What to say about a man like John Henry Neas, Jr., Daddy, Dad, Papa, Uncle John, Johnny, Brother, friend…hero!
Every human has heroes. These are the beings we look up to, we emulate, we forget are human.
Daddy was one such hero. He struggled with poverty, disease, alcoholism (sober for the last 40 something years!), and a host of other obstacles throughout his life. Growing up was hard, but hindsight being 20/20, I have come to realized that he gave us so much!
The gift of absolute love….Dad had a heart bigger than himself. If one of us needed him, he did everything in his power to be there for us. Patty has told me many times over the years, “Daddy was always there for me.” And, I have to agree, as I am sure many of the rest of you will, Dad was there… and not just for us…for everyone. Dad in his own way taught us that no matter how little you might have, there was always enough to share with others. He would literally give the shirt off his back if some else needed it.
I remember back in the late fifties, we had a big blizzard that shut down the city. Barry reminded me that he and Dad went out to shovel out the front stairs and came back with a soldier who was on his way to the
Dad had a BIG heart! Dad loved babies. He had an instant love for any baby, his, ours, some stranger’s…if there was a baby around Dad would most often end up with it in his arms putting it to sleep with his deep, between the crack crooning...didn’t matter, the babies loved it! Dad’s happiest moments of late were when he could be surrounded by grandchildren, great grandchildren. He just glowed!
AND, Dad loved his “girls”. Now, it would be nice to think that Patty, Susan, and I and our daughters where Dad’s only girls, but…any woman who walked within arms reach was one of his “girls”. And, this was never said in a diminishing or belittling way. Dad had a way of making you feel like you were the only and most beautiful, intelligent, gifted woman that walked the face of the earth. This fact was evident by both his doctors coming yesterday to his wake. They were as heartbroken as we all were. This truly says something about the kind of man Dad was! He was a “father” to many of our friends and a brother to more folks than we could count. Dad simply love helping people. I have seen Dad go out of his way to give a hand to someone in spite of any pain, discomfort or inconvenience it might have caused him. There was never a discussion, he would just do what needed to be done. He gave of himself even when he had little to give.
Once, when he was driving cab, he picked up a little old lady at Flanagan’s, I think it was, took her a couple of blocks to her home, carried her groceries up two flights of stairs, charged her $1.50 (the fare you would charge back about 40 years ago!) and came down to find he cab had been stolen. Did that stop him from picking up little old ladies who needed their groceries carried…no way!
Dad loved people. Whether at the State House, where he knew most folks on a first name basis from the maintenance crew to the governor, mayor and a most of the senators and representatives or around town, Dad knew everyone…and he treated everyone the same! He was never one to get star struck. I remember him telling me once…”he’s as good as the next guy. Puts his socks on the same as me!”
Dad spent time getting to know people. If you had the privilege of climbing into his cab, you didn’t leave without a conversation. Which reminds me of one of his favorite fares…Dad never missed an opportunity to drive the visiting nurses on their rounds. He really cared for them. He would take them all over the city, wait for them, and them make sure they got back to where ever it was they need to go safe and sound. He took care of them and they loved it.
Dad had friends that stood by him through the years. I remember tales of his shipmates…many of whom gathered regularly at their ship’s reunions. One of the highlights of Dad’s life was going back to Pohnpei in the South Pacific, the island his ship liberated when the armistice was signed. I remember him telling the story of how when he got off the plane two women with leis came running up to him yelling, “John Neas, John Neas!” To his surprise, they where the daughters of the missionary that had been imprisoned on the island at that time. They had remembered him and his shipmates all these years (50 to be exact). They were so proud to show him the flag pole that he and his crew had put up for the village which was still standing! as well as the American flag that their mother had hand made at night, hiding it from the enemy soldiers, out of old clothes. She knew in her heart that the American’s would come save them. When they did, she had a flag ready for them to fly over the island. Seeing all this, and realizing how his service to his country had changed the lives of these lovely people was something Dad was very proud of. He was their hero, for sure!
One of Dad’s other friends is a hero in his own right. He was the man that pulled Dad out of what would end up being the Callahan tunnel when it caved in on top of him. Legend has it, there was a cave in and Dad went to get his crew out. Just as the last man got out, another cave in happened, trapping Dad under a huge boulder and breaking his back. His buddy, his “brother” as Dad referred to him, Johnny Eagle, pulled him out, saving his life. The last time I saw them together was over 35 year ago almost to the day at a St. Patrick’s day celebration. As they hugged each other yelling “brother” and slapping each other’s back, I had a hard time knowing who was who. They actually looked like brothers! One thing was obvious, here were two men who had a bond not many every have.
Yes, Dad…Daddy was our hero! He taught us so many things, I could write a book! Here a few of the most memorable:
Waste not want not…Dad was a recycler long before recycling was fashionable.
Don’t use a nail if you can use a screw. Dad liked to do things for the long haul. He had a great eye for fixing things and creating stuff from nothing. Mom often commented on how he could take a few pieces of scrap would and make a beautiful bookshelf in a few hours. He taught me that if you used a screw to hold something together, it would stay longer because of the threads…nails are smooth, they slide out easier. Bet you never thought about that.
When painting…take LONG strokes! He would go nuts watching someone dab paint on a surface. He also taught me how to care for my brushes…disposable wasn’t a word in his vocabulary.
John Wayne was the best. You didn’t argue with Dad on this…besides, the older that Dad got, the more they looked alike…who knows!
Nursing mothers are beautiful. It may seem a bit strange to mention this here, but as I had my children during the late seventies and early eighties, Dad approval of my nursing kept me going. If Daddy said it was OK, it was OK.
Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. Dad told you, usually ten decibels above normal, what he thought. Yet, he was an individual who lived his beliefs, not just mouthing them when it was convenient.
I would like to close with a haiku poem by the poet Basho that I found when I was looking for something special to honor Dad:
The temple bell stops…
But the sound keeps coming
Out of the flowers.
Dad’s “bell” may have stopped, but his legacy lives on in each one of us. He is our hero. We are all blessed for his being.
So, for my brothers and sisters, my Mom, daughters, granddaughters, family and friends, I give thanks for our Daddy.