Wednesday, May 09, 2007

He Never Did Really Quit Living

Thirty five years ago today I was sitting in study hall at Peach County High School. I was a senior and had only a couple of weeks left in my high school career. The main thing I had on my mind was trying to decide if I was going to play college basketball. I had been invited to several schools and had already practiced with several college teams. I had an invitation later in the week to practice with another college in north Georgia. I had already been accepted at the University of Georgia but I could not decide whether I should go there and forget basketball or go to a smaller college and play.

The day before my girlfriend and I visited her dad who was a patient at Sams-Whatley hospital in Reynolds. He laughed and cut up as he normally did and we talked about my future basketball career. He also laughingly warned me to take care of his daughter. I had been dating her a year by then so I knew her dad well. I was a little afraid of him but he was always joking and picking at me.

The Underwood’s drove a white station wagon (kind of like the one pictured here) and many times the whole family went on excursions together. For the past several months I had been the driver on those family outings. I had become part of the family. But I was always warned to quit looking at his daughter and keep my eye on the road.

Anyway, the announcement came on the intercom that afternoon in the study hall for me to come to the office. I thought I was in trouble. When I got to the office the secretary told me to call my mom. I did that and almost lost my breath when she told me that Ralph Underwood had passed away. How could that be? I just saw him the day before. I had never been so shocked in my life. He had just turned 49 years old. That seemed a lot older back then than it does now but it was way too young.

I left school and drove in a daze straight to my girlfriend’s house which was about 20 miles away. When I drove up there were already a lot of cars in the yard. I walked in the door and the first person I saw was my girlfriend’s mom. She hugged me. She had never hugged me in my life. She was a very strong woman and was not a hugger. I still remember her words: “What are we going to do?”

Thirty five years later, this is what they did.

After a lot of grief and a lot of help and a lot of faith, somehow they survived. And they kept living. The four children all grew up and had kids of their own. I married my girlfriend a little over five years later. Ralph Underwood now has 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren but he never got to hold any of them. And none of them ever got to sit in his lap. But all of us who knew him sure can see him in each one of his grandchildren.

So although he is not here physically, he is still very much alive in his children and his grandchildren. When you think about it a person never does really ever quit living.

That is especially true when he spends his life investing in those people entrusted to him.

He did. And we all remember.

Especially on May 9th.


Anonymous said...

Very true. Thanks for the blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about Daddy. He was a great Dad and a great man.....You remind me so much of him.
I love you.

WOW-CAJ said...

He and Uncle Millard were the two funniest people alive when I was growing up! I will never forget the shock when daddy told us what happened, and I am sure we hit the car and drove all night. I will also never forget the funeral. I suppose it was the first I had ever attended, but as a teenager, it made such an impact. I probably realized it more after time had passed, but it is a time that I will never forget. God really spoke to me when they played "It is Well With My Soul." I suppose it was one of those moments that made you really stop and think. It was some time after that when I heard the story of how the song came into being, and it made it that much more special. Not a time has passed since that day when I have heard or thought of that song, that I did not think of Uncle Ralph. The song, the message, and the memory of Uncle Ralph carried me though many challenging days because the message is true and confident and strong. Yes, he lives on in ways that he probably never even imagined. And he touched a great many lives in so many special ways!
He will be proud of his entire gang!
Love to you all and special hugs to Aunt Irene.