Saturday, October 10, 2009

RIP Alton Mathis

Here are the basic facts. He was born in June 1918 and died in October 2009, age 91. He lived his entire life in Newport, Arkansas, except for his time in the Army during World War II. He made his living as a farmer and service station owner. He was married to Liz for 62 years and survived her by a little over 6 years. He was the father of Mary, Dianne, Ronnie, and Kathy. He was a grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather 37 times over. His oldest grandchild is my wife Lisa, and she misses her Papaw more than I can adequately convey.

Here's my own surreal moment concerning the man: I was 45 when I first met my grandfather-in-law at a family reunion in 2005.

During that visit, while we were watching a baseball game, Papaw asked us if we "could hear those birds chirping." He was adjusting the volume on his hearing aid at the time, and yes, we could hear "those birds".

A little later that evening, he encouraged Lisa and I to take his bedroom and "do what young people do." I refer you back to how many descendants the man has.

The rest of that visit, and a similar one in 2006, were full of the details of daily life, the kind of things that enrich a family without making for riveting reading for those outside the family.

Sadly, I didn't see him again in this life. I did get to hear many kind and admiring things said about him this week, from his fierce independence and self-reliance to his delight in holding his youngest grandchildren on his lap. I didn't know him nearly as well personally as I would have liked. I do, however, know quite a few members of his family very well, and I know Alton Mathis through them. My life has been deeply enriched through his, and I can only say, "I miss you too, Papaw."

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