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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014

The great man I've never met

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Whatever logic drives the shuffle function on my iTunes, each time the song arrives on my speakers, my heart catches and I pause. Every time - whether I'm driving, cleaning or typing -- the lyric conjures the image of two boys, ages nine and 11:

I'm gonna wrap my arms around my daddy's neck

And tell him that I've missed him

And tell him all about the man that I became

And hope that it pleased him

There's so much I want to say

There's so much I want you to know

In "Finally Home" the cross-over contemporary Christian group Mercy Me speaks as beautifully of their approach to heaven as they did in 2001's "I Can Only Imagine." When we get home to Glory, it is my belief that we will be transformed, transfigured, in such a way that all the questions we had on earth will suddenly surpass earth-bound notions of "importance" and "relevance." Till then, all the time in between can leave a young man a lot of years to chase after spaces he will never once perceive as empty.

I've only had photos of the man. Smiling while off-duty outside the makeshift barracks of a WWII station in the Phillipines, bare-chested and handsome, a cigarette cupped carelessly in his hand. Or posed with his crew against the backdrop of famous nose-art which adorned the B-24s he piloted.

I've studied the original blueprints of the house he designed, which was built in the late 1950s on South Valley Road. The forethought and innovations he incorporated mystify and amuse the current owners, who still don't understand the logic behind why that switch in the dining room controls what it controls upstairs.

Between haircuts, my husband's sideburns turn into a blend of salt and pepper, and touching them I feel great tenderness. It's the same as in the last photo we have of the father-in-law I never met. It's the chin of Bill Simmons I see in my husband, and echoed through the faces of his grandsons, of my own son. The prominence of his ears appears in some of the boys. Unfortunately, also in some of the girls.

He passed away nearing Christmas in 1967, a bleeding ulcer which arrived suddenly, one the medicine of the time couldn't impede or repair. The resemblance to his father is so strong, I've seen grown men stop my husband on the street 35 years later to say, "I got the call that night. I went to the hospital and gave blood." Their eyes grow moist in the telling. A generation of men made of tough stuff. They would never say outright that they loved the man, but it is fierce in their eyes and in their grip on Tom's shoulder.

Ultimately in life we realize that our greatest value is in the legacy and heritage we leave behind. His has become one of the strong: four sons and a daughter who grew up to serve in business, technology, construction, civics and in missions here and overseas.

The two boys in my vision became men, just now older than the age he was when he died. One became my husband, the other my brother. Happy Father's Day -- I am thankful for you both.

And Bill, when I finally make it home, I'll be able to thank you for the gifts you didn't know you left me.

Tracy Simmons
Spirited Scribe