It was a late night email that garnered my attention. It was written by a friend in San Antonio. He wanted me to know that Danny Boy had reached the place where the humane thing to do was the last thing a dog owner or lover would ever want to do. Marc had inherited the dog from his dad. Actually, that is not exactly true. Marc had lovingly opted to accept the role of care taker for Danny Boy following his dad’s death.
Consequently, Danny Boy was special. I was shocked to learn that the dog was nineteen years old. Marc wanted me to express his gratitude to our church for our open acceptance of Danny Boy when he accompanied Marc’s mom to church at those times when they were able to orchestrate her attendance. Because of cognition issues, Marc’s mom needed the security and care that was only available with 24-hour awake-staff. She has been in an Alzheimer’s special care facility for the past several years.
Reading Marc’s email flooded my head with the most wonderful of memories. Marc’s parents were two of the most creative and exceptional people I’ve ever known. In addition, they were dear friends. The fact that we became fast friends was nothing short of a miracle. For one thing, I was a preacher. For another, I was Baptist. Neither of those designations were the catalyst for open acceptance. They already had “good reason” not to like preachers and Baptist churches. Somehow tearing down houses and eradicating homes that once lined the streets in a posh Austin neighborhood didn’t set well with many in the Hyde Park area. That certainly was true of Lee and Peggy, Marc’s parents.
Of course, their memories of that experience from previously being home owners in Hyde Park predated their moving to Johnson City where they purchased property in the country and had a turn of the century home moved to that location. At least in the country, their turn of the century home would be safe. After all, those were the kinds of homes that were being torn down in the Hyde Park neighborhood as Hyde Park Baptist Church moved toward church expansion.
In the 1970s when Hyde Park Baptist Church began to grow and prosper, they strategically began purchasing homes in the neighborhood and turned them into parking lots and church facilities. Of course, it was years later and who knows how many dollars of legal fees spent that plans for a five-story parking garage were made public. It was more than a church fight. It was a neighborhood and church fight.
Needless to say, I had two strikes against me. I met Lee before I met Peggy. Lee kept his small plane in a hanger at Henly International Airport. He often flew simply for the joy of flying. He seldom, if ever, flew alone. He always had his dog with him. Whether he ever flew with Danny Boy, I don’t recall. Danny Boy was Lee’s last dog. Both Lee and Peggy were dog lover s and they always maintained a loving home for one or two dogs.
I met Peggy at the 40th birthday party of a close friend who also was the owner of the airline hanger. He handcrafted his own sign: “Henly International Airport”. That ole rascal is now seventy-five years old. Consequently, my history with the Arbon family is rich with memories. We go back more than a day or two.
With Peggy, it was love at first sight. She forgave me immediately for being a preacher and for being a Baptist. She and Lee subsequently became friends and we shared many hours visiting across the years. I was always fascinated by their life story and the close knit couple they represented.
Lee was a career military officer. He was a Sergeant Pilot during World War II and he had the most fascinating stories to share. In fact, later in life he authored “And They Also Flew”. The book was published by the Smithsonian and traces the history and achievements of enlisted pilots from their earliest days in flight through 1942. Lee expressed it this way: “Regarded by the military as lacking the education or intelligence to fly, these ‘sergeant pilots’ struggled to earn their wings in a military organization that traditionally reserved this position for commissioned officers”. In his book, Lee details the contributions of these men to United States military aviation, recognizing the 17 “aces”, the more than 155 men killed in action and the 11 who were promoted to the rank of general. Presenting the recollections of fellow sergeant pilots as well as the author’s own experiences in the cockpit, They Also Flew records the personal sagas of men determined to serve their country in the air.
Lee (Major Leonard Lee Arbon) passed away on Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at the age of 89. His obituary, written by one of his sons, defined him as “a scholar, Bird man, soldier, flier, airman, artist, skin diver, sourpuss, craftsman, home builder, adventurer, student, scoundrel, father, mentor, multi – career man, and full time human being possessing the qualities that mark us all – the good, the bad and the ugly… And the beautiful!”
Truthfully, I never saw anything in Lee’s life that resembled a “sourpuss, scoundrel, bad or ugly.” He was a dear friend. Did I mention that he and Peggy moved beyond their disdain for preachers and for Baptists. I had the privilege of baptizing both of them and they were delightful and active members of our family of faith. I could be mistaken, but I think that also made them Baptists. Who would have thought?
Lee was my “turn-to” guy when I had questions related to writing. He always thoughtfully reviewed anything I put together with words that I wanted a second opinion on. He was always patient, kind and encouraging. He wrote his book on an Apple computer. When he opted to buy a newer and better Apple, I purchased his old Apple computer from him. After all, it had worked well for writing his book.
When it came to Apple products, Lee always has the latest and the greatest. He never thought twice about the need to avail himself to the tools of the trade. Peggy was also equally creative. She was a decorator par-excellence and could grow anything. Her skill set added a whole new dimension to the concept of having a “green thumb”.
I was grateful to receive the email from Marc telling me about Danny Boy and his gratitude that he, too, was welcomed by Henly Baptist Church.
All My Best!