Oh, happy day. Oh, happy day.
That’s what I say when an old photograph suddenly falls from the sky, as if an angel personally delivered it, saying, “I hope this lifts your spirit a little bit today.”
They bring back memories of the happiest times.
No one wants to pose for a photograph when they’re sad. Then again, some crazy humans actually love cauliflower, so perhaps the previous sentence is too extreme.
This morning, I’m staring at a few photos from past trips showcasing my father-in-law Randy Turner with members of my family … always smiling … always present.
It’s hard to believe a year ago cancer took his life. Life isn’t fair—enjoy every minute of it, folks. And as much as I used to laugh at the line uttered by Forrest Gump, my family has come to experience that it’s the damn truth.
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” said Forrest. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
In many ways, Randy was like a box of chocolates. He inherited his mom’s sweet soul and was the quiet force who brought calm and joy to any room he entered.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I loved my father-in-law. He was my friend. He was my traveling partner. He was my comrade whenever a big concert arrived in town. He was the one person who I could sit with on a porch for hours, simply talking about nothing important and enjoying every minute of it. And even on a few special occasions, he was my drinking buddy.
Randy was such a kind, giving man. He was so kind at times he made me feel terrible about myself (and I mean those words in the highest form of flattery because he was that good of a person). Oh, how I’ve wished and prayed to be granted at least an ounce of his wonderful traits of always being the calmest person in the room whenever a storm hits.
It wasn’t always easy for him.
He married his wife, Lynde, and became a father to my wife, Ali, at a young age. When he decided to apply as an undergraduate at West Georgia College, the admissions representative told him, “I don’t really think you’re college material.”
Randy applied anyway and enrolled while working two jobs to support his family.
Eventually, he would prove the college admissions counselor wrong by completing his core curriculum with good grades, which would lead to his acceptance into the Mercer College of Pharmacy. For the next several years, he would commute to the Atlanta campus while balancing his other duties and responsibilities working for his father-in-law at Lovvorn Pharmacy.
He never complained.
Randy’s grit and perseverance paid off after he graduated from Mercer. In 1988, he purchased Don Bohannon’s pharmacy and thus began a new chapter for the life of the drugstore on Dixie Street in Carrollton. Turner Pharmacy has been — and continues to be — a mainstay that has served thousands of customers through the years.
A few years ago, I read a wonderful book titled “The Last Lecture.” The book centers around Carnegie Mellon University Professor Randy Pausch’s life-long lessons that he delivered to his students after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the book, Pausch delivers such wisdom when he says:
“The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.”
My father-in-law lived his life spending time on the right things. He didn’t have to tell anyone.
He simply taught these life lessons to those who knew him best:
Make time for family. The family who eats together stays together. He loved treating his spouse, four daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, and any other stragglers to great meals, whether it was a five-star restaurant in Atlanta or Captain D’s.
Travel now. He never was the person who said, “When I retire, I want to go Yosemite, Napa Valley, Maine, or wherever.” He knew tomorrow may never come. Do it now.
Watch good movies. He didn’t waste time on silly plots. Even as he lay dying, he watched good Western movies starring icons of the genre from Clint Eastwood to Jimmy Stewart.
Treat people with extreme kindness. As my friend Jeri Garner said, “I’ve known Randy as a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. During the last few years, having the joy of helping at Turner Pharmacy, I saw he was such a kind, fair, gentle, and loving man to all whom he came in contact with. He treated everyone the same whether they were the big spenders, the lonely people with drug addictions, the customer that he covered large debts, and even the shoplifters.”
Prove the naysayers wrong. Oh, by the way, the representative at West Georgia College who told Randy he wasn’t college material eventually became a long-time customer at Turner Pharmacy.
There’s no substitute for hard work and perseverance. When he became ill last year, I asked him, “Randy, in all of the years I’ve known you, I can’t recall a single day where you called in sick and couldn’t go to work.” “I haven’t,” he replied. That’s remarkable for a pharmacist who spent his working hours around sick people every day.
Never complain. There’s another line I love from “The Last Lecture” when Pausch says, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
I never heard Randy grumble, nor saw him get upset, or say a negative word about anyone. He was always the calmest person in the room — and that’s saying a lot for a man who raised four daughters, especially through the teenage years. And even after he was diagnosed with cancer, he never complained.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without,” writes author Anne Lamott, “And your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly; that still hurts when the weather gets cold. But you learn to dance with the limp.”
So, life keeps moving. The waves keep crashing, and, the sun keeps shining.
Until we meet again on another shore—may God hold those we’ve lost and loved so dearly in the palm of his hand.