This was my attempt at a eulogy for my dad, written as most writers do, in the middle of the night 2 days after my dad died just 4 days shy of having his heart valve replacement surgery in Dallas, Texas. It is long, but a good read.
A daughter looks at her father differently than other people do I suppose. To me, dad was my quiet hero. Dad, or Joe as you know him, was a very different person in private than he was socially. I mean there was no big secret, but he kept fairly quiet about things most of the time…. most of the time.
My dad owned a body shop for 50 years in Monahans TX. I went there every day after school and long into my teen years to pick up parts or help with whatever he needed and sometimes just to watch him work. When he whistled, I could always tell he was happy at work. His favorite tune was a fishing song “You get a line, I’ll get a pole, we’ll go fishing in the crawdad hole”. To give you an idea of the kindness he can convey, dad had me believing early on that I was helping him. For years, I had no idea he was watching me.
My dad worked long hours & usually went to the bar afterwards for a drink. He drank a lot back then and despite his kindness to strangers, his drinking was hard on the family at times. He gradually slowed his drinking over the years and toward the end of his life didn’t drink at all.
His first marriage was to Joan Matthews, his high school sweetheart, and it lasted 19 years and produced 3 beautiful daughters – Beverly, Gayle and Cindy. My sisters Beverly and Gayle preceded dad in death by 10 and 18 years respectively. His 2nd marriage was to Donna Killian – and he adopted her 3 children (Jeff, me and Robin) and it lasted 15 years. After this divorce, Donna and Joe both dated others awhile and then were “done with dating”. But in the last 10 years they began dating each other again, vacationing and even spent quite a few holidays with me. I feel really lucky about that, especially now. It would have been nicer to have all my siblings and their kids as well, but people get busy as they grow older and their families get bigger. Family, that’s what Dad loved the most. He felt that the most important thing a man could do was take care of his family. He loved all six of his kids, and plenty of kids of other families as well.
My dad never had a lot of money, contrary to what people thought. He just believed in cash and when he flashed it, it looked like a ton of money. People used to call us “rich kids” as children, which used to really confuse me because he never bought anything new, he just didn’t believe in it. Well, he did buy alot of that Ronco stuff they sold on TV in the 70′s. He bought everything RonCo sold…the automatic glass froster, the french fry maker! He didn’t like Christmas and he never celebrated birthdays, including his children’s. The only birthday he ever remembered was my mom’s, and even when they divorced he still called her every year on their anniversary and her birthday. Dad loved to go out for breakfast and talk shop at the cafe. He just loved people and, if you wanted to do something for him, the best thing to do was just visit. He’d rather have your company more than anything else.
Many people for years would come to Possum Kingdom for the fireworks and camp out. Sometimes there were lots of people, sometimes a few… but most of the time it was family and few friends. We had many good times camping, sitting around by a fire and telling stories and joking and maybe a swim, and of course, a boat ride on the pontoon. Lord he loved that pontoon boat and we all wore the first one out & he wanted a bigger one, which he got. Last year, he wanted to put a 2nd level on the pontoon and make it even bigger.
Dad also loved to tell stories, and a lot of them were made up because people were eavesdropping. He’d make up something just to see how fast the story would travel across town. He and Jimmy Cook did this often and well. I am sure there’s a bar in the sky where Jimmy was waiting to go dance with the girls so dad could buy the beer. Sometimes, Dad and Jimmy would wait 30 minutes and go to the next bar just to see how crazy the story grew. Sometimes he’d make up a story to see how gullible you were, which he frequently got me with. For example, he convinced me that the scars on his shoulder were from the Korean war when a machine pulled his arm clean off the socket & he reached in with his other hand and pulled it out & they sewed it back on. It was actually from shoulder surgery when he was much younger!
Dad was always surrounded by people almost anywhere he went, and for some reason, he bought beer for anyone as well. The young ladies became rather noticeable as I grew older and would go have a drink with him. It used to crack me up all those girls batting their eyes to get a free beer when all they had to say was “can I have a beer”. He really didn’t care who you were or if you were so-called pretty, but of course he surely didn’t mind either. And of course, plenty of people took his kindness for flirtation…and plenty of generic flirts I’d heard 1000 times were taken as genuine by those who heard it the first time and had no idea he was joking. He had quite a few girlfriends when he was single over the years, which he told me about …. he never said a disrespectful word about any of them.
Watching all those folks around Joe taught me something I didn’t quite realize for years. Whenever I introduced myself over the years, the first response was always “are you related to Joe?” When I inevitably said yes, each person would tell me a story about something he did for them. He saved their hind, got them out of fight, loaned them money, fixed their car, etc. I hear these stories to this day, and it never gets old. It’s pretty powerful to see him through other people’s eyes. Now, he was hardly a saint you know, but to those he helped…he deserved a nomination. Yes, he was forever doing something for someone.
That’s what I saw at the shop every day… year after year. There were always people asking him for help with one thing or another. He was always respectful about it, he never shamed anyone, he never yelled…and he never said no. He would often pull people to the side and discretely handle whatever it was, whether it was a loan, or help with a deductible, or a repair on something. Joe was one of those guys who could fix anything most of the time, and so he did.
Now I’m not naming him for sainthood, because like I said…he was different at home than in public. What was OK for his friends to do, was not OK for his wife or kids. With one exception to Mr. David Bray, who still makes me smile about Terlingua! I did once ask Dad when he started helping people. He said a woman across the tracks (when the shop was on Sealy) came over to the shop and asked if he could look at her fridge because the landlord wouldn’t fix it and she had a baby & no husband. She called him Mr. Joe and after he fixed her fridge, more and more ladies came over saying “Mr. Joe, can you look at my (insert whatever appliance/car was broken)?”
I think most people would have eventually said no, enough, but I asked why he kept helping them. He said because they didn’t have husbands and they all had kids, and were poor. He said a family isn’t right without a husband, kids need a daddy. I again asked why he did it and his reply was “Well, because I could, so why not.” That sums up his philosophy on helping folks. If you have it to give, you should do it. If he had to give, he did…. and sometimes to his own detriment, but you’d never know it.
Sometimes people talked about him hanging out with the wrong crowd, and I asked him about this as well. My father’s response was always plain. To anyone else, he would have said his friends were his business, but to me he said “it’s not fair to judge a man by his clothes or how much money he has, because that has nothing to do with his heart or his mind, and you never know how they might be able to help you later on.” It’s a powerful truth that has served me well many times.
My dad never talked about anyone specifically that he helped or how much. He felt that you shouldn’t loan something you can’t afford to lose and you ought not hold your help over people (as he would say). He said often it was important to try and get along with folks because you may need them later. I have to say, he was far more patient at work than at home when it came to our behavior. Although my dad never spanked me, one look of disapproval was far worse for me than any spanking I could have had. He handled each of us differently, and different we are.
My father said a lot of things to me over the years and I met many of his friends as well. Through their eyes, I learned about his heart. Through him, I learned about his mind. Even when he was taken advantage of, he never complained or outed the person….. he just pointed to his head and said “it’s all up here” and he remembered for next time, but felt and said “that’s on them”.
If you ever worked with Joe, you saw a mostly patient perfectionist who would work until it was complete, whatever the job. This is pretty hilarious if you ever saw the pile of junk outside the shop. The junk rotated in and out… it was just junk to everyone except the mechanic, who knows there are many valuable parts in there! Yes, he was born a mechanic and was never happier than when he had something to repair. He often convinced a skilled, but otherwise broke individual that he needed their help to repair something. Another important lesson he gave is that no one really WANTS help even when they need it, but everyone wants to be helpful. And out would come the cash for their hard work. If I can live up to that kind of honor, I’ll really have achieved something.
My dad was many things to many people. And while I could tell you more about how he did this or that, the point is all of you love him, just as all of his family does. I can offer my words, which are too meager to be of importance even if the page is long.
Ultimately, Joe was a kid who grew up in Texarkana that loved to play with his brothers and sister. They played in Boggie Creek and yes, the Boggie Creek monster was real. He loved his brothers like he loved being on the water; he loved to get up early in the snow and start his brother Johnny’s car for him before work. Mostly because Johnny paid him $5 to do that, but also because he loved Johnny & was waiting to get the hand me down car! All the Killian boys would drive that Model T to the river and swim, except dad who sat on the bank taking the engine apart and putting it back together. That’s how he became a mechanic, he loved it.
He moved around a bit, into Oklahoma, and came to Monahans in his twenties to help his brother Johnny run a body shop. Eventually, dad took it over and it had several addresses over the years in Monahans. He closed the shop & retired at age 65 and after 3 years, went to work for the US Government to help build combine engines in nuclear power plants. His first day on the job was 911 and I called to check on him as he was driving into Virginia near the Pentagon; all he said was “well, traffic is a little heavy, but I’m alright”. He did that for 3 years, and returned to Possum Kingdom and eventually to body work (part time) with his brother Andy, where the boat shop is today. My Uncle Andy is a sweet and crazy as he ever was, and is Dad’s youngest brother. Dad’s only other living brother is David, who lives near Lake Whitney these days.
Most people remember Possum Kingdom when they think of Dad. It was his final domain & we spent many summers there boating, swimming, exploring and camping. It was no surprise that he moved there when he retired, even if it took 10 yrs to get all of his stuff out of Monahans. He loved boats and some of our best family memories are of him teaching us how to drive them. Each generation got the same lesson, and watching all the nieces and nephews and then the 4th generation learn to drive a boat with Grandpa is probably the coolest thing we all experienced. He was a patient teacher. A kid driving a big boat all alone is pretty thrilling, and equally endearing to watch. Each child knew all eyes were on them… our safety was in their hands, and it was thrilling to watch each tiny set of hands learn to master the water! No words can describe the volume of love in that moment. As usual, Dad made each child think you were helping him out.
He was the same with car repairs. He would fix it the first time, but you had to watch because if it happened again, you had to repair it yourself. I learned a lot about cars watching him.
Dad always made us feel that whatever was going on, it would be ok, and I’ve been through some harrowing experiences with Dad. All I can say is he never flinched — ever. When he adopted me at the age of 9, I remember thinking I had a name I was proud of. When anyone said I was his stepkid, he’d say no, this is my daughter (or son). He was doing the job and he said we were his, and we happily were. His last serious words to me were about a year ago. He said “you’re my daughter because you’re my daughter, it has nothing to do with your name or adoption, you’re just my daughter because you’re my daughter and that’s all there is to it”. Even back then, being adopted was fantastic for me because I got a new dad, a new name and 3 of the prettiest sisters a girl could ask for! It’s a pretty nice view to have.
41 years later, mom & dad made it legal again a few months ago and remarried. He was 4 days away from having his heart surgery. While their plans after surgery won’t happen now, I think the sweetest words I can leave you with are his. The last thing he ever said was to mom, he said “come snuggle with me”. If you have tears in your eyes, so do we. Whether you decide to leave a note or not, all of the Killian family thanks you for your kind words and prayers for Joe Killian and we know he loved you too.
He is survived by 4 children (Cindy, Jeff, Lori and Robin), 10 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and two brothers and a large extended family. He was preceded in death by his daughters Beverly Killian and Gayle Thompson, his brothers Sonny Killian, Johnny Killian, Noah Killian and his sister Virginia.
4 weeks after dad passed, my cousin’s dad on my mom’s side of the family passed away. He was buried next to my dad. I walked this grave yard where my grand parents and great grand parents are buried along with many others. I could have used a book to learn about how to deal with death, if only I had read it before hand. The painful reality when death strikes anyone is that someone has to make decisions about a burial and someone has to pay for the funeral. Unfortunately, my father’s funeral was marred (as many are) by one or two divisive persons who, in the end, seems to have only cared about themselves and how much credit and money they would get. Ironically, there was no money and no one else cared about credit of any kind.