By KYLE MONTGOMERY
In commemoration of the anniversary of my father going home to our Lord, please allow me to share a story adapted from stories told in his last days, at his funeral, and each year since. I tell you this story gripping a handful of items I carry in my pocket, items my father always had in his pocket…a stack of quarters, pocketknife, pen, and handkerchief. Each has a purpose, specifically the handkerchief to wipe my tears as I continue to mourn this great man. Thanks for indulging me, and hopefully you will gain a little more insight into who and how I am the man I am today…
My name is Kyle John Montgomery, last-born of Carlie Joe Montgomery and Nina Irene Montgomery, grandson of Frances Ujhelyi Gott, brother of Leslie Montgomery Brookman, Jennifer Montgomery Elling and Michael Walker Chenoweth. Husband of Aimee Lexa Montgomery, and father of Siena Adele Montgomery and Liam Joseph Montgomery. And to others in my life – nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, uncle. Friend. The titles and honors held are bestowed upon me by my Father in heaven and his delegate on Earth, Joe Montgomery. All honor to his name. And it is truly an honor to carry his name. But my reflections herein are not about me…but in telling you who I am, and what an honor it is to be his son, I am in great part telling you about him… the same as if I were to spend my time here telling you about Nina, Leslie, Jennifer, Mike, Drew, Aimee, or about anyone he knew – all of us in some way influenced by this man. In the days immediately following my father’s death, the greatest honor I had and that was paid to my dad was the several variations of the phrase “by what I know of you, I can tell he was a great man and father.” The same as I can look heavenward and say, “By what I know of You…Father…Abba…I can tell he was a great man.”
Back in the days of vinyl records, we used to stand at the record bins, flipping through hundreds of album covers, looking for that artist we heard at the roller rink or on the radio, often stumbling across the classics, or discovering a band we never knew. Preparing these words to share in honor of my father, I found myself at one of those record bins, flipping through the catalog of memories. Some I passed by; some I paused for a momentary glance. Others I stopped, pulled the album cover, carefully removed the LP from the sleeve, savored the liner notes –hearing the music of his voice, his laugh, clearing his throat, his frequent declaration: “dadgummit.” Of course, most of my time was spent in the Country & Western section, because much of what we can remember about Dad would certainly make for some fantastic song titles: nuggets like, “Pickups and Pocketknives”, “Daylight and Donuts”, “I Left My Boots in Broken Arrow”, “White Collar/Blue Collar Blues”, “Breaker 1-9,” and “In Tall Cotton”. There’s of course a story behind each of those, and probably a couple of number one hits in there, but let me instead honor Dad in a different way.
Let me instead speak of character, discipline, respect, loyalty and love – just a few of the many attributes of this great man. But to keep Dad from standing in the back clicking coins in his pocket, or waiting out in the car honking the horn, I’d better move this along and just tell of a coupla these traits.
I’m sure you have heard “character” defined as what you do when no one is looking. And there is plenty to be said about the true depth of character held by our Dad. Mom told me once that when she first met my Dad she instantly saw his character, idealism, principle. And her parents knew it, else my beloved grandmother, “Gringa”, might have hesitated to allow this dashing young copper-top whisk her daughter away on what would become a glamorous and whirlwind journey around this great nation. Daddy was indeed a mover. I often reference my family’s many moves when asked “Where are you from?”, but Dad would appreciate more detail…so go with me to places like Sioux City. Tahlequah. Okmulgee. Dallas. San Antone. Kansas City. Huntsville. DeSoto. Garland. Collierville. Columbus. Pittsburgh. Richardson. Tulsa. Sanford. Pittsboro. Peachtree City. And back to his hometown and final resting place, Broken Arrow. Oh, and while never quite as “permanent” as these other spots, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mom and Dad taking up residence down along the Redneck Riviera in Panama City Beach, Florida.
But Gringa never had to worry – well “never” might be strong – because Gringa knew, through Dad’s clear strength of character, that her daughter and grandchildren were in good hands. It was that character that propelled Dad to provide for his family, take adventures, conquer challenges, and show his kids the path to victory. When no one was looking, Dad grew in his faith. Where no one was looking, Dad was mitering corners, sanding edges smooth, closing gaps in drywall. Quality mattered, even when no one was looking, or could possibly ever know the difference. He knew. And this required discipline and principle. It required mental strength. It called for him to be a man’s man, to be a legend.
And if character is what you do when no one is looking, then in Dad’s case, Fatherhood – and “Pophood” – must be what you are doing when everyone else is looking. As children, we innocently and intently watched Dad, soaking up lessons even if we didn’t know or understand them. There were the more obvious teaching moments – when he taught you how to DO. How to whistle. How to walk on a set of homemade stilts – you know, for a future in the circus, or maybe hanging drywall… or maybe just for fun. How to navigate a newfangled toy called a skateboard – a simple wooden plank with metal wheels, requiring of course, a secondary use of the aforementioned stilts to serve as balancing poles. How to safely and responsibly own and shoot a gun. How to love and serve others. Or, how to fix…well, how to fix just about anything. How to build some pretty cool things like wooden robots.. Some beautiful things like the wooden crosses he carefully crafted from a felled tree on his church’s property. “Let me show you, son.” “Turn that screw the other way.” “Watch your fingers.” “There you go.” “Atta boy.” My children often hear me saying these catchphrases around the house – pure echoes of my Dad, their Pop.
Then there were the not-so-obvious teaching moments, those things Dad just did, like leading by example, or teaching you how to BE. Speaking with diction – enunciating EVERY word. Holding the door for others. Removing your hat indoors. Always being prepared with a handy pocketknife to cut, pry, or clean anything. Always having available and offering a twisted, clicked, or – in a bind – cap-removed pen from your left-breast shirt pocket. Handing a knife, scissors or tool “friendly end” first. Humility. Patience – yes, patience was a gift he gave all of us, in fact he gave it ALL away, mostly to Mom…providing her an abundance of patience – giving away so much that he didn’t have much left. Thanks Dad! Storytelling. Loving your country. Loving your family. Loving your wife. Loving our God.
Love. Loyalty. Respect.
Lastly, and maybe above all, Dad was a man of respect. He commanded it and he demanded it. But to be clear, and maybe I only recently learned this…it wasn’t so much that he demanded respect of or for himself. No, he demanded respect of the situation, the place, and of others. This was a gift he freely gave to all of us, and to perfect strangers. This is a legacy. Respect for your country and especially those who put themselves in harm’s way to give us our freedom. Simple things – a flag flown properly; a flag in the house where we enjoy the freedom to worship. A hushed voice, or altogether silence, in reverence of person or place. Respect your elders. Respect your Mother.
“Open the door for your mother. Son, I sure hope that at my funeral you will remember to open the car door for your mother.”
Respect your wife. Respect yourself. Respect.
In my father’s last days, as God was preparing Dad and us for the inevitable end, I found great respect, peace and comfort in the word of our Lord.
From Luke chapter 3, verse 17:
“His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
The field has been harvested, the threshing floor is thus cleared, and we know that Dad found his way to the barn, home where he belongs. ♦