Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Eulogy I gave for my Dad

Eulogy of Claire Jay Larsen
By Jay Larsen

I remember when my dad gave the eulogy for his mother. He had every name and date at hand. He was very organized and made the whole thing seem very precise. My dad liked things to be organized and precise. But personally, I have found that life is not about precision so much as it is about impressions. And my dad made a big impression on all of us who knew him.

I will attempt to eulogize my father’s life and the impressions he left on me. If dates are incorrect or missing, if names get confused or left out, please rest assured that the imprecision is all mine.

We are here today to celebrate the life of Claire Jay Larsen, a man who played many roles in his life: son, brother, husband, elder, teacher, bishop, dean, and of course the role that left the biggest impression on me—father.

Claire was born to Orba and Christian Larsen in Southern Idaho, near Preston, on July 29th, 1935.
He had several older half sisters as well as younger siblings, but he never categorized them as anything other than “family”. His siblings include his sisters Ladeen, May, Beth and Emma, and his brother John.
His early years were spent on a small farm growing beans, beets and such. Dad never lost his hard-working, hands-on, farm boy approach to life. He was never afraid to pitch in and get his hands dirty. And he often spoke of long hours spent mowing hay, bringing in the harvest, and caring for the “HARSES”. His love of the outdoors continued through a life time of camping and rock climbing. Dad never met a rock he didn’t want to climb.

Claire’s father, Christian, was a giant figure in my dad’s life. Christian was a respected member of the Mormon community. He had served a mission in Tonga in the early 19-hundreds, where he built church buildings and taught school, traveling from island to island in dugout canoes. This was back in the day when missions didn’t have a set length. Grandfather served until the Mission President released him almost 3 years later.

I remember helping my dad pour over Christian’s missionary journal, scanning each fading page, transcribing the text (although “translating” might be a better word, because Christian’s hand writing was not the best.) In fact, it is a lot like mine when I am in a hurry, which in some ways made it easier for me to read.
Dad worked hard to put Christian’s Journal together into a book with pictures and historical background info. He distributed copies to all his siblings and his children. Dad was so proud of what his father had done and his service to the Church. And he was proud of his family’s part in the Church’s history.

Dad looked up to his father as a heroic figure. He told me more than once how when he was young, maybe 8 years old, that he got his feet stuck in an icy puddle in a remote section of a dirt road as the temperature was dropping fast. His horse (or HARSE) wandered away and he was stuck, literally frozen into the road. Cold and alone. Scared. Dad was so relieved when his father, noticing the horse had come home alone, got on and road out and found his young son. Christian pulled his boy right out of his frozen boots, wrapped him up and carried him home. Dad was worried about his lost boots, but Christian told him, “Boots can be replaced, family can’t.”

So it was a huge shock to Claire when he lost his father to an accident involving a broken tractor and a train, when he was just 10 or 11. In my opinion, how Claire dealt with the sudden loss of his father really came to define how he approached the rest of his long life. I have spent much of my life slowly realizing just how much that event influenced and shaped his attitudes and actions over the years. I believe Dad was still learning how much that early loss had influenced his life himself.

The accident that took young Claire’s father away from him was not planned. Nobody wanted it to happen. But it did, and it changed everything. And that young boy had no idea how to fill the void left by his father’s absence. All he could do was to try his best to hold things together, to step forward, to try and keep things running and moving and organized. He wasn’t sure if he was doing the best job possible. His dad wasn’t there to show him what to do or to rescue him if he made mistakes. But Claire was determined to make his father proud of him.

Claire helped his mother and sisters run the farm after that. His mother, Orba, was a school teacher, and she impressed on her son (and me, and all her kids and grandkids) how important education was. Dad went to high school and stayed involved in the Church. I asked Dad once if he thought that the reason the Church was so important to him was because the Church had become a kind of surrogate for his missing father. And he said, Yes. That as long as he was serving the Church and doing what the Church asked of him, that he was doing what his father would have wanted him to do.
But it was more than that. My dad also appreciated all the men in the church who helped him and counseled him as he was growing up. The Church was an important source of male leadership for him.

When he was old enough, Dad did a short tour with the Army. Then he went on a mission to Colorado. He worked hard and was proud to have baptized one family into the Church.

After his mission, Dad started his academic career in earnest. He got a Bachelor’s degree from Utah State, while still finding time to be on the State boxing team. He placed 2nd in the state one year. I know, I saw the trophy.

Dad traveled to California to San Jose State to work on his Masters Degree, despite his mother’s warnings that California was not like Utah or Idaho, that things were different out there in Hollywood and that he would meet strange people.

Dad worked a paper route and worked at a fish cannery to pay his way through college in San Jose. But he kept attending church regularly. At one church dance he stole his friend’s date because that girl was more fun than his date. She was so much fun in fact that he married Jeanette Robertson, and was adopted whole heartedly into the Robertson clan.

When Claire finished his Master’s Degree, he took a teaching job in a little town called Willows California. Dad liked teaching math and writing to the 4th graders there, but had trouble with art and music. Probably because dad was colorblind and tone deaf. Afflictions that were apparent whenever he picked paint colors or clothing by himself, or whenever he sang out loud in church. But my mother made up for that by filling their house with music enough for both of them.

Claire and Jeanette had two troubled pregnancies in their first years together. Both ended tragically and neither baby lived more than a few hours. Those deaths too were not planned or wanted, but dad kept moving forward. And eventually Mom made it through another pregnancy and I was born in 1963.

Dad’s work moved his young family to Kern County, where he worked at the high school in Arvin and later he became the first librarian at West High School in Bakersfield.

Mom delivered my sister Kathrine in 1966 after a hard pregnancy, much of it spent in bed. The doctors told her and my dad that Jeanette could not have any more children. To do so would kill her. But my parents were determined to have more children. So even as Dad was taking a position as a research librarian at Bakersfield Community College, they adopted my brother Ronnie in 1969. And later my sister Debbie in 1971.

Much like his father before him, Dad was at his best when his family needed rescuing. We kept him busy taking us to the emergency room for stitches and casts; moving in and out of his house, and in and out of his house, as we tried to make it on our own. He would ride to the rescue with that tuition check, or rent check, or whatever check just at the last minute. And believe me, we gave Dad plenty of opportunities to rescue us, and he always rose to the occasion.

As the grandchildren began arriving, Grandpa Larsen, extended his strong arms and even stronger heart to embrace his growing family. Terra and Natasha, Siona and Chani, Sasha—you may notice a pattern here, we are very good at producing beautiful granddaughters in this family—and Grandpa loved them all and rode to their rescue many times over.

Dad was a strong defender of his family. He worked very hard to make sure we wanted for nothing. Dad had some very clear ideas of how his family should work, and we managed to throw most of his plans into disarray. But even though we kids didn’t always stick to Dad’s plan, he adapted and learned to come to terms with who we were, and to appreciate us as individuals. It is a testament to Dad’s love for us, that he did not let differences of religion, politics or sexuality unbind the bonds of family. It is a credit to his strength of character that he found a way to maintain his strong beliefs and still respect and accept our differences.

Another area of pride in my father’s life was his career as an educator. He spent most of his adult life working and serving Bakersfield Community College. He was probably happiest as a reference librarian. He always said that he loved poking through the catalogs and researching some topic for a professor. Dad just loved all that knowledge in all those books. I remember spending summer breaks helping him reorganize sections of the library. Dad also taught library science classes. At one time, most of the librarians in the area had taken classes from Professor Larsen. And many of the librarians were not shy about reporting back to my dad the titles of books I had been checking out, especially titles they thought were too mature for me. I remember dad’s voice on the other end of phone once, telling the librarian to go ahead a let me check out that book she was so worried about. “If he can read it, let him have it. A little knowledge never hurt anyone.” He said.

Dad eventually got a PHD from BYU. We were all proud, and Mom got her PHT (put hubby through) at last. Soon promotions followed at work, because dad never said no to responsibility. He became the head librarian. He started one of the first computer learning centers in the state. Later he was the Dean of this and that. He was instrumental in getting the satellite learning centers built. And he postponed his retirement to finish his work planning and building the new Grace Van Dyke Bird Library. Doctor Larsen had a reputation for being a hard worker and great defender of the college.

Despite all his success and long hours at BC, dad was most proud of his service within the Church. There is no way for me to recall all the positions dad accepted over the years: he was a missionary, a councilor to bishops, a member of the Stake High Council, a temple worker, a Bishop. And through it all he was always a home teacher. Many were the weekends where when I was done mowing our lawn, Dad would load up the mower and we would go mow the lawn of which ever widow in the ward needed some help around the house. I helped Dad paint houses, put in hot water heaters, move families across town, what ever the members of the ward needed. Brother Larsen was there to serve.

Dad was an avid Church scholar. His personal library is full of all manner of LDS books, all of them read, many more than once. And Dad always had his scriptures at hand and always had a scripture reference appropriate for any topic. So of course he was always ready to speak in church, and he did, many, many times.

Dad loved his church. He was planning on starting a mission at the Los Angeles Temple last week. His faith was very important to him, and he expressed it through service. I’m sure his father would be very proud of him.

No discussion of my father’s life would be complete without mentioning his relationship with his sweetheart and wife, Jeannette. If you knew Dad, then you know that Mom had a long struggle with cancer. And Dad was an amazing nurse. He kept track of all Mom’s appointments and medications. He put his life into a very tight orbit around Mom’s needs. I was constantly amazed at how hard he worked taking care of our mother. And he took equal care of her after her death in 2006.

He missed her dearly, and we were all afraid that dad would waste away without Mom, who was the center of his life. But Dad still had his church and his hobbies to keep him busy, and before too long he was dating some. Eventually he introduced us to Carol, who he married in 2007. Carol and Claire had much in common and yet were very different from each other. But Dad was happy to be adopted into the Walker clan, happy to increase the number of kids and grandkids in his life. Dad and Carol traveled and built a new home together.

Dad spent the last year of his life traveling and visiting all his siblings, children and grand children. I think he visited every one of us. His last week was spent enjoying the natural beauty of Alaska. He had a great time, I could tell by looking at all the pictures he took.

He passed suddenly. Dad probably did not want to be a burden on any of us, so he didn’t linger. And I know he was looking forward to seeing Jeanette and his mother and very much looking forward to seeing his father again after all those years of making him proud.

I know Dad would want me to thank you all for coming today, and he would apologize if his funeral interfered with any of your plans.

Dad made a big impression all of us who knew and loved him. That impression will never die or fade away.

1 comment:

Steve said...

What a wonderful tribute.