Saturday, April 29, 2017

Eulogy for my Dad

Bob Dylan most famously asked “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?” How do you measure the life of a man?  How many roads did my Father walk in his life? 
He was a son, born Carrol Joseph Carter in Portageville Missouri, the youngest of nine children.  He grew up playing in the cotton fields and helping his father in the family plumbing business.  It didn’t take him long to dislike his name and go by Joe (or C. Joe for more formal occasions).
He was a newspaperman, getting his first ‘real’ job when he was old enough, working after school at the local newspaper, setting type and learning the day to day business of putting out a paper.  He never realized at the time how important this first job would later be.
He was a Mississippi Riverman.  After graduating high school (a feat that not many in his family had accomplished to that point) he worked on Mississippi riverboats for two years.  He always loved the riverboats, and I remember him painstakingly working on a scratch built riverboat model when I was younger.
He was a soldier, enlisting in the army.  He never served overseas, instead being stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO as a corporal and company clerk.  When asked what he did during his service, he would refer to the classic character “Radar” in “M*A*S*H” – stating he worked filing papers and driving the colonel around.
He was a traveler.  After leaving the service, he tried to follow the traditional path of getting married and settling down, but his girlfriend turned him down.  So instead he decided that he had enough of the cotton fields and Mississippi river and wanted a change of scenery and life.

He headed out to Colorado where his brother Leo lived, only to find that he loved his newly adopted state so much that never left it for more than a few months ever again 
He said that he liked being a thousand miles from his relatives – close enough that they could come and visit, but not so close that they could just drop in unannounced.  
I think this idea came back to bite him with all his grandchildren being that far away later in life.  
He was a scholar.  He took advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrolled at the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo.
While he was in school he decided that with his experience working on the newspaper that journalism would be something to look into, along with history and political science.   He applied for the editor of the school newspaper, his only competition being a local young woman who had run her high school paper.  He got the job on the newspaper, and Shirley Apple became editor of the yearbook. 
He was a husband.  I believe Mom must have eventually forgiven him for beating her out as editor, as their marriage lasted 58 years until she passed away last July.  Mom and Dad made sure to never fight in front of the children, but that doesn’t mean they never had disagreements.   
I recall hearing them arguing once through the vents in the small house where we grew up (he had driven us home after having a beer or two more than he should have), and I remember thinking that I hoped one day to marry someone who loved me as much.
He was a lineman.  While in school he worked for the power company in Pueblo, reading meters and repairing lines.  He learned the city that way, and every time we visited he would point out landmarks, and how they had changed over the years.
He was a father, of course, or I wouldn’t be standing up here now.  Mom and Dad had four children.  Their first, Jonathan Andrew, was born prematurely in 1959 and only lived for two days.  Margaret Carol was born in 1960, Norma Katherine in 1962, and I followed in 1964.
He and mom continued their education after they graduated, both earning Masters Degrees at Adams State College.  He then continued on eventually earning his Doctorate from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
His dedication and hard work inspired his young son, who at only four years old began carrying around an old green notebook (with a frog drawn on it), filled with lined paper, in which I would dutifully scribble (trying to stay between the lines) for hours at a time, filling page after page.  When asked what I was doing, I responded that I was working on my dissertation, just like my Daddy.                
He was a teacher.  He began teaching History and Political Science back at Adams State College even before he finished his doctorate.  He taught there until he retired, inspiring more students than anyone could ever count, touching their lives.  I was lucky enough to take a couple of his classes when I went to college.  
In his American Studies class (basically freshman American history) he spent a lot of time on Native American history, as well as personal history.  I used to joke that my sisters and I were the only students in his class that had their personal history papers corrected (though not graded) for content.  To this day I still can’t keep all of his brothers and sisters and my cousins straight.
He was a fair and strict educator.  He once gave my sister Norma an ‘F’ on a paper with a notation "did you think I couldn’t tell you didn’t read the book?"  Good or bad she took every class he taught at ASC.
He used to joke that he would give students credit when they didn’t know an answer if they could at least be original and funny, although after almost 30 years that was very challenging to do.
Dad always had his course notes on 3x5 cards, and kept a bunch in his pocket for taking down any notes he might need.  I once asked him after seeing him flip through several at once during a lecture if he just decided to skip several items, or had he covered them already?  
He showed me he actually included blank cards, in case he decided to add something later.  I could have printed this on regular paper, but I think note cards were more fitting.
Beyond being a teacher, he was also a professor.  He was extremely proud of his degree, and the fact that despite neither of his parents being able to read or write, he was not only one of the first in his family to graduate high school, but to also go on to earn his PhD.  He felt that it was his duty to do more than just teach, but to research and expand on his field of knowledge.
He was a historian.  He was an expert in southern Colorado history, participating and leading several historical associations.  He proved that the accepted version of Zebulon Montgomery Pike’s expedition (which led to Pike’s Peak being named after him) was wrong, and they did not stop where it was previously believed, but found and documented the true location of his stockade. 
He even created the “Pike Hike”, where a brave group of friends, students and others would recreate Pike’s winter trek – no small feat hiking and camping in the San Luis Valley in February each year, in the late 60s and early 70s before the advent of modern technology.

Even after he retired, he would give tours at the Creede Mining Museum, as he and Mom relocated there to enjoy the mountains even more.
He was an author.  He published several books, including his doctoral dissertation (not in a green notebook) titled “The Colonels of Politics” – about Colorado county commissioners.  

He also published his master’s thesis on the history of the local Catholic Church (Sacred Heart) in Alamosa.  

I cannot count the number of papers and articles he wrote for historical journals and other publications as well.  
His biggest achievement however was when he had his book “Pike in Colorado” published in 1978.  A limited edition hardback (500 signed copies), and a paperback edition.  This full color book described all that he had found about Pike’s travels in the Valley, and was available at local museums for several years.  
I was very excited a few months ago to find several copies on Amazon, buying them for my kids to have.
He was a man of faith.  He grew up in the Catholic Church (almost literally, as he lived both across the street from and then behind the local church in Portageville).  Of course as an altar boy, that meant he was often called upon to help serve mass at the last minute when others failed to show.  

His faith was a deep part of him, and even when travelling he and Mom would always find the local church to attend mass on Saturday evenings.  
It was always Saturday evenings, because while it was important, it wasn’t worth getting up early on Sunday mornings for, though he never complained about having to get up early when either I or my sister Norma were scheduled get up at 5:30am to serve morning mass.
He was a craftsman.  Not only building a garage behind the house, but also created his own house painting business.  Pride Painters may have started to help pay off the charge account my sisters had run up at the Medicine Chest (you mean we can really buy things just by signing without any money?), but it continued for over fifteen years in the summers and holidays.   
This gave him a little extra money (he would often mention the new truck that he bought from this business) and providing summer jobs for his kids and just about every boy and girlfriend they had, and even some former students.
While the painting business earned him and his many employees their wages, as the owner he never actually turned a profit.  This was usually because he always seemed to be contracting out to, as he said, “Divorcees and Widow Women”.
I myself worked on the very first house at the age of 9, earning a whopping $1 a day (which would often be spent on a candy bar when we stopped at the hardware store for supplies after work).  I still remember the farm, and mixing the paint and linseed oil for the old shake shingle roof;
Roscoe the tom turkey who would run up to greet visitors, wanting to be thumped on the chest before wandering away;  or the old dog that had adopted a litter of kittens as her own after their mother was hit and killed by a car on the road (and those kittens always seemed to be getting into the paint).
He was a businessman.   Or at least he tried to be one.  While his brothers and nephews were often very successful traders, the entire “profit” thing seemed to elude him.  Whenever anyone would visit, they always had to go “shopping” in Dad’s garage to see what incredible treasures he had.  

He loved to go “junking” – finding garage sales and flea markets to get some fantastic piece of treasure, that he never managed to resell for a profit.
He and mom always enjoyed putting up a table at gun shows for many years, though I suspect this was more as an excuse to travel a bit.

After he retired from teaching, He and Mom started a retail business – “Shirley’s Selectables and Joe’s Junk” in Creede, but it was too far off the main street to attract much traffic, and eventually folded.
He was a patron of the arts.  While they lived in Creede, he and Mom were loyal patrons of the Creed Repertory Theatre Company, attending each of the productions put on throughout the summer, and often helping with fundraising for the theatre (and even often feeding the actors and crew).
He was a friend.  Whether colleagues or students, friends from church or other old farts, he loved to sit and visit with people.  Coffee every morning was more than a ritual with him; it often was the highlight of his day during his later years.
He was a grandfather; with seven grandchildren he was extremely proud of...  
Jonathan, Katlyn, Erik and Matthew Carter 
Joseph and Meg Harmon.  
And his step-granddaughter Becky Lukkason (who is due with what would have been his first great-grandchild in October),
He loved visiting them, and once even did a presentation for Jon’s social studies class on how Native Americans would make and throw spears using atl-atls.
He was the patriarch of the Carter family.  There are so many stories others can tell about Uncle Joe and Aunt Shirley, and they were loved very much by their family, and touched so many lives.
Dr. C Joe Carter walked many roads in his life, and touched so many people.  He will long be remembered and loved by family, friends and all those he met with a smile and a joke.  I have always been very proud of him, and to be his son.  Now that he has taken his final road, he will be eternally missed and I hope that I can live to be half the man that he was.