Walt, Lee, Jan and Eddy Arnold in 1969
Comments By Jan Howse On Behalf Of Her Son, Lee, Who Idolized Eddy Arnold
"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now"
--------Julius Caeser by Shakespeare
(The following narrative is a beautiful true story of a young boy who loved his Family, his God, his Church and Eddy Arnold)
"LEE'S LOVE FOR EDDY"
Let me tell you when Lee first met his favorite country music singer Eddy Arnold.
It was 1969 at the grand opening of one of Eddy's chicken restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Our family always loved Eddy's music, never missed any of his televised specials or spots when he appeared. My son Lee was born August 5th, 1969. My husband and I managed the apartment house right next to Eddy's place. To my surprise when we went over for the grand opening, Eddy was there in person. We were just thrilled. You know how you get when you meet a person who you feel you've known all your life, a great star, a wonderful person, and a terrific country music singer. My husband Walt, my son Lee and I were among several others in the store. Eddy, being the person he is, asked if we would like a picture of him and us with the baby. Well, I was so excited and of course said yes That was the beginning of a love for country music for my son.
Yep! Only a baby, but he listened to Eddy's music all his life. It became his lullabies at nap time and bed time in the evenings. To our surprise, a picture arrived in the mail, the one taken with Eddy and my family. It always hung in our home by our stereo while we all listened to Eddy's latest recording and followed his exciting career. As time passed and Lee grew, Eddy was Lee's favorite singer. He never missed the chance to hear Eddy's music. We'd go to get a new record or tape, Lee was always asking the store manager, " what was new that Eddy Arnold had out." Lee played it in the store so he could hear it, just in case Mom didn't have enough money for anymore records. But, Mom always had a soft spot for Eddy's music too.
Well, to make a long story a little shorter, we lost my husband, Lee's Father on July 3rd, 1975. Lee was almost five by then and was just starting to know what Dad's were all about. Times to go fishing and swimming with Dad, help Dad work in the yard and go get gas etc. Lee was playing T-ball at that time and he really missed his Father. Seems to me he played Eddy's records so much more after he lost his Father. Lee would say, "remember when Daddy and I use to sit in the rocker and play all these songs and sing to them?" Lee had a great memory and would always show off his picture with Eddy and our family when anyone came to visit. When Lee was in second grade, I had to refinance my car to send Lee to a private school. He was so far ahead of the other children in his learning, the public schools couldn't handle his education any longer. By the time Lee was ten, he was in the 5th grade, but he was on 8th and 9th grade level subjects. The school, Gables Academy, told me, "be pre- pared, Lee would probably graduate high school before he was 14 years of age."
Lee was an exceptional student, he was also in little league baseball, football and soccer, and also in the Boy Scouts. Lee was studying so hard in Scouts and he was achieving all kinds of awards. Lee said, "he wanted to be the youngest Eagle Scout in the country."
He was working very hard for that and I believe he would have made it, as Lee always achieved what he set his mind to.
It was April of 1980, five years since my husband Walt passed away. I was engaged and planned to re-marry on May 24th of that year. My son Lee was about to get a step-dad. Actually, I was also getting a step-son. My soon to be husband had custody of his son, Roland, the boys were just one year and one month in age apart. I had an older son, Chuck who was up North in Pennsylvania going to school. Chuck was graduating on June 5th of that year. So you see in 1980 we had a lot of things going on. We even had the riots in Miami that year.
Joe (my fiancee) knew how much we loved country music, as he did, but especially Eddy Arnold. He heard Eddy was going to perform at the Sunrise Music Theater here in South Florida and as a surprise for Lee and I, Joe got us tickets. Front row center so to speak. Eddy was performing there with Rip Taylor. Well, the evening of the performance, I took the picture down off the wall of Eddy and Lee. I told Lee I was just going to take it in case I could show it to someone. Lee said wait, and he ran off to write a little note to go with the picture. It read, "Mr. Arnold, now 10 years later and I'm still your greatest fan in the theater tonight. When we arrived at the theater, I sent the picture along with Lee's note backstage with the stagehand. A short time later the picture was returned with a message from Eddy to meet him backstage after the show. WOW!!!! Lee was all aglow. Now he was going to really meet the man who meant so much to him over the years, his idol.
Well, needless to say the show was fabulous. That evening we all were transformed into a magical place with ballads, laughs, romance, love and such a mystical musical performance, no one in that audience wanted to see the evening come to an end. But, when it did, our evening continued backstage with Eddy, his wife, Rip and the others who made that night such a success. Lee was so far above the clouds, I think he was floating for days. What an honor to celebrate a great evening with such a fine gentleman.
That evening was one of the highlights in Lee's life. Lee said, "the other was getting up in Church at our revival to testify he loved the Lord and he knew that Jesus died to save us all. (Lee's favorite Bible verse was John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life." ) Lee said, "He knows, when he dies he's going to heaven because Jesus died for all the bad things he ever did in his life and he asked for forgiveness and he believes in God." I was so proud of that child I can't begin to tell you. And I will remember Lee's words forever and the memories I have of such a wonderful son.
Well, on May 24th at 7:05 in the evening we all became a family. When the minister asked, " who gives this woman," my older son Chuck (who walked me down the isle and gave me away) said, "my brother and I." Chuck had come down to Florida from Pennsylvania just for the wedding along with my parents. Chuck, my parents and I would leave to drive back to Pa. in a week. Chuck was graduating on June 5th, so I was going back for his graduation. Lee and Roland would stay in Fla. with Joe, my new husband, and paint the duplex we would all live in. Chuck graduated and went on a graduation trip/party to the New Jersey sea-shore, and I flew home.
Nine days later, we had a Church picnic, it was Flag Day, and the day before Father's Day. My husband was in the Navy reserve and had week-end duty at that time. Joe had made arrangements that he would take off part of that week- end and finish up his duty the following week-end so he would be home with us and able to go to the picnic. Due to the fact that Sunday was Father's Day, Lee insisted Saturday, on giving Joe, his new Dad, the gifts he bought. I tried to make him wait like Roland was doing, but Lee kept saying, " no I can't, I have to give them to him today, not tomorrow but today before we go to the picnic. Mom, I have to, please!" So as Joe walked in the door, Lee ran the gifts to him. Joe said, "what's this, Father's Day isn't until tomorrow." Lee said," I know but I have to give them to you today, now." So Joe said O.K., let's do this so we can get to the picnic. Lee was so happy with Joe, they went fishing together, they both loved stamp collecting and of course soft-ball and bowling. They were both into playing ball, and Lee was very, very good at it. As I look back now on that day, I really think Lee must have had a premonition - somewhere in his mind that if he didn't give those gifts to Joe before the picnic, he wouldn't be able to give him the gifts at all.
It was quite a day, that Flag Day, June 14th, 1980. The men of the Church got a little soft ball game together. (Only Men, NO CHILDREN.) Lee begged and pleaded with the men to let him try out and if they thought after he tried out he couldn't play well enough, that was all right with him, but please, he said, " let me try out." Well, the men were amazed at how well Lee played. In fact when the men were picking up sides for the two teams, they were all fighting to have Lee play on their team. I was so impressed with Lee's ability to hold his own at age 10 with grown men. I knew he played little league good (his team came in 1st place the past 2 years), but to play with the men of our Church, that was impressive. He played second base and unless the ball was hit in the out field, not a ball got past Lee. If the ball came anywhere around him, he was there to stop it and throw it to first base or home plate. The men couldn't believe the arm that kid had. He was a real athlete, and made everyone stop what they were doing and watch the game. Lee had quite a day for himself at the picnic. He talked so much about maybe becoming a professional ball player. And you know, I think he would have been able to succeed in anything he put his mind to. He was an exceptional student, a great ball player, a terrific scout, and he loved so many things and did so many things well. I'm sure he would have had a hard time deciding what he would like to be as a man. Lee use to say, "it doesn't matter what he does when he grows up, just as long as he does it with the Love of the Lord." I think he got that phrase from one of the songs we sing at our Church. When we greet people in the congregation we sing "I Love You With The Love of the Lord."
Ten minutes after we came home from the picnic, Lee and Roland asked if they could go across the street in the empty lot and play catch. I said, "yes, but didn't you have enough ball for one day?". Lee said, "it will just be until you and Dad put the picnic stuff away." So off they went to play ball. Joe and I finished cleaning up and I went to jump into the shower just as Roland ran in yelling that Lee got hit with a car. I was soaking wet and I put my clothes on without even getting dry. Joe and I ran to l67th Street (it's a three lane road with a light at a crosswalk). We found Lee approximately 120 feet down from the crosswalk in the first lane. The ambulance and paramedics had just arrived and would not let me get near Lee. As I looked at my son, lying there, still with his baseball glove tucked up under his arm like he always carried it, a million things went through my mind. I was shaking so badly all I could do was pray for him. The paramedics would not let me ride in the ambulance with Lee as they whisked him away to the hospital. Joe, Roland and I ran back to the house, I ran in, got my wallet with all the insurance information in it and we rushed to the hospital. On arrival, they made us stay in the emergency room. Joe went and called our Pastor, Rev. Larry Snyder. Some of our Church family were still at the church cleaning up, they all stopped what they were doing and rushed to the hospital which was only 8 - 10 blocks away.
There was a Nun in the emergency room waiting with others, she came over to us to find out what happened. Our Pastor told her we were praying for Lee, she immediately went back to her group and they started praying for Lee also. Of course, it was all we could do at that point, from there on it was in God's hands. Pastor Larry kept telling me, "Jan, remember- "God does no wrong," "God does no wrong."
In a short time (a time that seemed like an eternity to me), a nurse came and asked us to go into another room. I said, "Lee's gone. This is what the hospitals do when they want to tell you that your loved one has passed away." In the room, we were told they did everything they could for Lee, but there was no hope for his survival, Lee had no brain waves, he was brain dead. I screamed at Pastor Larry, "how can you say God does no wrong when Lee was such a wonderful child, so loving and kind to everyone, into sports and scouts, and attending Church every Sunday and prayer meeting every Wednesday, how, just how, can you say God does no wrong when God can take a beautiful child and let so many others out there who are on drugs and don't love the Lord stay alive." Oh! I couldn't understand any of this. We went to see Lee then and he looked as if he were sleeping. Yeah, he had a lot of tubes connected to him, but Lee looked just like a little angel lying there, so peaceful and quiet. I told him, "you will not have any more pain and I loved him so very much."
That evening, all I can remember is going back to the Pastor's home. We called my parents to tell them Lee was gone. Joe had called them from the hospital to tell them Lee was hit by a car, they were just waiting to hear he was all right. But, that wasn't the case, and we had to break the news to them that they had just lost their youngest grandson. Roland kept saying it was all his fault and that he lost the only brother he ever had. Roland stayed at the Pastor's home that night. Pastor took Joe and me home.
As we sat that evening with Lee's dog Tammy (a small white cockapoo), I just felt like I was in my worst nightmare and couldn't wake up. I couldn't cry anymore, I just sat and stared in a daze. How could this happen. Lee was always careful about going close to the street, especially that one. He always pushed the button at the crosswalk before trying to go into that street. I just couldn't understand what could have happened. Later we found out that Lee was hit through no fault of his own. But the fact still remained, Lee was gone, he was gone, my beautiful and loving son was gone. Tammy (Lee's dog) just stood at the window, looking out and kept crying all night long. Joe finally had to put her into Lee's bedroom. She ran right up onto his bed and stayed there crying.
I don't know how I ever got through those early days of planning Lee's funeral. Had it not been for God carrying me, my Pastor and my husband Joe, I truly don't think I would be here today. But, God had other plans for me, I was not aware of at that time. But, without my God I know today that I would not have survived Lee's death. God is so good, even when you curse Him and tell Him He doesn't know what He's doing. God is Faithful, always.
I just made it through the viewing. All our friends and family were there, along with the scouts, the baseball teams, football teams, soccer teams and members from two Church families. Holy Cross Lutheran Church, with Pastor Karl Kruger, where Lee first attended pre-school, kindergarten and first grade, and also went to scouts there, and our own church, North Miami Beach Church of the Nazarene, with Pastor Larry Snyder, all there with love and support.
I was permitted to view Lee and put whatever I wanted into his casket. I put his glove and ball, his highest scout award, his baseball bat, his Bible, his favorite little matchbox car in his hand and Roland wanted to give Lee his favorite rabbits foot. I also put Lee's father's watch on him, the one Walt gave him before he passed away to wear when he got older, and I also put in the U.S. Flag that was given to us when we buried Walt. I had given it to Lee, and it was his, now.
If one believes in the Bible and trusts our God to do no wrong, that is a Faith we can live on. That and only that has gotten me through so many bad days, especially since Lee is gone. During the time I was grieving for Lee, (and for myself without him) I played Eddy's records over and over and over again. Many of the love songs Eddy sang, like "The Last Word In Lonesome Is Me", "Make The World Go Away," "Welcome To My World", and several others, I would play and cry all day long. Sure some of the words are for couples who were in a broken hearted love, but I also was broken hearted, and they were Eddy's and Lee's songs. I could listen to those songs and hear Lee singing them along with Eddy. It's a wonder I didn't wear out those records. But to tell you the truth, they were a real healing power for me. After a while, I played the records less, (well not all day anyway). But little by little with Eddy's songs, the help I received from my Pastor and our friends and family, I can truly say I'm a survivor to one of the worst things that can happen in your lifetime.
I thought when I lost my husband and had two boys to raise on my own, to be both Mother and Father to, was the hardest thing I would ever have to do in my life. Oh!, how wrong I was. When I lost Lee, I felt there was nothing worth living for any longer. My oldest son, Chuck, was now out of high school and old enough to take care of himself, or so I thought. And my baby was gone and didn't really need me any more and I was so lost without that child of mine. It's really very hard to put into words how you feel unless you've been there yourself. What is it they say, "you don't know unless you've walked in my shoes".
I feel that is so true in many situations in life, but you can help others who have also lost children. And I intend to do just that after I'm through doing the job that God intended for me to finish up first. And that is taking care of my 88 year old mother. She came to live with me 6 years ago after my dad past away. She has had many health problems and of course very lonely for my dad after 64 years of marriage. Not too many out there can say they've been with the same man in marriage for 64 years. I know I can't and the world has changed so. I know Eddy can say that also and know what I mean when I say it. I really think those times are gone for most of us now in this world we live in today. So, when I finish taking care of my mother, and our Lord calls her home to be with Him and my dad, I will start to help other people who have lost children in various ways, and I plan to write a book on all my experiences in my life. I put together many chapters of my life and what effect they had on my life and how I made it through all the heartaches this world can dish out to you. I'm a survivor of many of life's situations and I know I can help others that find themselves in the same situations, but don't have any idea how they will get through the next day.
I know this story of mine was very long, but I think it's very important to remember the good times you've had in your life and this was about Lee and Eddy's times spent together. Even though for two some short times, Eddy has lived with us in our hearts, in his music, and his experiences in his and his families life. When you get into someone's music the way we were into Eddy's, you feel that you almost become a part of them. When something happens in their life you feel for them just as if it were your own family.
I also hope you like the pictures attached to this story. They really mean a great deal to me and I surely hope that if at any time you come across someone who needs a helping hand in their time of need, (whatever it is) that you'll go that extra step and try to encourage them to keep moving on. Yes, there are bad days, but there are so many more good days remembering the good times spent in living with your loved ones.
THANK YOU EDDY, YOU'RE THE GREATEST, WHETHER YOU KNOW IT ORNOT !!!!!!!!!!!
ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF LEE MY MEMORIES Oh! To hold you once more would be,
The best of miracles in the world to me.
It's been so long since you've been gone,
And the pain in my heart just doesn't belong.
Happy memories of you give me strength to go on,
Just remembering that smile and laughter now gone.
My memories will last for eternity,
For our love was pure and had dignity.
Our years were short, yours and mine,
Your life moved on to another time.
Someday soon I'll move on there too,
Memories to reality, I'd then be with you.
We'll be together in a much better place,
With no more pain and heartache to face.
You'll live in my heart forever my dear,
'Til we're together again, I'll shed all my tears
My memories will hold me, love me and more,
I'll face whatever life has in store.
Having your memories will keep me warm,
I'll be with you soon at the end of life's storm.
Jan: Many thanks for sharing this beautiful narrative with Eddy Arnold fans.
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