April 22, 2021

Old Daddy Eaves

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy”

How weird to be a university student and football star when your baby sister is born!  Arley’s youngest son was Willard Howard—always known as “Wit” or most often, “Easy.” He was named Willard after Jess Willard, who was the world heavyweight champion. After playing football two years at the local junior college, Tennessee Wesleyan, he got a football scholarship to Duke University.  He was 24 when I was born. His Duke team played in the Rose Bowl the week before I was born, and lost 3-0 to the University of Southern California.  It was a bitter pill to swallow for Arley, who might have ventured to Pasadena for the big game except for my imminent birth. 

This photo shows Easy in pajamas, sitting in an Adirondack chair in our front yard, allegedly changing my diaper!  I feel fairly confident it was completely staged. The photo appeared in the Duke & Duchess football program with the caption, “Old daddy Eaves.”  My first publicity shot would have to be a diaper change!

Easy was always a bright spot in the family. Arley said he always woke up with a smile on his face.  To know him was to love him. He was tall and handsome, casual and fun-loving, and always a loving person. At Duke he met and fell in love with a local beauty, Mildred Parker. She had dimples and a great laugh. After they married, he became an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and spent over 20 years in eastern Kentucky.  It all seemed so glamorous to us—and we loved hearing Easy tell stories about some of his dangerous cases in the Hatfield-McCoy part of the state. Their visits a couple of times a year were always fun! I liked this photo of him posing with Harriett, Arley and me at our house “on the hill.”  Being singled out this way made me feel like I really was his kid sister.

After Arley’s death, Easy and Mildred didn’t come to Athens often. They came for my wedding and little John was a junior attendant. We celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a lovely dinner party at John’s home in Nashville. We gathered for family funerals. I only visited them in Ashland, Kentucky once—one spring break when Heather, Patrick and I spent a few days with them. 

By 2001, when I moved to Nashville, Mildred was gone and Easy was slipping into dementia.  Still sweet and smiling and handsome. Those final months, I was able to visit him often at Barton House.  Once I baked him one of Harriett’s traditional coconut cakes—three layers with the middle one tinted pink.  It was Mildred’s very favorite. He seemed to remember it.  This final picture was the last one we had together. John and I had gone to visit him at the hospital before he went back to Barton House. 

He died on November 28, 2001 at age 86. Even then, he was completely Easy—handsome, smiling and loving!  

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