Indy and I drove to Indiana a couple of weeks ago to spend time with family and attend a farewell party for someone special.
It's always wonderful to go home. To be in the community where my wife Joey grew up and the farmhouse that she grew up in.
Indy especially loves spending time with her grandma. They have a special bond and I love seeing them together. June takes Indy on walks down the lane and talks with her about important things, like faith, and honesty. But mostly I think she just listens, as Indy talks about her Mama. About school and baby dolls and puppies, and pretend friends that she has.
Indy also loves being there and getting the chance to spend time with all of her cousins. There are a dozen or more of them ranging in all ages. But she enjoys playing with the littlest one, Crosley, the most I think.
Little Crosley is five years old now. I know that because she is the little newborn that Joey got to hold just before she passed away. There is a scene in the documentary To Joey With Love where Joey's sister brings her new baby in the room and Joey's so excited to see and hold her for the first time. But when she does, I think the reality of her situation came upon her and she fell apart. It was a difficult and beautiful moment for her and for all of us. Sweet Crosley is a physical reminder of how long my pretty wife has been gone.
In many ways, that feels like a lifetime ago. And in truth, it is. And now here we were back in Indiana to say goodbye to Joey's daddy. Or at least, celebrating and remembering him. The visitation and funeral service was in Christian Congregation Church, the little church where Joey went as a child growing up and where Indy was dedicated in 2014.
It was truly a beautiful gathering and memorial. Our dear friend Bradley Walker made the trip up from Alabama and sang "In The Time That You Gave Me" and Bill Gaither led the room of family and friends in his hymn "Because He Lives."
Russdriver even surprised us all by showing up at the service dressed in a suit and tie and like all of us, tears fell from his eyes, as Joey's sweet daddy was lifted up in songs, stories, and prayer.
The loss has been especially hard on Joey's three sisters Jody, Julie, and Jessie. It was a blessing to be there with them during this time. And I was honored when they asked me to say a few things at the service. Their daddy was a special man to a lot of people, including me. Here are the words are shared...
Jackie Lee Martin.
My father-in-law and I shared the same middle names. The same love for country music and the same love for his daughters. I loved one, in particular, the most, but he loved them all the same.
I called him Dad... and he treated me like a son, and not a son-in-law. Maybe it was because his only son Justin left this world too soon, and there was a small part of that void in him that I could help fill in some way. More likely it was because I didn’t leave him any choice. I just started calling him Dad as soon as Joey and I got married. Engaged actually. To make it clear to him that I was here to stay. I wasn’t on the fence about being part of his little girl’s family or future. I was gonna be an honorary Martin whether he liked it or not.
When Joey first met me, when the whole family met me, I came with some history. I’d been married before and had two teenage girls and had made a bit of a mess of my life before then. But it was clear to everyone that Joey saw something in me... some things in me I guess. I know now what at least one of those things was. She saw a good bit of her Daddy in me. I was tall and played guitar... and I could make her smile and laugh. Much like her Daddy had done, growing up... she needed someone to help her take the very difficult rough edge that life often had to offer and with humor and hope, make everything okay, even when it wasn’t.
I’ve since seen Dad do that in this family a hundred times. To take the worst of situations and swallow hard, and find the rainbow in a hurricane. He personally made it his responsibility to lighten up every single room he walked into. And he wasn’t afraid to be the butt of a joke, if it made people laugh. He is famous for stuffing more food in his mouth at one time, sending people in a restaurant to the kitchen instead of the bathroom, and showing up at most of his grandkids games and events.. of course, he slept through most of them, but he showed up. He even has a whole memory board dedicated to pictures of him falling asleep in public.
It isn’t that Dad didn’t hurt, because we all know he did. He grieved deeply over many things. Some of his own doing and some from the difficult hands he’d been dealt. But in his humility, he would forsake his pain, and yours if he could, and find the bright side. It was gift to his family, to us all.
When I was a little boy, I remember riding in the passenger seat with my father in his big Buick. Crossing over the railroad tracks in my hometown of Atchison, Kansas as a new song called “Farewell Party” by Gene Watson came on the radio. Dad wanted me to hear it. To hear the singer’s voice, the words, and the steel guitar solo. And it wasn’t enough for me to just listen... he pulled that Buick over to the side of the road and put it in park and we just sat there for the entire three minutes as the song played. He pulled over so I wouldn’t be distracted and could hear every note, line, and nuance I think. I was only about eight years old at the time, but I knew that that song was a big deal to him. That that music was. Important enough to sit on the shoulder of the road, listening with a little boy as the other cars and fathers and song rolled on by. It was clear that country music meant a lot to him. So, it soon meant a lot to me.
Forty-five years later... Jack asked for that exact same Gene Watson song called to be played somewhere during his funeral and so it one was one of the songs playing as we all entered here today. Here are a few lines from the song...
“When the last breath of life is gone from my body
And my lips are a cold as the sea,
When my friends gather round for my farewell party
Won’t you pretend that you love me”
It is just his style to want to call this funeral a Farewell Party and it is. But Dad, we can’t pretend we love you. Because we do love you. All of us.
I came into this family through marriage, but now, with Indiana, I am family through blood. We will forever be connected. Now to eternity. And I’m honored, so honored, to be part of this family. His family. To be part of this special day. To get to lift up a man who spent most of his life, lifting up others. Helping them to smile, all of us smile, through our tears.
To close, in Dad fashion—on the very bright side of difficult day... Over the past twenty-seven years, Dad has spent countless Sunday afternoons at the cemetery where we'll all be heading to after this service. Next to his son Justin’s gravestone, with a football in his hand. Thinking about all passes they threw together and the ones they never got to throw. Grieving over what might have been and what never will be. And I can’t help but think that now, today... for the first time since 1994... Justin is going long and Dad is throwing a long-needed pass to his son. And Joey is there with them... grinning ear to ear, watching the whole thing.
It has been a couple of weeks since then and life has a way of going on, as it always does. As it must. But our loved ones are never far away, as long as they're in our hearts.
We miss you.