viewing isaac's life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: April 17, 2017

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Submitted: April 17, 2017



Isaac Eugene McLemore was born on May 22, 1942 in Vonore, Tennessee. He had nine brothers and sisters and didn’t grow up with a lot of money at all. He graduated from Everett High School. After meeting and marrying his wife Carolyn, he joined the Army. He served for 24 years. In those 24 years he did two tours to Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He and his family were stationed a few places in the United States, but also lived a few years each in Germany and in Panama. He was a 1st Bn 506th in 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell. When he did decide to retire from the Army he did so from A Co. 2nd General Hospital in Kaiserslautern, Germany, after an extended tour of duty.

By the time he retired he and his wife, Carolyn, already had had four children together. Isaac, at one point worked three jobs at once in order to get his wife through graduate school to get her Masters in teaching. One of those jobs was as a security guard for a plant in Tennessee. One of the other jobs (this story has always stuck around) was working at a church at night. His job was to clean the big bells in the rafters and anything else that needed cleaning. During this job is when he would often practice his Elvis Presley singing voice. After getting my mimaw through school he ended those extra jobs and soon became a bus driver for the school his wife taught at. My papaw had a huge heart, and an extra tender spot for children. He didn’t just drive a regular bus, he drove the bus for children who had behavioral issues or mental illness. He somehow connected to those children and helped them to be better people. He retired from doing that in May of 2012.

After being fully retired he helped his wife with things around the house and with medical assistance. He also had more time for them to go on trips. They loved going on trips together, the biggest one being a RV trip to Alaska and back.

My papaw was a funny and generous man, ask anyone who has ever come in contact with him. He could make a depressing situation bearable with some jokes and funny stories. He was always the life of any type of party or gathering. I miss his humor.

Isaac McLemore died on Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, at Parkwest Medical Center, during a simple surgery. He was only 71 with a full and healthy rest of his life ahead of him.

Death creates this uneasy feeling, this feeling of disbelief in everyone it touches. Hearing about the death of a loved one is never easy and can evoke different reactions for each individual.  I can remember clear as day where I was and what I felt when I was told the news by my mother that my papaw had passed away. He was scheduled to have a very simple procedure done to unclog an artery in his leg; but he died right there on the operating table. My uncle, my mother’s brother, had called twice during the surgery saying that papaw had gone into cardiac arrest and had two heart attacks so far. The third one killed him. Just that fast, my papaw was gone. I was in disbelief, I remember it took a few seconds to process, like time had slowed down. I remember looking at my brother who wasn’t crying, but was full of anger immediately and started punching walls and yelling. I remember my mother who just cried. One of my first thoughts was “holy shit, papaw won’t see me graduate high school in June.” As I stated, every person’s reaction is different, I did not know this at the time but I learned from an interview with my mother that “My heart was broken at that very moment.  My husband and I’s wedding anniversary is December 3rd. After that call, my anniversary didn't seem so important anymore.  I just remember my two kids crying the rest of the night.” I did not even realize at the time that my parent’s anniversary was the day after his death date. My father was shocked as well, but was more hurt for my mother, than himself. My father already knew what it was like to lose a dad and I think that helped my mother in coping.

My grandmother (mimaw) recalls December 2nd very clearly as well, she was there of course, in the middle of all of it. She’s the one who took him to have the surgery and was the one who was supposed to take him home as well. In her on words she remembers “The last time I saw him was when he had to have some minor surgery.  We had to be at the hospital quite early.  He was his usual jovial self.  Always smiling, always polite.  After he was prepped for his surgery I told him that I loved him and (he being the ‘cut-up’ that he was) told him to behave and that I would see him soon after the surgery.  And he smiled that beautiful smile and gave me a military salute and said, ‘Got that chief.’” I, myself, have no idea what that feels like, to go into something with the love of your life and then leave without them.

Many people heard of his death through phone calls made by my mimaw, I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to let people know what had happened and that Isaac was no longer on this Earth. One of Isaac’s closest friends, Ennis (his first name being Dick, but since they were in the army together his last name was in use more) recalls getting the phone call. “That evening I got the news from Carolyn that he had passed while on the operating table. I was stunned and am still.” Mr. Ennis told me. He also recalls that my papaw had called him the day before the surgery to let him know what was going on and that he would call him again afterwards. Unfortunately, that call was never made.

Through all of this, I have to give my mimaw props. I’ve never seen someone so strong in my life. She handled the funeral wonderfully, she had everything in order and it went on without a hitch. A few years before this accident Carolyn (mimaw) and Isaac had picked out what cemetery they wanted to be buried in, seeing as how my papaw was a veteran they wanted to be in a veteran cemetery. I think the planning of this helped her a great deal in the overall process. Along with that fact that my mimaw had tons of support from both within the family and from friends as well as the community. With that being said, I think it’s time I move on and try to express just how wonderful my papaw really was.

Talk to any of his ten grandkids and you will quickly learn that nobody left his house hungry or wanting. I remember whenever we would go up to visit them in Tennessee he would call me and ask me what I wanted for dinner and what kind of snacks I wanted while I was there for the week, even down to the drinks. He would always make homemade dishes. I remember being there one summer out at the pool and just absolutely craving something sweet, he didn’t have much that day but almost out of thin air he made some sort of peach ice cream concoction to give to us grandkids. My cousin Malaki says he remembers our papaw saying “Don't leave this house hungry.” As my mother was recalling memories she also had one related to how he catered to people in his house, saying “He knew what each one of them (grandkids) liked and would make sure that they had everything they wanted.  He used to say all the time, ‘are you hungry? no grandkid of mine will every leave this house hungry.  What do you need, just tell me and I'll get it, make it, buy it, or order it’?” And that is true. I swear I had to of gained ten pounds every time I went for a visit.  

Isaacs’ generosity was impeccable, I have yet to meet someone who could compare when it comes to that. Mr. Ennis states “We were being stationed at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center. Isaac volunteered to be my sponsor to help us get settled when we arrived in Germany.  The thing I remember most about him was how well he took care of us after we arrived in Germany. He had already rented us a house, had food in the fridge even let me borrow his car until we bought one. Isaac and I became fast friends. He was the most generous man that I had ever met. He cared deeply about his wife & children.” It’s always interesting for me to hear how other people viewed him long before I even entered this world.

I don’t think I have ever met a more selfless man, a more caring man. After retiring from the army (this was one of his last jobs he had) he became a bus driver for the special needs children. These children were more on the behavioral needs spectrum rather than physical. My mother recalls this job well saying “He loved those kids on his bus.  He was able to get kids on that bus to speak and laugh that would never do that before he drove that bus.  And don't let him find out that one of those kids was in foster care!!  He would have my mother buying special Christmas gifts for those kids.  They all loved him dearly.  He cared about everyone and wanted to make sure everyone around him was happy and content.” My papaw didn’t have to do those things and go the extra mile, but he did, without a second thought about it. He loved those children as much as he loved us grandkids, he would participate in as many of their events as he could, the special Olympics being one of his favorites. My papaw was a people person, if I ever did see one. I don’t think he ever met a stranger. He was always talking to someone when we went out in public or striking up a conversation with some kids (I think that’s why it’s so easy for me to talk to people now) and making them laugh or cut up.

Speaking of laughing, my papaw was the king of jokesters. One of his classic jokes/tricks was the popping cup trick, Malaki remembers this the most, saying he was always amazed. Another trick was the jumping bean in a bag, this one, till this day has me a little baffled. He would take a brown paper bag (often from the PX or commissary on base) and hold it in front of us, then right before our eyes something in the bag would appear to jump inside, he would then open the bag and show us that it was empty. I am still not quite sure how he did this trick. These tricks were his signature though, always guaranteed to entertain us grandkids and keep us occupied. My father remembers always being able to have a good laugh with him whenever he was around. Papaw was even cutting up and making me and my cousin, Khierra, laugh at my mamaw’s funeral. As awful as it sounds it was actually a good thing. There was so much sadness in that church and then all of a sudden my cousin and I remember hearing a lot of laughter, we looked over across the room and there was my papaw cracking jokes with some elderly women. Aside from actual jokes, I would say my papaw had a quick tongue, as in a quick sarcastic tongue. I feel like he was always ready to fire back with a sarcastic answer or with something funny in general.

I would like to take a few paragraphs to discuss Isaac and Carolyn as a whole. This is an important part in understanding my papaw.  I’ve never seen a love like it to be honest. From seeing and hearing about their relationship I really think I learned how a man is supposed to treat a woman. My mimaw and papaw were married for 51 years. They met-actually, I’ll let Carolyn tell it. “My earliest memory of Isaac McLemore was in the summer of 1961 when I returned home on summer break from college.  And what I remember most was his good looks and very winsome smile.  He was pumping gas at the village gas station where I went to buy gas in order to drive to my summer job.  Always smiling and very courteous, he quite took my breath away. I stopped several more times afterwards to buy gas.  One of these times I was with my mother and (by this time we had exchanged smiles and pleasantries) he asked my mother if he could call me sometime.  This courteous gesture really impressed her and she agreed, but I never thought he would; but he did call and we started dating.  It was love at first sight.” As a grandchild I had heard this story a few times, unfortunately never from my papaw, now that he’s gone I wish I had asked him more questions about his life. Of course their love story doesn’t just end there, it really took off that following summer as Carolyn recalls “We had a whirlwind of a summer.  We had simple dates such as going for rides, going to watch the planes at the local airport, visiting family and friends, attending church, and sometimes watching a picture show at the drive-in theater. But, most of the time he just enjoyed being at my home playing ball with my brothers and sometimes listening to me playing the piano for him as he sang ‘Love Me Tender’”. I wish everyone could have heard him sing. He always was singing Elvis; in a rather good voice I might admit, seeing as how my mimaw just adored Elvis Presley.

I remember my papaw taking care of my mimaw distinctly, always opening doors for  her, always getting her coffee, always saying “Do you need anything Mrs. McLemore?” That was my favorite line from him and I can hear it clear as day. He took very good care of his Granddaughters as well, there are only three girls with seven boys. A lot of the times he would let the girls do things first, or take one of the girls out for dinner or lunch instead of the boys. If you were one of the granddaughters you wouldn’t dare open your own care door, he would swoop right in and get it for us; once again showing us how a man is supposed to treat a lady.

Being in the Army enhanced Isaac’s love of travel. The last big voyage he took with his wife was a cross country RV trip to Alaska. They started from their home in Tennessee and drove straight up to Alaska. This was a bucket list trip for him. My mimaw tells me how important this trip was for him and that she is so glad it was completed before his death. I loved seeing the pictures of them as they would post them throughout the journey. Just two retired lovebirds on a whirlwind adventure. Looking as young and as in love as ever. On the way back from this trip they stopped at Mr. Ennis’ home in Idaho to see him, “The last time that we (my wife and I) saw him & Carolyn was in Pocatello, Idaho on their way back from a trip to Alaska.”  Mr. Ennis states. It was important to Isaac to see his old Army buddy and close friend.

After his death, and the funeral and all the initial mourning my family had a chance to reflect more on Isaac’s life. All of us believe there are signs being sent to us to let us know he is still around. The hummingbird is a big symbol for my family. See, one time my papaw found a wounded hummingbird and nursed it back into its prime and then released it. So when we see a hummingbird lingering around just a little longer than normal we believe it is him, watching out for us. There are so many things that remind me of him and its comforting, even down to certain smells, especially Red Man chewing tobacco. I can smell that stuff from a mile away.  I think my favorite is when I see an older man that looks like him and I truly believe that somehow that is my papaw just looking after me from a distance.

As a family we try to honor his memory the best we can, talking about him, looking at pictures from the past, never letting him stray from our memory.

When asked what everyone misses about Isaac, these are some of the answers I got: “What I miss most about him is him.  He was so funny.  No one could ever have a bad day being with him.  No matter what was going on in our lives, he made it better with his love for us and his love of life.  I miss him every day and remember a lot of good times we all had as a family.” Says my mother.

My mimaw had these final words to say “One can best define Isaac McLemore as a cheerful easy-going man.  All who knew him loved him.  He was a man of honor for the love of his country, a man of honor for the love of his wife and family.  He was important to us and it is very hard to get along without him.  But we can be assured that his spirit lives on and he is always with us whether as a butterfly, a hummingbird, or a cardinal.  He was my hero, the love of my life, and ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’.”

Death is never easy and often hard to understand, but I think it is important for that person’s memory to live on and to ask people questions about them. Especially if they were such an amazing person like Isaac.

Attached are some photos of Isaac, his wife, his grandchildren and major events in his life that were discussed in this paper. Also, if you would like to make a donation to the Wounded Warriors Project in Isaac’s name you can do so here:

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