Jasper “J.B.” Bowman
On Wednesday, Bill C and I traveled to Richmond to attend the funeral of Jasper, “J.B.” Bowman. Some thoughts from our trip:
J.B. Fosters a Friendship
Although I only met him in person once, it’s possible I owe my entire friendship to Larry to this man. (This musing is sort of a “lite” version of Clint’s I Should Not Be Alive thoughts). You see, Jasper Bowman was a pathfinder during WWII, including the D-Day invasion. Pathfinders would typically drop before the rest of the paratroopers to set up lights and markers for the landing areas. So Larry’s father actually landed in St. Mere Eglise (which Larry, Sean, Stacy and I visited in 2004) the night before D-Day, preparing the way for the paratroopers the next night.
When Larry first started working at QualTrax, I didn’t really converse with him that much. He was just this weird man who Mike Miller and I suspected had a crush on another co-worker of ours (turned out Larry didn’t). Then one day I found about Larry’s father. This was of great interest to me. I was reading D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climatic Battle of WWII by Stephen Ambrose and I was full into my Saving Private Ryan craze. Saving Private Ryan is the movie I’ve seen by far the most in the theatre (I believe I went 4-6 times). It turns out Larry had not seen it. I described that movie passionately and made a decision right then and there that Larry had to see it. It was still playing at the dollar theatre, so he and I picked a date and went to see the film.
If it weren’t for Larry’s father, I am not sure if Larry and I would have befriended each other. It would be a shame, because we were destined to be great friends. It would have taken a toll on my professional life as well. It was listening to Larry on the phone that taught me how to converse with customers. It was Larry’s encouragement that sent me to Michigan, Kentucky and Europe in 2001 to perform my first speaking engagements (QualTrax trainings). Without Larry, I may not have developed the communication skills that differentiate me a bit from other programmers.
J.B.’s Broad Influence
At the funeral, J.B.’s “grandson” (his step-daughter’s step-son) told a story that showed you didn’t have to meet J.B. to be influenced by him. The grandson was a history teacher and one year he videotaped J.B. recounting his WWII experiences and he’d show it each year to his students. The grandson just recently ran into a past student at a conference. In high school, the student was a troublemaker and far from focused. After high school the student’s life changed dramatically. He joined the army, fought in Afghanistan, was honorably discharged and now…. now he’s a history teacher. Although he never met him, the student cited J.B. as his inspiration for how he lives his life. He also requested a copy of the video tape of J.B.’s account to start to show his students. Perhaps those students will also find influence in a man they’ve never met.
I was also struck by the admiration for J.B. in St. Mere Eglise during our visit in 2004. When eating lunch, Larry, Sean, Stacy and I ran into some contemporary paratroopers. They were in town for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and they were going to do a drop of their own to commemorate the event. When they found out Larry’s father was a pathfinder, word spread fast. Soon every soldier in the building was lined up single file….for the honor of shaking Larry’s hand! They all wanted to thank Larry for what his father had done.
Blood Does Not Make a Family
J.B.’s “grandson” pointed out that he was J.B’s step-daughter’s step-son but “to J.B. you do not have to be blood to be family. I was honored for him to call me ‘grandson’ and I was honored to call him my ‘grandfather'” That sentiment struck home to me.
I subscribe to Kurt Vonnegut’s claim that our society lacks in the support of a large extended family. In this day in age with distances between us, we often don’t have the same connection with our relatives as we would have in the days where generation after generation would remain in the same town. As much as we love them, our extended family is typically not on the front lines and not our immediate support system. But…. I look around and I do have the role of an extended family filled here in Blacksburg– a surrogate extended family (like the Daffodil-10’s in Vonnegut’s Slapstick). These people are not related by blood, but through their caring and understanding, they are every bit of family to me. And the Bowman/Jones clan are the backbone of my surrogate extended family. It was neat to hear their patriarch believed that you did not have to be blood to be family, that the closeness that I feel towards his blood would have been approved of.
How Great Thou Art
During the service an older gentleman performed a solo of “How Great Thou Art”. This guy rocked the house (well as much as one could with a hymn). He was extremely talented and for a man whose body appeared to be feeble, he had such a strong and unwavering voice. I was very moved by his rendition and the quality of his voice.
I think that is one thing I am fond about with church– the ability for the local community to showcase their talents. With a majority of our entertainment coming from national networks or world-renowed recording artists, the everyday performers have much to compete against to get an audience. We miss out on knowing that Bob across the street can sing and Delores from down the road is a delightful dancer because we are too busy being tuned into American Idol.
I think church provides a great forum for local performers. These people may not have world-class talent, but they still have gifts to share with others. The members of the choir can sing; budding actors and actresses and wanna be directors can participate in Christmas pageants; the man with a solid, but not quite radio-worthy, speaking voice can read passages of the Old Testament; the painters can work on scenery for plays or murals in the hallways; the athletes may never play professionally or get an athletic scholarship, but they can be crucial to the church’s team in the intramural league; the cooks can knock our socks off at pot-lucks; and finally the seamstresses can work on seasonal sashes or like my grandmother does, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls to sell at the church bazaar.
That man at the funeral and his solid delivery of “How Great Thou Art” served as a reminder that there is talent in this world which does not involve best-selling novels, dominating ratings during sweeps week, Grammys, Oscars or even a People’s Choice Award. It’s a good reminder to get every once and a while.
Importance of Kids at the Funeral
Penn and Gwyn came along to attend their great-grandfather’s funeral. At one point when I saw a frazzled Ann rush her two year old daughter with a soiled diaper to a Burger King bathroom, I wondered if it was “worth it” for Ann to have the children with her. I certainly knew the children’s presence was worth it for me– afterall, I got to see my buddy Penn with no strings attached. But for Ann, she had to juggle her own grief and her own emotion of the day with keeping tabs on the kids and the constant threat of a bored child acting up at an inopportune time. Would it had been easier for her to grieve if the children were home??
Well, later that day, my own question was answered. Absolutely the children needed to attend the funeral. Their presence was important. After all the services were done, the family gathered outside and the finality of it all it continued to sink in. But then you see the children– Penn, Gwyn and Baby Jack playing and running and laughing and singing and just looking so joyous. And you see the adults looking on with amusement and a flicker of joy returns to their weary, red eyes. Life will indeed continue on. These children are the proof.
Ann’s aunt said it the best. She was chasing after Baby Jack (her grandson) amoung the pews and playing games.
“It’s hard to be sad,” she said, “When he is so happy.”
I do hope when I have children, I’ll remember this lesson. That despite the inconveniences of travel and the promise of added stress, I realize– kids add value to funerals.
Full J.B. Bowman Obituary in Richmond Times-Dispatch