"The Call" came.
April 1, 2005.
How do you go to a funeral for someone who is literally "larger than life"? A few days later, the faculty and staff of the Journalism Department somberly headed north, in several groups, to Wichita. There they found an elegant Catholic church, only a few blocks from The Illidge manse. First driving by the manse, on the red brick streets, under the towering elms, past the porch and memories, they arrived early.
All but one of the group, The Afghan Traveler, were Protestant, and at first uneasy walking through the front doors. But there was a photograph of The Illidge, in a Missouri sweatshirt, to welcome them, and down front were two reserved pews, near the family, for the Okies.
In came the Sweet Pea and the "chillen" as The Illidge called them. Sons Bob and Andy, daughters Fran and Sarah and Little Liz, and lots of grandchildren. Behind the Oklahoma pews were many of the parishioners who knew The Illidge from long before his Oklahoma sojourn.
Then the graying priest stood up, before Mass, and made the "visitors from Oklahoma" welcome with the kindest of words. During his homily there were tears, and laughter, as it should have been. During Mass, as The Traveler stood, along with the parishioners, and the other Oklahomans were seated, but no longer strangers in a strange land, but welcomed.
Afterward, downstairs a scrumptious meal was served, again with photographs of The Illidge on the tables. The Okies were greeted as members of the family, and there was considerable conversation and introductions.
At last, the Okies left, headed back south, somber, but also telling stories, espcially about the ceiling fan.
Instead of flowers for a funeral for someone dead, they combined funds and bought a living redbud tree from a Wichita nursery, which was planted in The Illidge's front yard.
It still blooms every spring.
Only one chapter and an epilogue remain in this narrative, which has become exceedingly difficult for The Clark to write. The PR Princess this week told him that if Bob is reading it, he would say "That's OK, Boss." The Queen Bee said The Illidge, the jazz man, might forgive The Clark for writing the previous rap. It accompanied the only retirement reception for a professor ever organized by the students at UCO.
This coming week, Sept. 15, would be his 79th birthday.
To be continued