He didn’t die the warrior death he wanted.
Every man hopes for what the song calls a life worth living and a death worth dying for. Morbid, perhaps, but it’s true whether we like to admit it or not.
Tom Weaver was my father; I was a child at the end of life, born when he reached half a century. He had lived a lifetime before I was born, even before he met and married my mother.
He met and knew Confederate veterans who were friends of his grandfathers. He was cared for by a woman born into slavery, whose family refused to leave hers even when she was freed. He ate sandwiches with Charles Lindbergh and crossed the country with an uncle in search of work during the Depression, spending a night or two under the stars in bum camps. He nearly lost a foot to an infected wound on that trip, but a stranger physically transported him to a doctor’s office in a remote town in Arizona.
He played saxophone in a band that was often paid in tips and bootleg liquor, just before the end of Prohibition and shortly after. He then returned home to Virginia and the family hardware business, was rejected for service in World War II due to his feet, and ticked off loads of building materials delivered to the Pentagon site.
He didn’t really know his father, who was run over by a streetcar in Washington City after surviving the last and worst months of America’s participation in World War I. Dad quit drinking in 1940, after alcohol helped kill uncles who tried to fill his father’s shoes.
He played baseball; rather, he lived, ate, breathed and slept in baseball. The old man coached and managed semi-pro teams that nurtured players for former Washington senators, among other teams. On a gritty wartime newsreel, one of these senators shakes dad’s hand as the ballplayer leaves for the army. It’s funny, but even if dad was not yet 30 years old in these few images, we recognize Tom Weaver.
It was baseball that led my father to accidentally discover the profession for which he was destined.
Dad had a hardware store in a tiny intersection in Virginia; the store shared an old railroad depot with a small newspaper and also had room for Papa’s office as justice of the peace. He was also a volunteer firefighter. It was that kind of town. Either way, he agreed to provide the scores and stats to the guy running the log. Over time, Dad began covering some of the games, as well as snippets of political events, fires, meetings, and all the news that makes up life in a rural community.
Then one day the owner of the newspaper (a good hardware client) came to Papa and asked for help. The editor had quit without notice, and would Tom consider helping the paper just this once? As he was always ready to help someone, dad agreed. A week stretched to two or three, then a year, then a decade later, Tom Weaver was the publisher of several small weeklies owned by the former hardware customer. Just over a decade after helping out that time, Dad hired a stubborn, proud, pretty woman with four kids who needed a better job than working at the grocery store. A few years later, they got married and produced me.
Before I was born, Tom Weaver was identified as a journalist. It was, however, much more.
He liked to fish, more on the philosophical side than the actual fishing. He loved history, having lived it so much, and never missed an opportunity to share that love. He knew two US presidents, as well as a handful of those who wanted the job. He has known governors, senators and members of Congress, some of whom have asked him for advice, some of whom have called him a friend, one of whom cried when he learned that Dad was dead. He knew the governors well enough to call them by their first names, and he seemed to know everyone who had served in the General Assembly.
He had an incredible love and knowledge of the Constitution and the law, as well as those charged with enforcing the law.
He loved animals, especially hunting dogs, and wrote many powerful letters pleading with lawmakers for better rules against animal cruelty. He didn’t hunt, but he encouraged my love of hunting and trapping and expected me to be a good steward. He didn’t shoot very often, but he thought the Second Amendment was the reason we still have the First Amendment.
He loved music, mainly big band and Dixieland jazz, and had a clear, deep, barely tenor voice that could sing a 30s ballad or resonate with anything from the old Broadman Hymnal. Old number 41, To God Be The Glory, was his favorite.
My father was a Christian, calm and firm in his faith, but well aware that no one is perfect. He feared that his faith would be seen as a show, especially since he sometimes failed, like all Christians. I was amazed, after his death, by people who told me how he had made a difference in their lives, talking about alcohol problems or failed marriages or just life, whether hidden in his office or on the wide porch he loved so much.
I learned to dress with my father. It’s only natural, I suppose, since as children we want to emulate our heroes, but much of this antiquated haute couture dates back to distant childhood. I wanted to wear a fedora as he usually did in cooler weather, and a snapbrim or panama from Easter to September. He surprised me by telling the man at the men’s store to let me try on a snapbrim similar to his. I wore it proudly; this pride shines through in the image of us from my tenth summer. My Sunday costumes were similar to the ones he wore every day. He preferred burgundy ties, and I prefer black, but I still tie the knot like he taught me, every morning. And it is inconceivable to leave the house or the office without wearing a hat.
I’m not my father’s mirror, but he wouldn’t want it that way. Tom Weaver has never, by choice, gone more than a day without a shave, or more than two weeks without going to the barber. I usually wear boots instead of mirror polished fenders, and I’m not averse to wearing jeans, what he called overalls. But his hand is still there, reminding me to tug on my handcuffs when I put on a jacket.
A very nice young lady once told me some time ago that she “liked my style”. I was a little taken aback, but I thanked her. Another conversation revealed she was referring to my waistcoat, coat, hat and tie.
I was flattered, but every day I hope and pray that my style, such as it is, is as much a reflection of my father in every other way.
He may not have died as a warrior at his desk, overthrowing a corrupt politician, rescuing unwanted hounds or preserving a forgotten chapter of history; but as far as I’m concerned, my dad definitely had a life worth living.
But what else could one expect from a hero?