How many of you have heard the old proverb about not being able to see the forest for the trees? I’m here to tell you that’s the way God’s plans work. Sometimes, we just don’t see our future being laid out before us… because we are SO focused on what is happening to us right now. Let me explain just a little.
In 1970, my father was in the US Army. He returned from VietNam and was sent to Aberdeen, Maryland. Mom and I joined him in the military housing quarters located on Rodman Road. Right down the street from us – within viewing distance, was another family stationed there… Phylis and Paul Mercer, and their children: Paul E., Philip, Joni, Randy and, at the time, their youngest baby - Billy. My dad bought a boat, and the Mercer’s had a boat, and the next thing I knew… we were all loading up our boats every weekend with grills, and hot dogs, and hamburgers, and kids, and we headed out to picnic on an island in the Chesapeake Bay. I was 14… and Philip Mercer was 11. He was big for his age… and, he was kind of cute according to my young teenage eyes. We flirted and water-skied, picnicked, and hung out for barbeques. Phil became a regular on my porch. Love (or maybe it was budding lust) blossomed, and I…. (Please forgive me for telling you this)… taught him how to kiss as we sat together on that concrete front step to my house… after all, I was a 14 year old expert!!! We went to dances (his favorite song was “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night), we babysat, we leg wrestled … we were so totally unaware of anything but the current moment… for two years. Then one day, my dad got orders for a new duty assignment. We loaded up our car, and once again, we moved. It was 1972, and I watched Philip’s image fade through the rear glass of Dad’s Pontiac as we drove back to West Virginia.
Years passed. I vaguely remember, but Phil said we exchanged a letter or two, and then we eventually faded from each other’s life. Our forest and trees had become high school, then graduation, and we both married new loves fresh out of high school. I kept a picture of Phil in a photo album…and every now and then I would run across it. But I was now focused on getting married, raising my children, then finding a job, then making it through my divorce, then establishing my independence. Phil was in Tampa, Florida working at the Tampa Greyhound Race Track, raising children, learning carpentry skills, supporting the Greyhound racing industry….immersed in growing his own forest and trees. More years went by.
My dad and Paul both retired from the Army then both completed second careers. At some point in their second careers, Phylis and Paul gave my mom and dad a call… and the next thing you know, they came up for a visit! That first visit led to annual WV visits. I would go to my parent’s house and visit whenever they came. I’d always ask how Philip was doing and they’d give me updates on his life.
Eventually, my swinging single social life consisted of Friday night dates with my lawn mower… looking at all the things that needed to be done around my house… and fantasies that included my version of a Super Hero… I called Handyman. I told my mom about my fantasies… and said “I guess if I’m ever going to meet someone - God will just have to deliver him to my doorstep.”
During the Mercer’s spring 2006 visit, Phylis and Paul told me Phil and his wife had divorced too. Shortly after they returned home, I received a phone call from Phil. He suggested that he’d like to come up and visit the next time his parents came to West Virginia. “Oh sure” I replied… ”that would be great” as I rolled my eyes on my end of the phone; because from my distorted view, after 34 years, we had absolutely NOTHING in common. He had a lifetime in Tampa FL and I had a lifetime primarily in Philippi, WV. What could we have to talk about? I couldn’t see a forest or anything else through my trees of negativity. As a matter of fact, the weekend they finally DID come up in October 2006 – I went to a Toastmaster’s conference in Pennsylvania which lasted the entire weekend. I purposely didn’t get home until Sunday evening because I was putting off our 34 year reunion as long as possible. I came home, went to mom’s house – and much to my glee - Phil was out for a walk. I gave a big sigh of relief, went home to do my laundry, and put the inevitable off for another couple of hours. Finally, I HAD to go over and say Hi, because it was Sunday night and I HAD to go to work the next day!!!
I went to my mom and dad’s. I stepped into their kitchen – and the very second my eyes saw Phil…. I was completely speechless.
Now let me explain that he had been dieting and working out and was a buff hot babe in size 34 jeans with silver hair and piercing blue eyes…..and I too had been working out and was 100 pounds less than I am today, in size 7 pants. Everything that is big on me now was small on me then. Obviously, God certainly had a plan. At that very moment, the trees blocking my vision parted, and there was this beautiful, strong, handsome ……..man…..who I knew….was IT…. This was MY Handyman….My forest stood before me….and like I had told mom - he had been delivered pretty close to my doorstep!! I knew God had answered my prayers.
From that day forward… we were inseparable. We both loved going for rides to different places, we both loved salad, we both loved playing games, we both loved fishing… and we loved each other!!! I tell everyone that Philip got me under false circumstances. He lured me to Florida and took me fishing in the Gulf of Mexico in his boat. He was a Handyman with a boat and a motor – so you can bet your bottom dollar I said “YES” when he asked me to marry him! Less than a year after he arrived on my doorstep, we eloped. He moved up here in October 2007 from Tampa, with his boat of course. I was expecting we’d go fishing in all the surrounding WV lakes and rivers. This is where the false pretense came in. He told me we would go fishing in his boat, but I can tell you that, as of this very moment– that boat has yet to make it into the water. Instead, it is sitting behind Phil’s workshop…full of scrap metal. For those who didn’t know Phil well, he LOVES scrap metal. If you can’t imagine what I mean by he LOVES scrap metal – come to my house and I’ll show you. He met lots of customers who had lots of metal to get rid of while he was working at the Philippi Transfer Station. I used to get frustrated and would sarcastically suggest perhaps people should come to our house to dump their garbage, and he could just take the leftovers to the City dump instead. I shouldn’t have said that – because it started happening. He’d always reassure me he would get rid of the piles of this stuff he considered a thing of beauty and I considered an eyesore, ... then he’d send Adam out to unload his truck, or unload another trailer… full of more scrap metal. Poor Adam kind of reminds me of Stan in the old Marlin Perkins Mutual of Omaha TV series.
Imagine Phil as Marlin….as he narrates the scene:
“I’ll sit here in my recliner while Stan (Adam) wrestles the 19,000 pound aluminum (alligator) into (or out of) the trailer.”
Poor Adam. I give him a hard time. I always refer to him as my “other son” instead of using the dreaded word “stepson”… unless,… of course, he is beating me at poker… at which time I remind him he is rapidly receding back to step status. He has been such a blessing to us all, especially Phil. Phil has been teaching him construction, and scrapping, and gardening. I’m so thankful they had these years together since Adam moved here. Phil was always so proud of his kids - Adam and Phoebe, and his grandbabies – Shayla and Briella and Alanah, and Liam and Amelia….and his “bonus children” Will and Sarah. He loved us all, with all his heart.
We had so many plans for the future. My daughter jokingly nicknamed me Sarah Winchester…because I took full advantage of Phil’s handyman talents… to remodel and build onto our house. Just a month or so ago…Phil was working on our foyer and I came up with another idea for something… and he looked at me and said…. Don’t you every stop? Of course I put the blame back on him for giving me so many ideas with the beautiful things he created with his never-ending talents. Last Saturday we sat in our recliners together and watched the DIY channel all day. I sat and watched the remodels being done on TV with one eye, and was studying our kitchen with the other. He decided perhaps it was too dangerous for us to watch that channel together too often, because it meant more work for HIM. He was full of witticisms… I started going to the Belington Wellness Center with our friend, Cathy Corder. One morning last week, I gave him a kiss and said, “Okay sweetheart, I’m going to come home skinny”… and he looked at me and said… “Just how long are you going to be there?” He cracked himself up. He was his own best audience. But somehow, he always brought me around to laughing too. I couldn’t get mad at him. We got along like two peas in a pod. There was no arguing, no fighting, and no raised voices (well mine might have got a little pitchy now and then)… He was patient and always took care of me. We had lots of laughs, and lots and lots of love.
Recently, I marveled to some of my friends about God’s plan… and how we didn’t know when Phylis and Paul met my parents in 1970 – how things would play out…
• How Phil and I would eventually be happily married
• How we’d hold and support each other through the death of his daughter, my father, then his father, then my mother
• How Adam and Phylis would move to West Virginia to live with us
I did recognize this was all part of God’s plan, but last week I had no idea God’s plan included me reading this eulogy two days before our 13th wedding anniversary. As usual, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
I could talk for hours about Phil and I…. sweet things like how we held pinkies every Sunday at church during prayer… how at any given time in the middle of the night – I would wake up from a dead sleep, roll over and would say “I love you” and he would always reply “I love you too.” Or I would lean on him and say “You’re my husband” and he would always reply “and you’re my wife.” I could tell you how tender hearted he was, and how easily hurt he was. How much he loved his kids - blood and bonus alike, and adored his grandbabies. How much he loved his mom, and his brothers and sisters… How much he loved Millie Licata and the girls at the Tampa Racetrack… how much he loved Carol Matko and the girls at the Philippi City Office, how much he loved the girls at the bank, and the girls at Shop N Save… come to think of it – just how much he loved… girls…. period. How much he loved our Pastor and our wonderful church family… How much he loved our precious farm family... Just how much he loved… life.
Once again, today, I can’t see the forest for the trees,
Today… I can’t see my future without my husband. Phylis can’t imagine life without her son. Adam and Will and Sarah can’t imagine their lives without him. Billy, and Paul E. and Joni and Tish, can’t imagine their lives without their brother. Our grandchildren can’t imagine life without their “Pap.” None of us can see our tomorrow without Phil.
Since Sunday, I keep repeating that I can’t believe this is happening. Phylis keeps reminding me... that Philip would say… “It is… what it is.” My husband was a smart man who knew how to ground a problem down to its simplest form so you could figure out how deal with it. So now I must reflect back to 1972… like then, I don’t know what the future holds, but I trust God, and I know he has placed us on a path… Isaiah 41:10 tells us: "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
So now, as Philip would say, “It is… what it is.” It is time thank God for the life of my husband, Philip Dale Mercer. It is time to thank God for the relationship we each had with him. It is time for our family and each of you to surrender our pain, our fear, our anguish and our lives… to our Savior… because I have it on very good authority, that is the only way we can get through this day, or any other. “It is… what it is.”