I don’t remember the first time I met my future father-in-law, but it was sometime in the early spring of 1996. I was a senior in high school and he was already retired on account of heart trouble that had long plagued him. I didn’t know Bill before long naps in the recliner, hours of NASCAR races on a weekend, and telling me what food I should eat to put hair on my chest, but I didn’t need to know him prior to 1996. Bill Miller was one of the most consistent people I’ve ever known. Funny, friendly, outgoing. He’d talk to anyone, tease them, laugh and make them feel welcome. Bill’s voice filled every space he inhabited, whether a small living room or acres on a campground. If Bill was there, everyone knew it.
And that was a good thing because I don’t think there was ever a person who didn’t like Bill Miller. He loved his family and was fiercely loyal. Perhaps that’s what happens when you grow up with a litter of siblings. I knew the Miller Clan was a good one to join when I met them all for the first time at the 1996 summertime family reunion in Maryville. (I remember thinking how Maryville would be a wonderful place to live one day. Funny how things work out.)
I learned that Bill’s warmth and magnetism was a Miller trait and not exclusive to him, although perhaps we can all agree that his volume and presence was specific to him. When Bill showed up to family events, he announced his own arrival, not that he needed to.
When Bill became my father in law officially in 2000, I couldn’t have been more pleased. He and I had a dear relationship. (I can’t believe I’ll never hear him say, “Hey, Jennie Faye” again. Faye is not my middle name; rather, it was my mother-in-law’s, yet I found this nickname endearing.) We teased each other mercilessly, but it was all in good fun and we both knew it. That stubborn Democrat kept a George W. Bush presidential magnet I gave him as a joke on his refrigerator for nearly two decades.
Bill was already a loving, doting Papaw to our niece Hayli, but when Chuck and I finally presented him with a grandson, you would’ve thought he won the lottery. To give him a second grandson was icing on the cake. He was proud of them and spoiled them appropriately.
Bill and Brenda were outstanding grandparents, and to know that we’ve lost them both is a grief I cannot understand. I’ve said before that I feel we’ve been robbed, and there’s still no better phrase. Tami, too. My husband has lost both of his parents and his sister at 39 years old. How does that even happen?
We had the privilege of living in the same city as Bill again during these last seven years after moving back to Tennessee from Texas. We’ve watched his health decline bit by bit over the years, but I’m convinced that the overwhelming grief of Tami’s death in 2015 became a point of no return for him. How does one ever resolve the heartache of losing a child, particularly when your heart is already burdened by poor health?
Still, at family functions and holidays, his humor and good spirits continued. True as ever. Same ol’ Bill.
When I look at Bill’s life, or at least what I know of it, it was a good one. He was well-loved, and frankly, you can’t ask for much more than that. He didn’t travel the world or build skyscrapers, but he was a man whose family and friends rallied around him. Oh, the parties he and Brenda used to the throw! The stories he told with people gathered around him! The belly laughs and eye rolls… All worth it.
We will miss you, Papaw. This was going to be our year, wasn’t it? You at 75, me at 40. We were going to have a big party, but honestly, to know you are reunited with Brenda and Tami is better than any party we could have thrown, lemon cake or not.
Thank you for blessing our family with good stories, big smiles, and a larger than life presence that cannot be replicated.
See you in the stars. – xoxo