Thursday, November 18, 2010

Russell The Eugoogoolizer

Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a bird in the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed for good!

There wasn't a dry eye in the sanctuary as Penny Parker finished singing "For Good." Everyone knew of Jonathan Iles' unapologetic love for Broadway musicals. It was only fitting that one of his favorite students said good-bye to him with his favorite song from his favorite musical. What broke everyone's heart was Jessica's inability to hide the fact that she absolutely meant every single word she sang. She wasn't singing from her heart. She was singing with her entire being.

Russell sat behind her, marveling at her form and her voice. She might be Happy Valley's best kept secret. Then he turned his eyes out to the congregation. The church was packed -- literally standing room only. It was the most awe-inspiring and humbling thing Russell had ever seen. There was absolutely no question that his dad was loved.

Russell had never heard a single negative word about his father. He has his own opinion and experience, but anyone he ever met who knew his father would just rave about him. Russell suspected that if there was anyone out there who didn't like his father, they secretly deeply respected him.

Every eye was on Russell. The sanctuary had fallen awkwardly silent. Penny had left the stage and it was Russell's turn to stand behind the pulpit. But he wasn't moving. He was just sitting there. Someone cleared their throat and Russell snapped to attention. He lept to his feet and took his place.

Russell stood behind the big, oak pulpit and pulled his notes out of his Bible. He straightened them, touched them, flipped through them, and then looked out over the congregation. He made eye contact with Ainsley, who smiled encouragingly back at him. He gave her a weak smile and rubbed his clean-shaven chin as he prayed for the strength to do what must be done. Russell cleared his throat, looked over the room, and then folded his notes shut.

"I was . . . I was going to start with a joke about being asked to give my father's eugoogoly, but now that I stand here before you . . . a Zoolander reference just doesn't seem right. It, uh . . . Well . . . My dad was a good man. He knew each and every one of you by name. Those of you whose names he couldn't remember were given nicknames that he could. He loved his job and, honestly, he loved every one of you. Even the troublemakers. He wouldn't trade you for anything. Just knowing that he's . . . um . . . Just the idea that my dad's not going to be . . . here . . . anymore . . . makes Happy Valley just a little bit less happy. The idea of Happy Valley seems darker, gloomier and . . ."

Russell shook his head. There were no other words to say. The more he said, the less strength his words had. He forced himself to smile one last time.

"Here's to my dad. The greatest man I'll ever know."

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