Yesterday was my father's memorial service. It was small, because we had originally planned on a private service at the veteran's cemetary, but there were too many scheduling issues, so we moved it to the funeral home. Small is a relative term I suppose, because just the relatives amount to about 50 people.
There were some surprises - the two sailors who arrived to present my mother with the flag were women. Which got a huge thumbs up from my mom, and giggles from all of us. While my father never treated anyone unfairly because of gender, he not so secretly felt that women were pretty useless in many ways, and serving in the military was one of them. Your father would have a fit, my mother whispered. Then let's don't tell him I whispered back.
I was also surprised by how strongly some people felt about my father. Things which I had forgotten even happened meant a great deal to them. I am reminded again how small kindnesses can have a big impact. There was one man I didn't recognize - it turned out he had been in Daddy's scout troop, over 30 years ago. He saw the obituary in the paper, and drove over 40 miles to pay his respects.
Afterwards, we all went back to my sister's house for dinner. It's been a long time since the whole family was together. It was fun to watch the next generation of cousins laughing and talking way into the night.
All it all, it was a good day.
Some of you asked me to post my father's obituary when it was done.
Some of you here today knew Bert so well that there is nothing I can say about him that you don’t already know. Some of you may be here to show support to his family and you may not know as much about the life we are celebrating here today, so I would like to tell you a little about the man he was.
Bert was born on September 3rd, 1923 in Port Neches, Texas to Carl and Nellie Schreiber. Bert already had an older brother Myron, and would later be joined by a younger brother Carl. The family moved to Beaumont, Texas when Bert was two and this is where grew up, graduating in 1941 from Beaumont High School. World War II was in full swing and in 1942, during his first year at Lamar Junior College, Bert volunteered for service in the Navy. He was very proud of his military service.
Bert served on the LST 241 in the Pacific theater, earning numerous medals including a Purple Heart for wounds received during the battle of Okinawa. Bert held his ship’s Captain in high regard and was excited when his beloved Captain Firestone donated the bell at the Veterans Cemetery here in Houston in his ship and crew’s honor. Bert will be interred in that very cemetery where he will be able to hear those bells.
After the war, Bert returned to school at LSI, graduating with a BS degree in physics in 1949. He began pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Texas but his patriotism intervened once again and he volunteered to serve during the Korean War. It was during this time that he served on Guam for two years, on staff as the Atomic, Biological, Chemical Warfare Defense Officer. In 2005 he was honored in Guam for his contributions towards the effort to include Guam and its citizens under the U.S. Radiation Exposure Compensation Law. He maintained his Naval Reserve status and retired as a Lieutenant-USN.
Upon discharge from active service, he returned to Beaumont and worked in his family's business, Santa Fe Salvage Co. Bert was a confirmed bachelor; he was even president of the Beaumont Bachelor’s Club. At age thirty, however, Bert met his match when he was spied by Billie Ann Grant across a crowded bar. After three dates they married and had fifty two wonderful years together.
After working hard as a self made business man, Bert finally retired to be a full-time grandfather and radical physicist. You see, after his retirement, he was cleaning out the attic and came across an old paper he had worked on in graduate school. Bert decided to finish his paper and one thing led to another and soon he was totally engrossed in the physics he loved. He pursued his scientific interests, publishing numerous papers and letters in various scientific journals. His grandchildren quickly learned not to ask their “Honey” (as they called him) for help with school homework unless they had time for a lecture.
I could tell you more about the particulars of Bert’s life but school, work, service, these are things we all do. I would like to read you some remembrances by his family to give you a better sense of who Bert was:
From Bert’s daughter Jo:
One of my earliest memories is standing in the backyard, in my pajamas, pretending to see a comet. I was four, and wasn’t quite sure exactly what a comet was, but I knew that it was something special, because Daddy had gotten us out of bed to see it. My father loved science, and discovering new things, and he shared that with us. From him, we learned all sorts of things, like how to focus a telescope, how you can shoot firecrackers out of bent pipes, and what happens when you fill a plastic trash bag with natural gas. And then set it on fire. During our vacations, we would stop at every historical marker, no matter how many miles were still ahead. Daddy always took the time to let us discover something new, even if it meant stopping the car for an hour to watch a tarantula cross the road.
There are so many other things about my father that I could share. How he worked six days a week and a half day Sunday to provide for us, but was never an absentee father. How he was so careless with things but careful with us. How he let me fall asleep on the couch with him every night and carried me to bed, long after I was far too old to fall asleep on the couch and be carried to bed. How he replied to a note from my first grade teacher complaining about my inattention during class with a note of his own that said, You leave my baby alone. But all those things can be summed up in the most valuable thing my father taught me. What it means to be loved, not with words, but with how a life is lived.
From Bert’s son Paul:
The best times my Dad & I spent together were in Boy Scouts. The troop I joined was a rag-tag lot with weak adult leadership. My first camp-out was in freezing drizzle, and no one told me I was supposed to bring my own food. The older boys made me clean all of their pots and pans for one cup of hot chocolate!
When I got back, Dad leaped into action. He joined the leadership, and within 18 months we were magically transformed into the leading Troop in the district. We won so many jamboree awards that the District asked us to stop competing and be 'judges' one year. Of course my father told them no. My father had a system. The older boys in the troop taught the younger boys and only the younger boys competed. Being the best at the jamboree was the motivation but the lessons were team work, leadership and helping each other, not letting the strong prey on the weak. My father was turning boys into men. Many of the boys (including me) thought he was "too tough" on us at times, but in reality we were harder on him. Daddy worked long hours that often included hard physical labor and he didn’t have to spend what little free time he had with a bunch of teenage boys. But he did, and he made all of us better than when we started. For me, my father turned what was a miserable experience into many wonderful memories. I will always treasure my Boy Scout camping trips that I shared with him.
From Bert’s daughter Janie:
My father was such a unique individual that it would be impossible for anyone to understand who he was in the thirty minutes or so that we have here today. Many children only get to know their parents as parents. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with my father as an adult when he was starting a new business. Ten hours a day together in a hot, dirty warehouse may not seem like fun but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. My father didn’t talk much at home but at work we had to talk all the time. Work talk leads to personal insight. These are some of the things I learned:
Waste of any kind is a sin: When you own your own business unnecessary expenses take money out of your own pocket. We never left a room without turning out the lights; no air conditioning in the warehouse, only where the customers go; reuse everything.
Don’t keep what’s not yours. Honesty is everything. If we made change wrong for a customer we kept their name and the amount we owed them on a list taped to the cash register in case they came back in the store. We had names with 10 and 15 cents beside them. If a supplier sent us too much of something we sent it back or notified them so they could bill us for it.
Trust someone until you have reason not to. A young man came into the store one day looking for a job. He was obviously sick and down on his luck. Daddy took the cash out of the register, gave it to him and told him to go to a doctor and come back for a job interview when he was well. We weren’t actually looking to hire anyone but the man came back well so daddy put him to work. He turned out to be a great employee and a good friend.
Nothing is more important than family. I had a pet chicken that went to work with me. Her name was Amy and she liked to follow us around in the store. One day we were unloading heavy boxes from a truck and I was afraid we would hurt her so I put her in a fenced area outside the back door. When I went to get her she was gone. I was devastated because I was certain a cat had gotten her. Daddy knew I was right but he wanted to be sure we weren’t giving up too soon so he locked the business up, put a sign on the door that said “closed for family emergency”, and we spent two hours going over the entire block with a fine tooth comb. We didn’t find Amy but I did learn that my feelings for my chicken were more important to my father than his business. He was also very fond of the chicken.
I will remember many things about my father: how he loved babies, a good joke, his jumpsuits and his house shoes; his bourbon and his chocolate covered raisins. But my time with him gave me so much more. Who he was made me who I am.
Two poems requested by the deceased:
From the poem Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson, engraved on his tombstone:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me;
"Here he lies where he longed to be.
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill."
Crossing the Bar
By Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.