Saturday, July 14, 2012

Remembering Floyd Sherry

A memorial service was held for long-time Eureka resident Floyd Sherry on June 13, 2012, at Maple Lawn Homes, Eureka.




As I walked into Memorial Hall, I was momentarily stunned by the size of the crowd there for the Floyd Sherry memorial. Stunned, and alarmed that there appeared to be no seats left, that is, but ultimately not surprised. After all, Floyd and his family have made a big impact on those of us who have shared a part of our lives together.

I don’t know how many people here know this, but my dad and Floyd were first cousins. Floyd’s mom and my dad’s dad were brother and sister. It’s just a coincidence that our paths converged for a time when I came here in the 1980s to attend Eureka College, returned in the 90s to work at the Journal and again in the 2000s for health reasons.

We haven’t kept it a secret, but neither of us went around proclaiming it, either. I guess that’s just the way our family is. I mean, we knew we were related, why would we need to announce it?

It was nice to claim a bit of family, a touch of home miles away from my family home in Central Indiana. There is such a thing as a familial short hand that exists when even extended family members talk to each other. We had a shared genealogy, an overlapping history. We knew each other’s ‘folks,’ we were ‘kin.’ I’ve often said the two places you can’t lie about your age—or hide from your past—are family reunions and class reunions.

I’d known Floyd and his family all my life. The Franks extended family get together annually at a Franks/Cobleigh family reunion. (Cobleigh was the family name of Floyd and dad’s great-grandmother Franks.) We also tended to see each other at family funerals.

I got to know the Sherry family better once I lived here. We travelled to reunions and maybe even a funeral or two together. I got to know Floyd and Virginia’s four kids, Sylvia, Diana, Ed and Jim, my second cousins. I even started getting to know the third generation of Sherrys when the grandkids came along. We had some family dinners together and even went to the same church.

I’d had no idea they were so musical until I saw them perform at the church on special occasions and at other local events. Three generations formed the Sherry Family Band. The musical gene must have come from the Sherry side.

When I came back to Eureka in 2009, after a 12-year absence, Floyd was already sick. In the beginning, there was optimism about his recovery, but he experienced some setbacks that made the end seem all too near.

Not that he talked about it, much. That’s a family trait, too. We don’t tend to dwell on ourselves or share personal information. (I’m somewhat of an exception, having shared family stories in this column, my blog, and in sermons. I guess there’s a storyteller in every family.) We try to minimize both our achievements and our difficulties.

Shortly before he died, Floyd stopped by my apartment at Maple Lawn. He had Diana with him. He said something dismissively about the kids thinking they needed to come by more often. He thought it was nice of them to visit but not necessary. I could see in Diana’s eyes that she thought it was. I knew the other kids did, too.

When I asked how he was doing, he said he was feeling as well as could be expected. Said he had lived a good life, and he was ready to go. Upbeat to the end.

When he died in January, Virginia said the family would be planning a memorial service for sometime in the summer. From time to time, when the kids were visiting and came with Virginia to church, I heard about the fun they were having planning the event. And now the time was finally here.

As I wound my way around the compact rows of seats taking up virtually every bit of space in the big hall, Virginia, Floyd’s widow, came up to greet me and made sure I had a program. She handed me the last one left.

I found a seat on the aisle on the right side of the room, and had a pretty good view of the proceedings. There was a long row of chairs to my right, where most of the family sat with their various instruments, waiting their turns to play a piece in tribute to their father, father-in-law, grandfather and uncle.

It was clear the family had put a lot of time, energy and love into this service, which was in two parts—the solemn, sacred service of memorial, and a lighter, more joyful celebration of life.

The first part was a beautiful service. Rev. Jennie Churchman spoke eloquently of a life well-lived through family stories sent to her by Virginia, their children and grandchildren. Son-in-law Mark Phillips read several scriptures and readings, sharing bits of Floyd’s story as he went.
Then there was the music. Exquisite is the first word that comes to mind, followed by haunting, gorgeous, and poignant. The whole crowd sat mesmerized by the traditional sacred tunes, played so lovingly by the Sherry Family Band. It was as if they were giving Floyd and Virginia a personal concert for their ears only, and we were but mere eavesdroppers.

Because Floyd had let it be known that he always wanted a New Orleans style funeral, the second part was more upbeat, even fun. The Sherrys were joined by Bill Anderson, Tony Corpus and Randy Crump, who added drums, trombone and an oboe, if I’m not mistaken, to the mix of brass instruments, violins and piano. I noticed a few other instruments too, played by a niece, a daughter-in law and a granddaughter-in-law—a flute or two, an accordion, and maybe some others.

They began with a processional of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” The musical group walked down the center aisle wearing the Sherry Family Band uniforms of black T-shirts and slacks, some of them wearing hats, others carrying umbrellas. They began by playing slowly and solemnly. Then they broke out in a raucous, joyous, and boisterous version of the song. We all felt the solemn atmosphere melt away to one in which laughter was not only OK, but expected, sat back in our chairs to enjoy the concert.

Toward the end of Rev. Jennie’s eulogy, she shared a story about the

Sherry Family Band, which played at every family gathering and vacation they could. It was the last ‘concert’ they had together, and they had played into the night. Exhausted, some of the younger folks wanted to call it quits for the night. Floyd said, “We can’t quit now, we haven’t played “When the Saints Go Marching In!”

“That’s OK,” said one of them, “There’s always next time.” But the next time never came.

So, as you might have guessed, “When the Saints Go Marching In” was the recessional. They played and sang, we sang along, and, donning
their hats and picking up their umbrellas, they marched out still playing it to thunderous applause.

I imagine Floyd was playing and singing and applauding the loudest. Good-bye, Floyd, see you on the other side.

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