James Lemuel Creel 1920-1989

      It’s been twenty-seven years since James Lemuel Creel, my father-in-law, passed away, and I still think of him quite often. I was married to his daughter for the last twenty eight years of his life, and with our marriage now passing the fifty-five year mark, I find I am now older than he was when he left us. It’s a sobering realization because somehow in my mind I don’t feel my age, and yet in years past when I looked at my parents and father-in-law when they were the age I am now they seemed so…ancient. Let me tell you, growing old is not for the weak of heart…no pun intended.
     My first contact with Lemuel Creel (hardly anyone called him James) was when my mom and dad began attending Peace Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church in about 1950. “Brother Lemuel” was the assistant pastor of the church pastored by Reverend V.A. Guidroz in Baytown, Texas. In those early years Pastor Guidroz was also the District Superintendent for the Texas District of the UPC and due to that fact had to take an occasional trip around the district doing church business. During those short absences, Brother Lemuel would ably conduct the local church services. Even as a kid I can remember that I always enjoyed his sermons because he told good stories and analogies to back up the points he was trying to make.
     My relationship with the Creel family got ratcheted up several notches when as a teenager I realized that he had a daughter who, with just a smile or a frown, could make or ruin my day. Fortunately, the spark seemed to be mutually encouraged, and in our teen years, Shirley and I were usually “dating,” “going steady,” or “good friends,” with only an occasional “don’t call me, I’ll call you” thrown in.      There were bumps along the road for Lemuel. Buadda, his wife and Shirley’s mother, died of cancer in 1957 when Shirley was 16. Shirley dropped out of the teenage romance game and assumed the role of substitute mother for her younger siblings. Later, Lemuel married Geraldine Lewis, a widow with a teenage daughter a year younger than Shirley. With a new mother and a new sister, Shirley was relieved of some of the motherly responsibilities and reentered the dating scene, and of course I was there to help her get started again. By that time I owned a car and could come a-calling whenever I thought it safe. It was at that time I began to realize that Lemuel had certain rules and guidelines for the home and for guys taking his daughter various places. At the time Shirley and I thought we were being severely persecuted, but, looking back now as a parent and grandparent, he was pretty easy with us. I could never be really sure if he liked me or not, although I will admit that in those days I was shy enough that I could hardly carry on a conversation with anyone, so he and I never really had any extended discussions until years later.
     But one thing I will never forget was the night I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. This charmingly quaint tradition, long since forgotten in these modern times, goes back hundreds of years, and I, the dutiful suitor, did as I was expected. Shirley and I along with Lemuel and Geraldine sat in their family room chatting about some inane subject while my mind raced about what I was going to say and my shirt got increasingly wet from a nervous sweat. Finally, during a pregnant pause, I blurted out, ”Brother Lemuel, may I marry your daughter?” I really think during the next fifteen seconds my heart did not take a beat. Finally he responded with the words that would ring in my head for years, “Well, I guess there’s nothing I can do to stop it!” I was so happy he did not say no that I totally missed the complete lack of enthusiasm on his part. Anyway, on August 18, 1961, Shirley and I were united in holy matrimony.
     Now, before you begin to think that my personal self esteem was permanently damaged by my father-in-law’s lack of enthusiasm about our marriage, let me say it’s true my relationship with my in-laws was sort of arms length for those first few years, but as I have become more educated and mature and watched my own children grow, learn, and prosper, I can now look back through time and see myself through my father-in-law’s eyes as we sat in that family room in 1961. And when I see what I was in 1961, I realize that if I had been Brother Lemuel in that room, I would have thrown me out the door. There I sat, all of eighteen years old, no education, working basically as a laborer for my dad’s company, and didn’t have a hundred dollars to my name. Even scarier, my mom and dad had taken me to Austin, Texas, and enrolled me in the University of Texas in May of that year to begin my college career…and I canceled the whole thing because I wanted to stay home and get married. My parents and Shirley’s parents should have gotten us all together and said something to the effect that if you love each other get your education and then get married. But they didn’t, and you know what? It worked out anyway. And for that I thank God and the fact that we both had good families. Of course, there was another reason…in our religious culture of that time, divorce was not an option. Couples worked out their problems. And we were so young and naïve we had a lot of growing up to do after we married.
     A couple of years after we married, Lemuel suffered a second shock when Geraldine was diagnosed with cancer, and I can remember being in the hospital room when the diagnosis was announced to the family. Lemuel leaned his head against the wall and began to weep, and the rest of us bowed our heads and stood there like statues. It never occurred to me to put a hand on his shoulder or try to comfort in any way. I still feel guilty about that. A few months later, Geraldine was sent home to spend her final days. During one of the evenings when Shirley and I were spending the night with them, there suddenly was a commotion in Geraldine’s room. We all rushed in to see her taking her final breaths. The gasps for air came farther and farther apart until they ceased. Lemuel said quietly, “Well, she fought a good fight.”  He covered her head with the sheet and calmly dialed the funeral home and asked them to send a hearse. He hung up the phone, lowered his head, and wept. And again, I stood there.
     Lemuel suffered financially as well as emotionally with his two cancer experiences, but the next few years were much more favorable. He married Anniedeen Bateman, a long time family friend who brought stability to the family. She is practically the only mother the younger siblings have ever known. In 1972 the family moved to Casper, Wyoming, where Lemuel accepted the pastorship of a small church, and began to teach welding in the vocational department of Casper College. In 1973, Buddy and Jeannie, his son and daughter-in-law, followed them to Wyoming, and in 1974, Shirley and I joined the family. It was during these years from 1974 to 1989 in Wyoming that my respect and esteem for my father-in-law grew dramatically. He was a man of character who also possessed a temper which could flare at the most unlikely time. He was highly suspicious of government at any level, and watched his money like a hawk. He was not “tight,” the term we used to use for people who begrudged spending a penny. He did not mind spending money for something for the family; it was just that he kept track of where it all went. Speaking candidly, I never subscribed to that policy and am paying the price for my sloppy financial management even as I write this. I finally learned my lesson a few years ago, but when I think of all the money we frittered away, I get depressed.
     About the time we moved to Wyoming, I wrote a letter to Lemuel and Anniedeen, telling them that I would like to get beyond the “Brother Lemuel” and “Sister Anniedeen” and call them “Dad” and “Mom.” By then the arms length relationship of our youthful years seemed somehow inappropriate and didn’t reflect the current bonding we had with them. Needless to say, they graciously consented, and they have been “Dad” and “Mom” ever since, and I will use those terms for the rest of this paper.
     The fact that I can now talk for a fairly long time about practically anything is partly Dad’s fault. In the small church we attended, everyone had a job to do, and many times when Dad was out of service because of his health problems, I was forced to fill in. In Wyoming, if your preacher is out of action, you don’t call for a sub. There is no one else. You make do with what you have. So I was forced to learn how to speak, and in doing so found out that I sort of enjoyed presenting my ideas. At the time, I also had taken a selling job which forced me to think and speak on my feet, so I was able to finally escape from my mummy-like trance of my first thirty years.
     As I’ve said earlier, Dad taught welding at Casper College for years, and one semester I decided to take a course from him. I figured it couldn’t be too hard and would be fun. Boy, I found out that you need the delicate hands of a surgeon to keep that welding rod from sticking. Dad would tell the class, “Now, do it just like this,” and he would run a welding bead so perfect you would think someone had used their finger to just smear the metal in place. And it didn’t matter what the position…horizontal, vertical, upside down, his welding was a work of art. On my best day, my welding looked like someone had used chunks of bubble gum to seal the crack.
     During the last few years of our Wyoming tenure when I worked at an auto dealership in Casper, I would go to work about eight in the morning, but I would first swing by my in-laws house for coffee and breakfast along the way. It was a most enjoyable tradition, and we had many wonderful conversations as we began our day. Dad was most happiest when he was talking about motorhoming and traveling. He loved winter, and when we had our few dog days of summer, he was quick to say, “Man, I’m ready for the snow to fly!” And he meant it.
     On August 28, 1989, after being diagnosed with another heart aneurysm, Dad’s heart problems finally caught up with him, and during a simple heart catharization procedure something went terribly wrong. The results were that Dad passed away the next day, August 29. Ministers and friends from around the Rocky Mountain District came to pay their respects. Little did Shirley and I realize how his passing would affect us, and that within two years we would move back to Texas and begin new careers. The thing I remember most vividly about the next day or so was when, after all the well-wishers had gone back to their homes, the family gathered at Dad and Mom’s place for our first dinner after the funeral. Dad always had his favorite spot to sit at the dining room table, just as we all did. This time, however, when everyone went to sit, Dad’s chair at the end of the table remained empty, as if no one really wanted to sit in Dad’s place. There was about a minute or two of sort of milling about, and finally Buddy sat down in Dad’s chair, and everyone else followed suit and found our places. The torch had been passed.