When Michael Spencer was sick, I posted a couple of times asking my readers to pray. I wrote a lengthy tribute to him while he was still able to read and respond to it, and like 10,000 other bloggers quickly reported his passing. This post is much, much harder to write.
Lewis Bunch was born October 9, 1943. His parents were at times textile workers, and at other times migrant farm workers. His family was in many ways the same types of dysfunctional that all families are to some degree. By his mid-30’s, Lewis Bunch had lived in Atlanta, Chicago, and Fairbanks. James Dean was his idol, and his life seem to mirror his title role Rebel Without a Cause. In 1975, after 14 years of marriage, his first son was born, Clark Joe Bunch. He then began his life as family man.
During his teenage years, Dad had been rebellious. As far as I’m aware, he was never in any serious trouble. He did have a suspicion of authority that he never outgrew. He just didn’t like being told what he had to do. In the fall of 1958 he met my would-be mother, then Martha Ellen Wyatt. In the first picture they ever had taken together he was 15, she was 18. He always looked a little older than his actual age, and they dated several weeks before he told her his age. They married December 9, 1961. He was 18, she was 21. She could buy beer.
Howard Clark Wyatt (see how that works) had fought in World War I. He had some stories. Fearing being drafted by Army, Dad enlisted in the Air Force in 1966. After basic training in Texas, he then served in Fairbanks Alaska until 1970. The irony is that Dad is afraid to fly. On a one month leave, he drove a pickup truck across Canada all the way to Georgia. The trip down took a week, they visited family for 2 weeks, then spent a week driving back. They made the trip in a 1958 Chevrolet, in which Dad had installed a rebuilt crate engine from Sears & Roebuck. They slept under the camper top, and at least one night the temp dropped so low their canned food froze solid. That’s hardcore.
After moving around the country for 30+ years, my parents bought a house in 1974. I was born in 1975 and they never moved again. He bought that house from his in-laws; it is the house Mom lived in from the age of 9 until they were married. Mom lives there now. They settled down, to say the least. Dad never really got into smoking, and had quit after only a couple of years back in high school. He did drink. He and his cousin were once waiting for a bus, and split a fifth of vodka. The next morning they woke up, still at the bus stop. While living in a small apartment in Atlanta, their home was broke into. He didn’t miss the television, but found the refrigerator empty and ask Mom if she drank his beer. She had not; then they noticed the t.v. and silverware were all gone. In 1962 they saw Chuck Berry in concert, and got his autograph. Those must have been the days.
I was born in 1975, my little brother in 1981. After a few years of indecision – the best was I can describe it – my dad professed salvation and was baptized in 1978. I was too young to remember that, but do remember attending Philadelphia Baptist Church as a child. Dad drove a church van on Sunday morning, and played guitar for the choir. Previously he had played country/rock with a local band, the Country Swingers. As far back as I can remember Dad was in church for every Sunday morning, evening, Wednesday night, prayer meeting and revival service they had. There’s an old joke about having a drug problem; I was drug to every one of those services, and that is the truth.
Dad’s story for the first 15 years of adulthood and his story during my lifetime are remarkably different. All I remember is attending church every time the doors were opened. My parents met at a theater, but we didn’t go. I never saw a film at the theater until I had a job and a car. Our home was strict. We didn’t wear shorts, anywhere, nor buy things on Sunday. Dad thought every business should close and their employees go to church. But don’t get me wrong; he was the family man. Both my parents rode bicycles when we were kids, and Dad taught us to skate. He played catch with us, and took us to the park. I got my first BB gun when I was 12 (but didn’t see A Christmas Story until adulthood). My parents always knew where we were and who we were with. That’s the kind of thing you only appreciate years later. Like now.
In November of 2009, Dad was diagnosed with melanoma. He put off going to the doctor for months, and by the time he did was in stage 4. It’s kind of weird; cancer is like that sometimes. Dad hardly ever smoked, and quit drinking back in the 70’s. He would later quit drinking coffee. He ate whole wheat bread, and lots of vegetables. He has never weighed over 160 in his life. He would warn me about the artificial sweeteners in Diet Coke, while at the same time telling me I needed to lose about 60 pounds. He lifted weights 3 times a week well into his 60’s. The man was healthy, and had none of the risk factors for, well, anything. Then he got skin cancer, possibly without ever having a sunburn in his life. What can you do?
Dad passed away on Wednesday morning, June 23, 2010 at the age of 66. We watched him go from walking on his own, to using a cane, then a walker in only a matter of days. His last few days were spent in bed. He lost over 60 pounds in 6 months, and looked to be only skin and bones by the end. Dad was outspoken in his faith. For 20+ years he preached not only at church, but on the street corner and at the local jail. He handed out Bible tracts. He sang and wrote gospel songs, using the same “3 chords and the truth” he learned playing country. From 1978 on he read through the Bible once each year, in addition to his sermon preparation and Sunday School lessons. I do not claim to be certain about anyone’s salvation but my own, but if I were a betting man, let me tell you…
For his service to country, Dad is buried at the Georgia National Cemetery near Cartersville. He leaves behind a wife of 48 years, 2 children and 4 grandchildren. I thought the whole ordeal would be traumatic, but it has been a good week. Our family is blessed, and we know it. Teresa and I have been married 12 years, my brother and his wife for 10. Never once, not once, did we hide in our rooms while Dad beat his wife. He never came home drunk, never stayed out all night, and never missed a birthday, Christmas or Easter. Our family took lots of pictures. I’ve been blessed with quite a few good pastors and Bible teachers from whom I learned a lot. But how to be a family man – how to be a dad – I learned that from Lewis Bunch.