As I walked forward in the gentle, warm atmosphere, I glanced at the
vase holding all that remained of this 91-year-old, bigger-than-life
man. How could it be? Dust to dust; the greatest man I'd ever known.
It wasn't until I sat with Ronald Reagan for a few minutes in the eighties
that I sensed the same greatness. It was good that he had known and
I was not a good son; perhaps I was frightened, then selfish, then
rebellious. I don't know how good a father he was when we started out,
but I do know that I got worse.
I looked over the aging crowd, some of the pleasantest and kindliest
faces I can remember. My wife Gloria was in front with beloved Judy,
Dad's sister and female counterpart in the John Slosser clan on the
outskirts of Lawton in post-Wild West days. They were seated with fragile
Flossie, Dad's third wife; disease had been hard on rugged J.W.'s love
life. He never gave up; an invincible he-man desperately needs companionship.
J.W. was a traveler -- all over the United States and the world --
some of it mysterious and heroic. I traveled a lot with him by car,
seeing the U.S.A., but never in a Chevrolet.
For some reason I can't explain, I have not been able to get our family's
move from Oklahoma to Maine in 1940 out of my mind. I've thought about
how over those young years I had learned so many words from billboards
and road signs. I remembered, crazily, how I puzzled so hard over the
word antiques, which seemed popular wherever we went. I pronounced it
anti-cues for a long time.
I'd been coast to coast a couple of times, from California to D.C.
and then to New York, but I became a traveler on that trip. At 10, I
I nearly passed out when J.W., sometimes stern, but mostly downright
friendly, said, Come on over here, Bob, and see if you can keep this
thing on the road.
He meant the hot Ford he was driving; Mother was behind us in the tacky
red Nash (remember those?).
Get up here in my lap, he said.
Who me? I wasn't used to that.
I've got the gas. You take the wheel.
We were doin' 55, which was pretty fast for those ol' buggies. They'd
squeal around real curves and rattle a bit most of the time.
Golly, there isn't much time to think. I squeezed the steering
wheel as if I were trying to break it in two. It wasn't as easy as you
think to hold that baby in my lane.
Stay off the shoulders. That's where the trash is, the nails, the glass
-- there on the edge. See it? Don't pull so far over when a car's coming.
See it? Cmon, Daddy. I glued my eyes straight ahead.
If you see anyone walking along the shoulder, move to the left a few
feet. Give 'em plenty of room. They might stumble or fall right out
in front of you.
Let 'em get out of the way. I gripped the wheel with all my
Relax, Bob. His arms were like cushioned steel against my sides, his
legs strong. I don't know if you know what I mean, but I could smell
him -- good, clean, a man, a strong man. I was secure. You're doin'
I couldn't talk like this to those sweet people in the church that
day. I told 'em what a good, faithful guy he was, not much of a churchgoer.
They nodded their heads and smiled lovingly. I talked about Flossie,
about Judy. I didn't mention the dangerous things he had done for the
good country he loved. That's for another time. That vase might fall
over with embarrassment.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child -- And now these three remain: faith, hope and
love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:11, 13).
Bob Slosser welcomes your responses to his columns. He may be reached