While I’m sure you know, eulogies are generally given at a memorial or funeral service. My grandfather said all his friends had “already been planted”, so he requested not to have a service. Even so, I felt the need to mark his passing by offering my tribute in this time-honored tradition.
Alsie Howard Duff, Jr. was born in mid-November, 1922 to Alsie Hayter and Cora Emma Duff in Hillsboro, Texas. Howard, as he was known, was the oldest of three. His brothers Douglas and Gradys completed the Duff family. In 1941, at the age of 18 he enlisted in the United States Army. Gradys told me of a cold December day when he and his mother were standing in the kitchen next to the stove listening to the radio. They wept when they heard the report of the Pearl Harbor bombing, as they believed Howard had arrived there just days prior. As it turned out, my grandfather was still en route to the islands as his ship’s departure had been delayed. Weeks later, he was able to get word to the family of his safe arrival.
Grandpa was stationed in the Pacific during WWII. He told me of building roads and runways on numerous islands. Six months after he had joined the Army, his brother Douglas, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Douglas was also stationed in the Pacific. At some point during their service, they were able to coordinate their leave. Grandpa fondly recalled the month they spent together on leave in Hawaii.
Shortly after returning home from military service, he married my grandmother, June. They moved to the Houston area. He worked at the Shell Oil refinery in Deer Park. Together, they raised my mother and her younger brother.
While my mother was still school-aged, they purchased a parcel of land about 40 miles east of Austin. Known as “The Farm” or “The Goober Patch”, this little spot of heaven-on-earth became the weekend playground for Grandpa, and the rest of the family, I imagine. The skills he’d learned building roads and runways in the Pacific islands came in handy as he created roads and ponds on the property. He also built a small 2 bedroom/1 bath house out of cinder blocks, known as the bunk house. Of course, machinery was used to create and care for all these things, so barns/sheds (A.K.A. galvanized palaces) were raised to secure tractors, farm implements, welding supplies, and other goodies.
They spent weekends raising cattle. I heard tales of horses, chickens, and I think sheep, but never witnessed them. They had a beautiful and prosperous garden. I recall rows of green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and okra. There were abundant pear trees, fig trees, and wild muscadine grape vines. Many hours were spent canning in the large kitchen of the bunk house.
Grandpa was also a world traveler. I don’t know the timeline of events or all of the countries they visited. However, I know he and my grandmother traveled to Japan and to the U.S.S.R (prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain.) I know they visited New Zealand, and maybe Australia. Eventually, they decided to explore North America. They purchased an Airstream trailer and traveled extensively. In later years, my cousins, my brother, and I were blessed to join them for various journeys across the U.S. and into Canada.
When my grandmother became ill, he helped her fight until she could fight no more. Then he held her hand. He was grieved when she lost her battle to cancer in 1994.
Shortly after her death, he moved into the bunk house. He would drive to town visiting the local Senior Centers for the food, and the company. Of course, being the handsome devil that he was, the ladies loved spending time with him. He soon earned the nickname Twinkle Toes, as he began dancing. As far as I can tell, if there was music playing at the center, he was dancing. As recently as three years ago, he told me he danced with every lady in the room, and then he’d start over again.
A few years after my grandmother’s death, Grace danced into his life. She made him smile, she made him laugh, and she loved to dance. After they were married, they also traveled the countryside in the Airstream. I remember the pure joy that exuded from them when they stopped to visit me in 1998 when I lived in the Seattle area. I know she was good for him, and I suspect he was good for her. They were married for 15 years before she became ill and passed away.
After being widowed again in 2013, he continued visiting the Bastrop Senior Center. Folks would bring food to share, and there would be music for dancing. It was during this time Grandpa perfected his method of making peanut brittle in the microwave. There were special dishes and special spoons involved. He had it down to an exact science! He would show up with a Ziploc bag of peanut brittle twice a week.
Then when the older folks at the center complained their teeth could no longer handle the peanut brittle, he would bring Harvard Beets. Lord, the man loved him some beets. I’m half convinced he liked them because they nearly have as much sugar in them as the peanut brittle!
In recent years, he’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and other unsettling ailments. For a man who had not sat still for much of his life, the health issues were a blow. When he fell a little over a year ago, his pain was unbearable. At that time, he made the decision to go on hospice care. My mother moved into his Bastrop home for a few weeks, but then the air conditioner broke– in August – in Texas. So, she loaded him in her car and took him to her home outside of Houston.
My parents cared for his daily needs. Hospice care helped to manage his pain. Several of his grandkids were able to visit, and he got to meet his newest great-granddaughter in November. He spent his final year surrounded by his family.
On August 20, 2020, the man of fierce independence, extremely clever wit, and humor like-no-other spent his final moments with my mom and dad.
He was deeply loved, and he will be profoundly missed.
While he is no longer here, I will recall the lessons he taught with his life:
To faithfully love your spouse.
To raise your children in fairness and fun.
To work hard, save money, and invest wisely.
To be a reliable friend and helpful neighbor.
To enjoy the finer things in life
—- like a just ripe peach
—-a peaceful sunset
—- or a glass of cheap wine (because the expensive stuff gave him indigestion.)
But perhaps, most of all, I’ll remember the wink and the phrase he used whenever we’d hug goodbye –
Be good, but…If you can’t be good, be careful.
Be careful, my friends. Be very careful.