“If the Lord Is Willing and I Am Able”

by
Jacob William Lupfer

A Eulogy for
William Milton Lamb
February 23, 1923 — July 13, 2015

Osceola Memory Gardens, Poinciana Chapel
The Reverend Garry Lamb, Officiating
July 17, 2015 — 11:00 a.m.

My name is Jacob William Lupfer. I am one of William Milton Lamb’s four grandchildren. I grew up in Kissimmee but have lived away much of my adult life. My bride and our two young children are at our home in Baltimore, but they send their deepest sympathies to the family. The friends here today honor our family by your presence, and we thank you for your thoughtfulness and compassion in our grief. I am grateful to my mother and to Bro. Garry for inviting me to share some reflections about Milton Lamb. To do so is one of the great honors of my life.

My grandfather — Pa Pa, we called him — was a decisive and principled man. He had a well honed sense of right and wrong, and well formed ideas about exactly what activities would fill his days, weeks, and years. Once he had arrived at an opinion or devised a plan of action, there was no dissuading him.

Often I heard him announce his intention to do something by saying, “If the Lord is willing and I am able…” Did you ever hear him say that? “If the Lord is willing and I am able, I will go to my Army reunion next year.” “If the Lord is willing and I am able, I will plant the spring garden next week.”

It always struck me, especially coming from a man who was so confident in his judgments and sure of his actions. Yet somewhere in that phrase — “If the Lord is willing and I am able…” — contained an acknowledgement that he was not, after all, the master of his fate or the captain of his soul.

Now, when it came to Milton Lamb’s plans, the Lord was usually willing and he was usually able! But with that little saying, he subjugated his intentions to God’s will and to his own human limits.

Some of you knew my Pa Pa in his younger years, when he was a schoolboy, then a soldier, and then a working man. I would have loved to know him as a young man. I heard many stories — sometimes the same ones over again — about growing up in a large family during lean times. Later, people wrote books about the “greatest generation,” the Americans who overcame the Great Depression and defeated totalitarian regimes before building a society of shared prosperity and broadening conceptions of equality. I was proud to know my Nanny and Pa Pa as members of that greatest generation. Their entire lives embodied their commitment to what T. S. Eliot called “the permanent things:” faith, family, the dignity of work, the fellowship of friends. From my earliest memory, I knew there was a lot of goodness and love in that little Lancaster green farmhouse where my Nanny and Pa Pa lived.

One of my greatest advantages growing up here was the experience of living near all my grandparents. Now that I am raising my own children far away, I am even more grateful that I saw my grandparents often when I was a boy. In Osceola County, the Lupfers were town people and the Lambs were country people. My Lupfer grandparents taught me things they learned from their books and their travels. My Lamb grandparents weren’t big readers. Except for Pa Pa’s military service and later trips to Army reunions, they rarely went further from Osceola County than Cook County, Georgia, where they kept a home in their later years.

Even so, I learned so much when I was in their care and in their company. My Nanny and Pa Pa lived by virtues that I always found to be true, no matter how many books I read or how widely I traveled. They taught me the value of a strong sense of place. With deep Florida pioneer roots on both sides of the family, my grandfather knew this land better than anyone. I knew my native Florida was flat, but I never gave much thought to the lay of the land or to the native plants. But my Pa Pa knew all this. He knew where the high places and low-lying areas were. He knew how rainwater drained through the soil and sand, and what would grow there. He knew his way around the lakes and the swamps and the islands. He loved and respected the land. He worked it with his own hands, whether drilling wells, digging post holes for fences, or tending his groves and his garden. I could never tell the difference between, say, 91 degrees and 96. But Pa Pa would sit in the shade on a hot day when he knew it would be even hotter the next. Just as he knew this land like the back of his hand, he could feel the weather in his bones. He knew instinctively which winter mornings would have a frost. And, any season of the year, he could tell you exactly what time the dew would dry off the grass. I guess after ninety-two winters and ninety-two summers, you notice some things. But he taught me to pay attention.

My Pa Pa taught me to be trustworthy and loyal. He said when you meet someone, should look him in the eye and say your full name as you shake his hand. Even in a world governed by legal contracts and dishonest people, your name and your handshake were your honor. Reputations for fairness and integrity are hard earned and easily lost, so always keep your word and treat others with respect.

He was a laborer as much as a businessman, but he took his dealings seriously. In the old farm house, he kept his desk tidy. There was an almanac calendar above the desk that charted the phases of the moon. It later hung in the kitchen in the mobile home after they moved across the street from the old place. He penciled in rainfall totals each day. For many years, he used a rain gauge that my father’s firm, Lupfer-Frakes Insurance, sent to clients one Christmas. Of course, there was never a computer on his desk — he often said his brain was his computer. And, to the very end of his life, his memory was sharp. I’m convinced this is because he was a deliberate and thoughtful man who practiced healthy habits of mind as he grew old.

Pa Pa wasn’t a big music lover, but I remember Nanny listening to gospel music and Johnny Cash tapes. They tuned in faithfully to listen to the Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast on Saturday nights.

My Pa Pa taught me that it was virtuous to live frugally, and no sin to live comfortably. But he never lived extravagantly and he always stayed well within his means. He enjoyed good food — after all, Ethel Lamb cooked for him for 55 years. He referred to supper as “the evening meal.” Lunch was “the noon meal,” and he did not like to start eating at 11:59 or 12:01. But he enjoyed food and other pleasures in moderation: a chaw of Red Man chewing tobacco in his recliner or a cold beer after an afternoon spent working outside.

Even so, he wasted few hours and even fewer dollars in his life on the vain fashions and mindless entertainments that were the irresistible yet inevitably unsatisfying products of our consumerist society. Quite against culture and often at greater effort and expense, Pa Pa bought American-made goods whenever he could. He demonstrated the value in owning things that were worth repairing rather than just throwing away. I could not help but be impressed by his sadness upon not being able to find a snap-button Western-cut shirt that was made in the U.S.A.

He was not an intellectual, but he had an abundance of common sense in an age where it often wasn’t so common. As my life experiences put me in touch with scholars and specialists in many fields, it often occurred to me that my Pa Pa knew more about life and had more common sense than the experts. “If you want to go into business, he would say, “Start a restaurant or a barber shop, because people have to eat and they have to get their hair cut.” How can you argue with that? “If we are strong militarily, other countries won’t attack us.” Some of his attitudes found expression in bumper stickers on his truck: “Gun control is knowing how to hit your target” and “Protect Florida’s most endangered species — the native.” His patriotism impressed me, and not only because he was justly proud of his veteran status. He loved America unconditionally, but he did not hesitate to say when he thought she had been wrong. He cherished our founding principles of life, liberty and property, and never tired of defending them to anyone who would listen.

Pa Pa taught me the value of community. He was never an activist, but he was a good and dutiful citizen, once campaigning unsuccessfully for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners. He contributed to various causes, and was always as willing to roll up his sleeves as to write a check. For years, he was the trustee of the Pleasant Hill Cemetery, where we will lay his body to rest today. This was actual work, not just sitting on a board. He coordinated cemetery work days, dutifully maintaining the hallowed ground in which his pioneer ancestors lie, and which, if the Lord was willing and he was able, would one day receive his own body.

Milton Lamb was a good neighbor and he had good neighbors. He was a good friend, and he had good friends. Many decades after their service, my Pa Pa and his Army buddies from the Second World War stayed in touch and gathered for reunions. Once, he told me about repairing a damaged friendship when the other person was dying. As stubborn as my Pa Pa sometimes was, in this case, he regretted that he waited so long. Principles were important to him, but people were always more valuable and merited a higher devotion.

Over the years, he took joy in his neighbors. Whether for a brief season or the better part of a lifetime, he so loved the people around him. Milton and Ethel befriended Lamar and Ann Griffin of Adel, Georgia as soon as they bought a place there. The couples had a great fellowship and visited back and forth over the years. Rudy and Lovie Zimmerman, who lived on Reaves Road, often came over to play cards in the evening. Of course, Lamb nieces, nephews, and cousins from near and far were always welcome guests. And when you did have the pleasure of being a guest at their dinner table, they preferred if you came early or stayed late. As often as not, you would leave with a bag of citrus from their grove or mason jars of vegetables from their garden, the fruits of the earth and of their kind and generous hands.

My favorite Lamb family food tradition (besides Ethel’s legendary chicken and dumplings) was at Christmastime. Who wants a boring old baked ham for Christmas Dinner when you can have barbecue ribs? Pa Pa bought the finest racks of spareribs and prepared them lovingly for the grill. He called them “skinny boy’s ribs,” a reference to the Kissimmee barbecue restaurant, Fat Boy’s. Over the years, he enjoyed many meals there with friends and with his beloved wife. Even when he dined there alone, he was sure to run in to an old timer or some other familiar face.

On Pa Pa’s table sat a leather bound King James Bible. To be honest, I never saw him read it. But when I looked closely once, I noticed that it was very well-thumbed. The edges of the pages, ruffled and discolored with dirt and oil from his fingertips accumulated through the years bore silent witness to the times Pa Pa sat quietly and alone, reading the Scriptures and inwardly digesting them. Likewise, his prayer before every meal was barely audible. (“Lord, give us humble and thankful hearts for this and all our blessings.”) In addition to bowing his head, he covered his face with his hand. His faith was between him and God, and he never felt the need to show it off. His reverence reminded me of the words of the Lord himself, who said “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray…that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But…pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:5-6).

After Pa Pa became a widower in 2001, his relationship with his great-grandson, Darren Lamb, became central to both of their lives. Pa Pa enjoyed something of a new childhood with Darren — one filled with BB guns, fishing poles, 4-wheelers, and even a couple new pickup trucks along the way. Darren brought life and joy to Pa Pa, who provided Darren guidance and support as he grew from a boy into a man.

In his final years, Pa Pa continued to live independently, thanks in no small part to the service and friendship of Shirley Lanier. His decision to move to a newer house in Polk County surprised all of us who had known him over the years. What would he do with a yard so small it didn’t need to be mowed with a tractor? How long would it take a libertarian-minded homesteader to run afoul of a neighborhood association with codes and covenants? On describing the property to me, Pa Pa seemed absolutely mystified about the hedges people planted in front of and between their houses. “I can’t imagine why they plant so many plants that don’t bear anything.” As it turned out, you can take the man off the farm but you can never really take the farm out of the man. As late as this spring, Pa Pa had a handsome little garden spot outside his suburban home with a few neatly planted and meticulously weeded rows.

Of all the friends, relatives, and neighbors who cherished Milton Lamb over the years, I want express special gratitude to a few on behalf of my mother and our entire family. Before, and especially since, my Nanny died, Kevin and Susie Paras looked after my Pa Pa with exceptional love and care. Kevin helped keep the place up, sweating alongside and often in place of Pa Pa over the years with the devotion of a son. Susie was always the first to stop by and check on him when he was ill, always willing to help him with anything he needed. Susie and Kevin were both family and neighbors, and yet their devotion to Milton Lamb was extraordinary. Over at the new Auburndale house, Don and Pam Elrod were the best neighbors anyone could’ve asked for. Pam regularly prepared meals to share with my Pa Pa. Don and Pa Pa became fast friends, and Don looked out for Pa Pa’s best interests.

Considering the span of my Pa Pa’s life, it is amazing to think how much the world changed from 1923 to 2015. One thing that stayed remarkably constant across those 92 years was Milton Lamb. His steadfastness could be frustrating at times, especially for those of us who occasionally took on the fruitless task of attempting to change his mind about some opinion or course of action. But in the end, I choose to view his intractable nature not as obstinacy, but rather as an admirable blend of constancy, conviction, self-reliance, and commitment to principles.

Recently, Pa Pa decided that if the Lord was willing and he was able, he would move back to his mobile home on Ham Brown Road. But as soon as he arrived there, his health declined irreversibly. A man who had overcome two heart attacks and numerous hospitalizations with a fierce will to live quickly realized, and accepted, that his life would end soon. This time, Milton Lamb knew, the Lord was not willing and he was not able. And my Pa Pa accepted that. Family and dear friends gathered, “I love yous” were exchanged, and William Milton Lamb died peacefully in his sleep late in the evening of July 13, 2015.

Today, we gather to witness to our faith: to the Christian hope of resurrection, to the belief that the souls of the righteous find their rest in the mystery and eternity of God, and to the truth St. Paul taught in his Letter to the Romans: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” (14:8). We trust that God received William Milton Lamb into the arms of his mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints of light (Book of Common Prayer), a multitude no man may number (Rev. 7:9), whose hope was in the Word made flesh. Christians await God’s future, when he “shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

All this is the Lord’s work, to be accomplished in the fullness of God’s time.

For us, thankfully, the task is simpler. All I ask is that you remember William Milton Lamb. Remember his goodness. Teach your children the virtues he lived by, as I will teach mine. In great ways and small, each of us can honor his memory in the unfolding of our lives.

And if the Lord is willing and we are able, we shall.