Loved my dad.
A couple of people have asked if I would post the words I shared at my father’s funeral last week. So, for those folks — and anyone else with an interest — here they are.
Service for Joe Bill Cope
November 8, 2013
I was in West Virginia a couple of weeks ago. It was that odd time of year when the mountains were mostly green with just a hint of change beginning in the leaves. Magnificent view of God’s creation.
But John Denver had it wrong. He said West Virginia is “almost heaven.” It can’t be. Because “almost heaven” has to be a place like this. A place where we gather to honor and comfort and care for one another. We, the Cope family, have come to honor our husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, brother-in-law, uncle, great-uncle and cousin, Joe Bill Cope. All of the rest of you have come together to join us in comforting and caring for each other.
This is “almost heaven.” Thank you for being here.
Joe Bill Cope. Joe. Dad. Daddy. Papa Joe. Mr. Joe.
Several weeks ago, Dad told Carl and me that he wanted us to speak at his funeral. What an honor! What an opportunity! What a burden! How do you tell the story of a man like Papa Joe in just a few minutes? I’ve worried about it.
And then, as I was struggling to pull my thoughts together, I realized that I don’t have to tell it all because each of you holds a part of Dad’s story. Whether you lived close by or played golf with him or built highways with him or sat in his living room in a devo with 100 other college students or were part of a small group or a 42 club or a Friday night supper club or had him teach you to drive or explain the very best way to eat cornbread and red beans or gathered for family holidays with him or shared an incredible 63 years of marriage with him – you hold a piece of his life. Some of you may never have known him at all. But Joe Cope has influenced you because he touched someone else who is important to you.
In the last few days, my family has been blessed by the words and memories that you have shared. Visits, phone calls, cards, emails, FaceBook posts. Thank you.
Dad worked . . . a lot. Building roads demanded that he and his crews take advantage of daylight. Dad would get up hours before sunrise, make a cup of instant coffee, and head out the door to his mobile office – for most of his working years, a red Ford pickup with a white top. He’d return, hours later. He’d be tired, but happy for the most part. He was able to do what he loved to do. Take a set of plans, an assortment of workers with varying levels of skill, some extremely large and dangerous machines, and carve a road out of the countryside. When he would enter the house, I remember the smell of the dirt and caliche that hung in his clothes and, when a job was almost finished, the pungent smell of asphalt. I came to love those smells. Although work wasn’t all fun and games, Dad took great pleasure in using his talents to do something productive and good. I learned to love people from every walk of life from watching Dad at work. His workforce was a mixture of races and cultures. And Dad treated them all with honor and respect. Most called him Mister Joe – not Mister Cope – and they loved to joke with him. I learned later in life that Mister Joe often helped his men get through tough times.
Dad would take Carl and I to work on occasion. I suppose that wouldn’t be allowed anymore. Too much liability. But out on the job, I rode maintainers, scrapers, bull dozers. I cooled off in the back of water trucks. I ate awful baloney sandwiches made from items bought from little country stores and drank Cokes and Dr Peppers that often were crusted with sand. I learned to drive on one of Dad’s jobs one night after the crews had gone home.
Carl actually worked for Dad in the highway business. I filled in a few times. One December when I was in college, I was looking forward to sleeping in through the holidays. But the first morning, the phone rang and it was Dad. One of his men hadn’t showed up and he told me to dress warmly and drive to Dimmitt. There was snow on the ground and it was obvious that I hadn’t dressed warmly enough. Dad put me on a 50 ton roller and I managed to survive with the heat that came off the huge diesel engine. Shortly after lunch, Dad told me to get in his truck. We drove down to one of the large culverts that ran under the highway. Several of his men were standing by an oil barrel that had a fire burning in it. Dad explained that he needed me to run a rope through the culvert. The culvert had filled with sand and mud. To clean it out, Dad planned to pull a sled-type device back and forth to drag out the debris. But first, they needed to run a rope from one end to the next.
I figured that I was chosen for the job because of my size. So they tied a line to my belt and I clambered through the sand and the mud from one end to the other, often having to crawl. When I got out, one of the men invited me to stand by the fire to get warm. “I would have never done that,” he said. “In fact, none of us would.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because of the snakes that live in the culvert.”
About that time the sled was being pulled out. The men, armed with shovels began moving the mud and debris to the side – and killing rattlesnakes and dumping their bodies in the fire.
Later, I asked Dad if he knew there were snakes in that culvert. “Sure,” he paused.
“Well, Dad,” I asked, “don’t you think it would have been a good idea to tell me?”
“No,” he said. “I told the other guys and they wouldn’t run the rope.”
“But don’t you think you should have given me some warning?”
“Well, I did tell you to go as fast as you could. You know, snakes are really slow in the cold weather.”
I’m sure that Carl has many adventures building roads with Dad.
Some of the most memorable experiences came on vacations with Dad and Mom – many of them at Possum Kingdom Lake. We learned to water ski and fish and play cards and work on projects. Nancy remembers Dad’s love for fun and his patience. He spent hours driving the boat so that she could learn how to slalom in order to surprise me one summer.
Dad loved my Nancy. We began dating in high school and, as we entered college, he was concerned that we would get married too young and not finish our education. So he consistently lectured me that we should wait until we had our degrees. And that was our plan. One night, I returned home after a date with Nancy. Dad was sitting in his chair reading the paper.
“When are you planning on marrying Nancy?” he asked.
“Well, of course, after we finish college,” I responded appropriately.
“My advice is to marry her as soon as you can,” and as he said that he lowered his paper. “If you drag this out, you may mess it up and I won’t get to have Nancy as a daughter.”
We married that next summer.
Carl and I learned that our friends were always welcome. In fact, they were welcome wherever we were. At home, at the lake, on a ski trip. Any where.
Dad loved to have people around.
Dad loved people.
I wrote out a list of the words that I feel describe my dad. But the one that keeps surfacing is the word “content.”
Dad was a content man. He didn’t spend much energy trying to amass great wealth. He was content to go to work, build his roads, and come home to his family. He found a beautiful young coed to court and marry while he was in college. And then he was content, loving her and providing for her. He was content with his two sons. He never pushed us in any particular direction, but allowed us to follow our interests. He was always proud of us. Proud of you, Carl, as he witnessed the way that you serve others. Proud of me, I’m sure for several reasons, but mainly because I married Nancy.
And he was proud of his grandsons, Jeremy and Justin, and his granddaughter, Bella. In later years he seemed his happiest when we were all together. Even though he couldn’t hear a lot of what was being said, he would join in the laughter and the fun. And in these most recent years, both Mom and Dad have been thoroughly blessed through my sister-in-law Shirley’s children and her grandchildren. Thank you for bringing that sweetness to their lives by sharing.
I know that Dad and Mom went through tough times through the years. Not every day at work on the road or in the classroom was a good one. Yet, I never knew of any struggle nor did I see any tension between them. Now, I did see tension between them and Carl and me. Both of them carried the burdens of life without complaining – at least to us. Mom, one thing we never doubted was the love that Dad had for you and that you had for Dad. Thank you for that amazing gift and example.
While contentment loomed large in Dad’s life, he taught us that contentment was attainable when you do your best work. Dad was persistent and he taught me that persistence could help balance other deficits in talent.
For my birthday one year, I asked for a unicycle. Dad, being practical, agreed. But he let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he had doubts that I would persist.
A week later, bruised and scraped from my efforts, I proudly showed Dad how I could indeed ride that unicycle. “I knew you could do it if you kept after it,” he said. “You can do anything that you keep after.”
Dad was a man who kept after the right things. He kept after his marriage, he kept after his work, he kept after raising his sons, he kept after his love and encouragement of his grandsons and granddaughters, and he adored his great grandsons and great granddaughters, he kept after his friends. And he kept after his God.
Paraphrasing from 2 Timothy 4, Dad could say, “I fought the good fight. I finished the race. I kept the faith.”
Dad knew God and truly believed that God would take care of all things. And with that knowledge and belief, Dad was content.
Joe Bill Cope. Joe. Dad. Daddy. Papa Joe. Mister Joe.
Thank you for loving him with us.