miss Dick and Barbara forever.
We’ve been having church out here. Maybe you knew that. Maybe you’ve joined in some Sunday for that, or every Sunday since we started doing it. COVID, of course, has us out of our sanctuary. We’d been on Zoom since mid-March and had begun to weary of that around the time of the solstice. Tanglewood had just canceled their season, and we all have all this gear for sitting on lovely lawns.
Of course, this—the Tryon’s—lovely lawn came with the added treat of seeing Dick every week. Since Barbara died last summer, I’d become pretty frequent in my hanging around here—starting on the porch in the late summer, moving into the kitchen come fall, and then, with winter, into where the new pellet stove pumped out heat to the degree that only Dick could really handle it. Tobias would be at ski practice at Butternut, and I swing out here to spend that hour and a half. They teach you in seminary not to fall asleep when you’re visiting parishioners. But no one properly warns of the possibility of four o-clock sundown, an eighty-five degree living room, and fresh cookies on offer. (Hannah had taken up the habit in Barbara’s absence.) As I’d just come from Butternut, Dick and I would swap stories of skiing, or of being a driver for young skiers, and I would eventually have to force myself off the seat of the rocking chair so I wouldn’t be late to get the kiddo.
Incidentally, once I was late—so late that Tobias had been in his coach’s car for a half hour waiting, the lodge locked up for the night. “Sorry,” I told Tobias once he was in my car, and by way of explanation, “I was talking to Dick.”
Somehow, Dick had made time for skiing in his life. He took it up in his forties on some mysterious whim, the farm always paused for a couple hours after lunch. So, Dick would duck over to Otis Ridge or Butternut. This is when most farmers would take a break, take a nap. Not Dick. He’d go skiing.
Add to this the fact that this wasn’t “most farms.” A dairy farm: this is a whole other order of magnitude. The cows have to be milked. And there were a lot of them—the cows. And they always had to be milked. I never saw him in action. I came to Monterey too late for that. I never saw the whole family in action, Barbara, all five kids, and farmhands besides. But I remember once Dick made an off-hand remark about how every house is called a farm now, but there’s hardly any farming going on. Not so here at Lowland Farm.
For someone who was as rooted here as Dick was, though, he was as open to the wider world as anyone. Not only did he travel a lot, especially with Barbara in his later years, he was as welcoming a person in town as you could hope to meet. Arriving into a small New England town is intimidating. I say this as a small-town New Englander myself.
Actually, to be honest, when we made the church website, about a decade ago, we decided (with permission) to use Lenny Weber’s townscape of Monterey for the one of the homepage slides, the one whose caption would read, “Peace be with you.” We did so with a heavy dose of irony. Villages like Monterey might look peaceful. They are, in fact, fraught.
Richard made it otherwise in many ways. I know he welcomed into the Coffee Club more than a few people new to town. There was the persistent notion that the Coffee Club was exclusive in some way—only men, or only certain types of people, or only a certain clique. But that wasn’t right. It was, and will be again, open to anyone wanting to be a part of the on-going conversation, an openness Dick was one most clearly to champion.
As for me, when I first arrived here, in 2001, he gave me a tour of the town. Given the small size of the place, the tour didn’t take long. But there was a lot commentary about who was who and what they were each about. It felt like he wanted me to settle in and get comfortable, to be who I am and to feel familiar here.
He also told me that, though the church is small, and the town is small, I shouldn’t assume people’s thinking is small. I should preach about whatever was going on in the world, should preach as big as I liked. He just defied every assumption we seem to make about what makes for a thoughtful person. You don’t need to go broad—not if you’re willing to go long and deep, willing and able.
This is an art.
Ninety-six years in one town of about 1,000 people, but that thousand ever more swiftly turning over: this is an art. It takes clarity of thought and speech, a willingness to argue and to forgive or at least to let things go, and an openness of spirit that people grow and change, or that people go away and new people come—and they’re all people, that astonishing combination of familiar and strange.
It’s just not going to be the same around here without him, without them, right?
But this is good. This last year has largely, for Richard, been one of waiting. He was waiting for Barbara.
He was thinking of going away, to somewhere warm for the winter. He knows people down south and out west. But that didn’t come to pass, and I think not just because of the pandemic. So, here: he wanted things here, around the house and garden, just as Barbara would have had them. He wanted this service to be just as Barbara’s was. When I started to serve as pastor in Lenox as well as here, about a month after Barbara died, he wondered if I was going to go away altogether. He choked up, teared up, at the notion that I wouldn’t do his memorial service just like I had done Barbara’s. “I will,” I told him.
But I’d never have guessed I would do it in a sanctuary even more beautiful than the one where Barbara’s had been.
Life during COVID sucks and I hate it. All of the delight of life feels drained away. All of the toil remains. There are bright spots. There are glimmers of hope. One of them has been coming here every Sunday morning. This place that Dick spent his adult life stewarding, making it abound with life and goods; that he and Barbara spent their married life cultivating to be beautiful and elevating of the soul, even as it was demanding of the body: coming here was like coming to the place promised in scripture, the place that is prepared for us all.
Can you imagine anything better than that: a place prepared and ready for you, a place cultivated for thriving and uplift? I remember once a friend visiting. I'd laid out sheets for her to put on the guest-bed, and she said to me gently, teasingly, "You know, it would have been nice if you'd gone to the trouble yourself." She was right. And so it was here, at Dick's farm. This place fits so perfectly the newest iteration of Dick’s lifelong church that you’d think this farm had been meant all along to be a grower of sanctuary. About four months into the pandemic, someone in the congregation encouraged me to take a week off. “Are you kidding? This is the one of the best things to happen for me every week.”
I think it was for Dick, too. It had been a while since he’d been able to come to church.
Barbara was the first to fade from their sunny pew. The front steps are formidable. The side steps she just couldn’t bring herself to use (because they’re for old people). She couldn’t hear most of what went on once inside anyway. She was just uncomfortable.
Dick followed in that fade. Still frequent at the Coffee Club, he seldom came upstairs on Sundays. I think it was Christmas Eve last time I saw him in church, which was a surprise because he was supposed to be in Seattle meeting his most recent great-grandchild—the one Barbara kept me updated about, born way early, but catching up impressively. The trip was scuttled at Christmas, and would be again in March, when the whole world shut down.
Maybe that was when he began to fade from more than just his sunny pew--not having that to look forward to, not having that aim of getting to meet that most impressive great-grandchild. We all need that, you know—something to look forward to, something to keep us going. When you’re young, such things are so numerous you don’t even realize their necessity. But those, like all things, begin to fade.
Maybe church coming to him gave him renewed purpose. When it looked like rain, he’d say when we all arrived anyway, “I thought maybe you wouldn’t come.”
A couple weeks ago, Dick was more faded still. Not coming out to his chair on the lawn, he stayed on the porch.
The following week, he stayed on the porch and was now wrapped up in a blanket.
I saw him the day he died. He seemed comfortable, mostly asleep, though awake enough to move his hands from being curled up under his chin to being restful on his chest, alternating every few long breaths.
I told him how happy I was to have gotten that tour from him.
I told him how much I admire his marriage and his children and his farm; how much I wish I could have skied with him or drunk a glass of his farm’s milk.
I told him how much I love the church he served so faithfully, stayed with even through some really hard times. I thanked him for keeping it going so I could come along eventually to be a part of it, too.
The breath of life was leaving him. It was returning whence it came.
What a time it had while here—filling this man who was himself so full of life and labor.
It is absolutely right that we gather in the place he prepared and kept ripe for such abundance. Even COVID offers its moments of redemption.
And, as below, so above. May the place that God has prepared for Richard be as beautiful and abounding as this right here.
Look at us all.
Look at what Richard has done.
Thanks be to God.