It was time. Dad escaped from his failing shell of a body this morning. He waited. He decided to surprise his mother on her birthday.
What a gift—to both of them.
Beyond showing up on time for his meeting with the Lord, we determined he was most pleased to see his Mama, siblings, and dear friends who left too early.
I think most about Martin Smith, one of his most beloved friends and a fellow Reverend. The two were inseparable on earth, faithful to their God, families, and flocks, but man, oh man, could those two laugh and carry on.
Our families spent many camping trips laughing so hard we cried because of their antics.
I was blessed to get there in time to say one last goodbye. My sister had played George Beverly Shea’s music through the night, and in the waning moments of a life well lived, I put on some baseball play-by-play from the 1958 World Series.
Mantle had one heck of a series, but the real story was Bob Turley in game five. Both on the mound and at the plate, Turley performed.
Dad had talked to me about the game years ago—he listened on the radio, so it seemed fitting that if he could still hear the world around him, he’d most appreciate some baseball.
In 1960, my Dad tried out for the Yankees at an open tryout at Yankee Stadium. He cut out of classes from Bible College in Nyack, New York, to give it a shot. Dad was good enough.
They called him back for a second day; he was a catcher. They gave him a meeting after hitting, running, catching, and running some more. Dad was nineteen.
The scouts advised him that if he was seventeen, they would take a chance on him and put him in the minors, most likely the equal of today’s triple-A baseball.
They asked him to lie about his age on paper, and they could work out the details later. He needed to be younger for them to put the money and effort into honing him into a major league baseball player. He was a powerful batter and caught some major pitching during the tryouts. He had an arm like a rocket launcher.
Dad told them that he couldn’t lie. They couldn’t believe it was any big deal to my Dad—but it was. It always was.
He returned to college crestfallen but holding on to the values he held to the very end. Lies were not acceptable in our house. I tried it. It never ended well.
Dad’s father was killed when a boulder struck a tree, causing the tree to crash over my grandfather’s head near Newry, Maine, after WWII.
My grandmother raised five boys and one daughter independently in Mechanic Falls, Maine. She worked in the tissue paper mill. They grew up beside the railroad tracks and were a tenacious lot.
He and my mom have been together for sixty-six years.
I’ll close with my favorite story he shared with me a few times, and I think about it every time I feel like I’ve had it more challenging than I liked.
Dad’s eldest brother, Joe, lost his eye when he fell on a knife in my grandmother’s kitchen when he was very young. My Dad was hit by a car—directly in the head— while chasing a baseball across the road in 1947. He only lived because the headlight was previously broken and taped up with cardboard, shielding his face from more forceful damage; he was out for days in the hospital and had hundreds of stitches on his face and neck. It made for a tremendous, prominent scar, never making him less handsome to my mother.
I tell you this so you can picture them in the story I keep in my heart.
They were sitting on the front steps one summer day in the late 40s. With no money, eating potatoes and salt pork gravy for many meals, they looked longingly through the window of a nearby bakery quite often.
A mangy dog was walking by them on the side of the road when they spotted the giant, stale cream horn in its mouth. The dog had rummaged through the garbage out back of the bakery and found a treasure.
My father said, “Joe looked at me with his good eye, and I looked at him. We both knew what we had to do. We got up, chased that dog around the side of the house, and cornered it. Joe held the dog, and I wrestled that cream horn out of his mouth. We went back to the steps and split it in half. Maybe not in half, but close anyway. Joe and I ate that slimy old cream horn, and do you know what?
“What, Dad?” I’d say.
“To this very day, I’ve never had a cream horn that tasted any better than that one did. I can still taste it.”
Thank you to my Mama and my three sisters, Robin, Kim, and Priscilla, for their unwavering care for my dear Dad. I was in charge of logistics, so I cannot take credit for the best care he ever had.
Thanks to the Northern Light Hospice team, who helped us figure out the journey through a land we have not had to walk. Excellent care, better ladies.
The messages we’ve all received about people’s experiences with Art Cotton have been uplifting, and they keep coming.
In my book, “The Detective in the Dooryard,” there is a story called “The Best That He Has.” It’s about my Dad’s acceptance of people right where they are; that’s where he would meet them. And he had much experience living on what some might call the wrong side of the tracks. Art was never judgemental about the people he helped or could see were in need of help. He tried to relay that to all of his kids and grandkids.
He was able to meet his latest great-grandson a few weeks ago. We were so thankful that he got that chance.
We were not a photo-taking family, but my wife sent me this photo from my son’s graduation from the Maine State Police Academy. It was in 2019. My Dad and Mom were so proud of their children and their grands and great-grands. The other is self-explanatory—Mom & Dad.
There is also a photo of my sister Priscilla and my Dad after an impromptu fried clam dinner. Art loved seafood.
Art Cotton did it all tenaciously while still being loving and kind; beat that down, Satan. Oh yeah, you can’t
It’s tough to make your father proud, but he accepted me regardless of my ups and downs. His last words to me solidified my belief that he was just that; I need nothing else to feel successful.
From the Jagged Edge of America,
I remain, Art’s son—
I love you, Dad.