It's been almost a year since I wrote here. No one's demanding that I explain, but I want to anyway. No Hindi-learning stuff today, just me. Here I am, offering you the chair nearest the air conditioner and a cold Coke. Thanks for listening.
My dad died last May 29. I'd gone to see him for a week earlier that month--fearing, quite honestly, that he'd leave us before I got there. In that week, he went from hale/jolly/100% himself, to very near death via antibiotic-resistant superinfection of mysterious origin, back to about 80% himself, and back to Death's door. Here he is fully himself.
He looks freshly shaved here. My kindhearted nephew Gavin was doing that for him.
His health behaved like a basketball dropped from a great height: every fall was succeeded by a bounce back up almost as high as the original elevation, followed by another drop, back up nearly as high, and so on. Zeno's Paradox be damned: with that pattern, it's only a matter of time before there's no more bouncing back. I hated to leave before he stabilized, but it looked like that might never happen, so I anxiously returned to my menagerie.
A couple weeks afterwards, my sister called with the bad news. Then she sent back my medal (see Dad's eulogy below), high school letter jacket, master's thesis, dissertation, and this framed photo I'd claimed from the empty house. I never did grow out of running home with trophies to bask in my parents' loving praise.
I wrote Dad's eulogy, as I'd written Mom's in 2006. This is the blessing and curse of being the English professor in the family--you get called on for these things. Hard as it was to write, at least I didn't have to read it at his funeral. My first cousin Suzanne did--but she butchered it. She Executive Decision-ed out some of my best lines, threw the whole thing off and out of rhythm, made it about her.
I'll end this post with his eulogy, as I wrote it, दिल से. It seems like a good place to stop for now. My next post will continue explaining.
Life Sketch for David Cowlishaw
written by Brian Cowlishaw (David’s oldest son)
Thank you for coming to this funeral to commemorate, celebrate, and honor David Cowlishaw. David influenced all our lives for the better, one way or another.
To his brothers and sisters, he was Dave. Little Dave. Until he was well into his 20s, he really was little—a slight string bean with a baby face. At 18, in his Navy portrait, he looked 14.
Dave was born in 1939, the same year the movies Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame came to theaters. He died this Monday, on Memorial Day, at 77 and a half.
His wife of 40 years, Cheryl, also called him Dave. After she died in 2006, Dave never stopped missing her. He frequently told his kids how much he looked forward to being reunited with her someday. Surely right now they’re together, listening and chuckling and holding hands, in beautiful health and delightful humor.
Dave served in the Navy from 17 to 21, mostly because his mischievous brother Paul convinced him it was an easy gig, a great way to see the world while partying all the time. Dave was a cook on board an aircraft carrier, along with Paul. His experiences there provided a lifetime’s worth of stories. When he really wanted to impress a point upon his kids—maybe about how people in other countries lived very different lives, or how some individuals were just trouble all the time—he tended to begin the speech he would make with the words, “When I was in the Navy…” He taught us empathy through his Navy experiences. He’d describe direst poverty abroad, and violence, and unrelenting hardships, and look penetratingly into our eyes and insist: “Can you imagine? Can you?” He made sure we actually did. He told funny stories too. He told us about the quirky chief petty officer who would opine wistfully, “I’d rather hear a fat boy fart than a pretty girl sing.” We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but it was funny because it featured farts. He slayed us describing Paul’s tendency to push a joke, and push it, and push it some more, until people including Dave positively wanted to smack him.
After the Navy, Dave spent a few years getting his young man’s “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life” out of his system. He briefly tried carpentry, and spent a few years cooking at Denny’s in the Los Angeles area. Then he met Cheryl, they fell in love, and they married in the Los Angeles Mormon temple. They started a family right away. Dave found work at Technicolor in Hollywood. At work, he pressed a button to print a copy of a film, waited a few minutes, boxed the film up for shipping, then started the process again, for eight hours a day.
Although the money at Technicolor was good, and the work was easy, Dave pined to do something more interesting and meaningful with his life. So, with his characteristic powerful determination, he packed up his growing family and moved to Brigham Young University in Provo, where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Education and his teaching certificate. His L.A. family thought he was a little crazy to go out to the “middle of nowhere” like that, away from them, but he was determined, and he made it work. Cheryl typed his papers, and he cleaned office buildings in the evenings after class, and he finished in three and a half years.
In 1974 he moved to Malad, Idaho to teach and raise his kids. Each of his four kids had Dave as their teacher for a full year. Each of them will tell you, “It was the worst year of my life.” That was because Dave went out of his way to make sure no one could ever suspect him of favoritism. He was twice as tough on his kids as he was on any other student, and he told them so and explained why.
Malad turned out to be a good place for Dave to live and teach—after the strike. Right as his first teaching year started, the Malad teachers had to go on strike for a living wage. Dave walked the picket lines with them, sometimes accompanied by Cheryl or one of the kids. Fortunately, the strike was successful after just a couple of weeks. Dave taught elementary school, and during his last few years, middle school, for a total of 28 years. Two generations of Malad schoolkids appreciated his dedication to the job, his concern for their well-being, his determination to prepare them well for life.
He valued education and hard work, and working hard to get educated. He stamped these lessons indelibly in his kids’ minds and characters in the most powerful possible way—by example. He didn’t just tell them education is important and they should go get some—he showed them. He always walked the walk. His hard work didn’t end with the last bell of the day, either. Dave was always working, doing the hard physical labor as well. Every year he worked after school and weekends for his friend Rex Evans to pay off a cow for the family’s freezer. For many years he traveled to Preston or Lava Hot Springs to cook in a restaurant on weekends. He catered dozens of Malad events. All his kids learned their strong work ethic directly from him.
You just never wanted to disappoint Dave. He was so determined himself that he made you want to be. One summer, Brian raised a calf for the county fair. This “calf” was huge, and strong, and mean. Even Dave had trouble getting a halter on Ol’ Blue and leading him around. Brian, a skinny eleven-year-old, didn’t have a prayer. Dad insisted that Brian had to practice leading Ol’ Blue to show him in the fair. “Just whatever you do, don’t let go of the rope,” he instructed. After four or five steps, Ol’ Blue bolted and began racing down the field. Brian had his instructions and by God, he was going to follow them. He was Dave’s son. So Brian, tobogganing along the field on his stomach, filling his pants with dirt, clutched the rope while Ol’ Blue raced down to the far edge of the field, turned around, and raced all the way back. Dave, worried that Brian might have been hurt, asked why he didn’t let go. “You said to hang onto the rope!”
One instruction Dave repeated frequently to his kids was to choose their company well. “You are who you hang around with,” he’d remind us, and when we chose companions he didn’t like, he let us know all about it. He wanted not just to keep us out of trouble, but also to give us every opportunity to excel at anything and everything. He encouraged us to play an instrument in the school band, to play every sport, to go onstage, to enter all competitions. He and Cheryl went to every single concert, game, exhibition, and contest their four kids ever participated in. Their behavior at ballgames was 100% exemplary. They politely applauded when our team did something good. They never, not once, yelled at a referee or argued with other parents. Can you begin to fathom the hundreds of hours of dull driving and waiting involved? Dave did it all so we could be “well-rounded”—good at many things, confident, competent in many areas of life. Dave was himself. He was a fantastic teacher, true, and he was always an excellent cook, but he was also a talented artist and photographer. In his fifties he learned how to silkscreen his photos, then traveled to dozens of art shows to share his work.
Dave always expressed the pride he took in his kids. One proud moment that he referred to frequently afterwards came when Brian graduated with his Bachelor’s degree. Brian was inducted into an honor society called Mortar Board, and Dave and Cheryl attended a Mortar Board breakfast on graduation day. Dad positively relished what the speaker said there: that only, say, half of all high school graduates go to college, and only half of those graduate with degrees, and one tenth of those have a certain grade-point average, and so on—so ultimately, the Mortar Board members were “literally one in a million.” If that was true of Brian, it was thanks to his dad. A few weeks before Dave died, Brian gave him a medal he’d received as a professor, the “Circle of Excellence.” Brian explained that Dave was at least as much responsible for it as Brian was, so it should belong to him.
Speaking of English: Dave had an able and sometimes humorous way with words. Early in his teaching career, he moonlighted as a milk tester—he drove to dairy farmers’ barns and tested each cow’s milk for health purposes. One farmer had Playboy centerfolds posted around the work area. Dave was describing the scene, and told his family he didn’t quite know where to look, “because here were all these naked ladies with their…linguini hanging out.” Forty years later, his boys still can’t read the word “linguini” on a menu without remembering and laughing. Once Dave became frustrated during a home improvement project. Whatever the thing was that he was fixing, it refused to be fixed. Out of his mouth tumbled a homemade swear phrase: “See homma nah.” This just cracked up the whole family and instantly dissolved the tension. “See homma nah” instantly became a running family joke.
If Dave could change one thing about his life, it would probably be to have traveled more. He greatly valued the traveling he’d done in the Navy, and also the two-week trip he took to Paris and London to celebrate his retirement. If he’d had better luck with Cheryl’s health, and more time, he’d wanted to travel all around the U.S. in an RV and visit every state.
Dave, we love you and will miss you every day of our lives. Thank you for all you did for us.