My thoughts at the funeral for my father, Mario Hoover, Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at Southside Assembly of God, in Lakeland, Florida:
As a historian, Dad would know that a life cannot be captured in a few lines. As always, you really have to have been there. But here are my few lines.
I want to begin by telling you about when I met Count Basie. He was a big band leader from the 1930s until the 1980s. In 1973, when I was a 23 year old jazz radio deejay in Springfield, Missouri, Count Basie came to town to play at a country club dance. I was given permission to go out there and interview the Count after I signed off my show at midnight, which was about the time the band was winding up their show. I was able to talk with a tired Count Basie for five minutes or so and record it on a bulky tape recorder. I asked Count Basie what he enjoyed doing most and he said, “Sleep.”
In the years that followed I continued to read about Count Basie’s career and listen to his music. He is still my favorite among all those big bands. But the more I learned about him, the more I wished I could go back and re-do that interview. I had plenty more questions – and better questions – that I would ask now.
As I’ve been looking at old family pictures and reviewing my dad’s life this weekend, I’ve felt the same way, realizing what kind of conversations I might have had – should have had – with him. At least, I know other church historians would have enjoyed a conversation with him. He had eyewitness memories of the great Pentecostal movement in Chile that began in his grandfather’s church. But the last few years I have just been enjoying his company, visiting at the house every few days. Being with him was enough, even without any long, deep discussions.
And it wasn’t really until last Father’s Day that I was prompted to think about just how much the shape of my life was due to him. I preached at our church that Sunday. My nephew Sam had raided the stash of Dad’s family home movies and created a promotional video for Focus on the Family, about what fathers mean to us. (That video is still on YouTube.) I showed that video to our parishioners. Sam had narrated the spot saying, “Did you ever wonder why you hardly ever see Dad in the old family photographs?” Of course the answer is, because it’s Dad taking the pictures.
That made me think about decisions my dad had made, out of sight as it were. Decisions that affected me so deeply I had almost overlooked them.
For one, he chose my name. When you ask me to introduce myself, I give you the name my Dad gave me. My middle name is Austin because Dad had been reading history about the Texas pioneer, Moses Austin, when I was born.
My dad chose my home. He immigrated from Chile, but I’ve grown up thinking of myself only as a native American citizen, because Dad chose to come to the United States, to Springfield, Missouri, and make a life for himself there when he was 25 years old.
In doing that, Dad also chose the language that would be my native tongue. Although I took classes in Spanish in school, it never sank in. Dad always spoke English with an accent. My accent was only ever questioned by my cousins in Spokane, Washington, who once asked me if all hillbillies talked like that.
But a more interesting thing about any language is the way vocabulary and grammar shape your thinking. By choosing my language for me, my dad shaped how I would see the world.
And there’s something else. In being a loving, gentle dad to me, he left a positive impression for me of what my Heavenly Father must be like.
As I was growing up, Dad saw to it that our family was in church every Sunday, morning and evening, just the way he had been raised by his Methodist missionary grandfather in Chile… When we hurried to the house last Thursday night, one of the things I noticed was that Dad’s Spanish Bible was laying open on his desk, with his glasses resting on the page. Dad read his Bible regularly and at length. He had just been reading I Samuel 12, where the prophet tells the people of Israel, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” I can see that my Dad had long ago taken that verse to heart in raising his three sons.
Some of the memories that have come back to me this weekend are simple ones: the Saturday morning trips to the public swimming pool, and the nickel cherry popsicles for my brothers and me before we went back home. Swimming was always a big deal for Dad. Some weekends we all got in the station wagon and Dad would drive us to rivers or state parks where we could picnic and then get wet for hours floating on inner tubes or air mattresses. When Dad and Mom retired to Florida, Dad picked out a house with a swimming pool and, every week, as long as he could drive, he would head to the beach on day trips with Mom.
Good A/G people did not go to movies when I was a youngster. But on certain occasions, Dad would find out about films, especially ones with historical angles, and take us to see them. There was “How the West Was Won” or Disney’s version of “Treasure Island” or the Bible epic, “The Robe.” That stirred up a fascination in me for the medium of films. I took over our family movie camera to churn out my own epics starring my brothers and friends from grade school. These 3-minute masterpieces are now of interest more for their views of our backyard than for anything else. But I did end up taking the wedding videos for my niece and nephew years later. You can thank your grandpa for that.
My dad had a keen interest in historical events unfolding around him. I remember early in the year 1989 he told me that the Berlin Wall would be coming down before the end of the year. I was skeptical. But when the crowds started destroying that awful wall in November that year, I realized that my Father knew everything.
Last year, he had been puzzling over the story in Judges, about Jepthah and his careless vow to sacrifice whatever next came through the door of his house. It was his daughter. Dad wrestled to find a way to interpret that story so the girl didn’t wind up dead. And now he even knows exactly what happened there!
There’s one thing I failed to notice about my Dad all these years. I knew he had a tender heart. We’ve discovered the pile of cards he saved over the years from us boys, and from mom. There was never a shortage of hugs in our house. But it was only in 2005 that I got a hint how romantic he might be.
Dad subscribed to the journal, National Review. We shared the conservative viewpoint there and we found Bill Buckley’s command of the English language delightful. So Dad would read the latest copy and then pass it on to me, and we would talk about the articles. But the magazine had also begun to include some poetry in the back pages. Dad would sometimes write his comments in the margins of the news stories. But one day I found that he had drawn a circle around one of those poems. I knew he was thinking of someone else. Poet Daniel Mark Epstein placed a girl’s name in the poem, but I’m putting in Mom’s name, because I’m sure that’s what Dad did.
Long shadows on the lawn
Are all that’s left of the night.
Mars and the moon have gone
Under cover of dawn light.
[Elva], come down to the garden
And see what the day has in store.
Watch the hollyhocks open,
The crows in the sycamore;
For life is a morning shadow
That shortens and disappears,
And the sun is a high-handed fellow
Spinning our months into years.
And days into nights to show
This world is his roundelay.
May love like the evening shadows grow
Till life and light pass away.
No wonder mom loved him.
And because we all need help in saying what we want from time to time, I too will draw on someone else’s words as I close. These are from the Book of Common Prayer.
Into thy hands, O merciful Savior, we commend thy servant Mario. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech thee, a sheep of thine own fold, a lamb of thine own flock, a sinner of thine own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
All we go down in the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song: ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA.