Here’s to Howie Lud!

As noted in the earlier post, my father died two weeks and three days ago.   We had a memorial mass for him this past Saturday.  It was a nice tribute, and many friendly folks came out to honor Howie Lud.

My brother played a great, soulful rendition of “Feels So Good” — that Chuck Mangione classic — on his acoustic guitar, as part of our remembrance at the end.  And following are the remarks I offered in effort to tell our dad’s story.  It ran a little long, some said, but I figured his tale needed to be told one last time.

Here’s to you, Dad.

Funny thing about that piece, it came to Scott’s mind as one of Howie’s favorites, and it was the one I had in my mind as well, even before Scott played it for me the first time to suggest it. I tried to get him to do a lead-in of Stairway to Heaven, but we thought that would be a little too much…so well done, lud…

I knew this was going to be tough following Scott with that little rendition from Manggione…I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz since Dad passed, and every time I hear that song I get choked up…knew when Scott played it would be emotional…so here we are…I’m going to try to keep it together, but there’s bound to be some tears, so please bear with me…

Bruce Howard Ludlum, Howard, Howie Lud, Dad…he hailed originally from the little town of Leroy NY… “upstate” we heard as kids, but it’s more western state. Near Rochester.

Dad born the 12th of March, one day shy of his older brother’s 7th bday. Roger, uncle Rog. He reminded me this week that Dad was born at home. The story goes, their mother Grace made that decision at least in part because Roger was most concerned about whether he’d get bday cake for his birthday, if the baby came before. Grandma made good on her promise and did bake a cake for Rog for this birthday that next day…

Dad was a Boy Scout and a hunter and a trumpeter and an athlete, in particular, a tennis player. It was tennis took him to Hiram College in Akron Ohio. All of 600 students at the time, 1954. I remember asking him several times why he went out of state, and his answer was always something rendition the centered on the theme of, “…you know how much snow falls in western New York?!…I was tired of shoveling driveways and walks…”. So Akron is where he landed.

At some point not long after arrival in Akron, Bruce ludlum became Howard Ludlum…and the story goes, a fraternity brother or dormmate was also named Bruce, so Dad started going by Howard instead…

When we first went to visit the Eastern Ludlums…they called Dad “Uncle Bruce” and Scott and I were like, “Who’s that…?!” And so we learned that story.

Last year one dad’s college buddies, Joe LaCamera his wife Deanna visited our folks to see Howie last year, Joe in particular talked about how friendly and kind Howie was to Joe’s parents. They loved him.  Joe couldn’t stop talking about how much Howie meant to him, how good Howie was with Joe’s parents, how much fun they had in college.  

Joe told us stories about he and dad and another good friend at Hiram, Bob Jones, and how tshey sang together in their fraternity glee club in Chi Sigma Phi. Going through papers Dad had kept, it turns out their fraternity singers won more than one singing competition, so they were pretty good. And Dad was right in the thick of all that.

The LaCameras made the journey from Colorado to California for a day’s visit with Mom and Dad, and then Scott’s family and mine. They headed home the next day. That visit alone speaks a ton to the kind of relationships Howie built at Hiram, and throughout his life.

Comradrier and good fellowship made up the Hiram years. They shined their shoes for the week on Sunday nights. Apparently Howie worked in the team kitchen for the Cleavland Browns at some point during college. Scott had heard that one from Dad at some point…no wonder he’d talk about Jim Brown all those years later and was a Browns fan, even as he later became a Niner fan too.

Howie studied Mathematics and Economics in college, and settled on a path to teaching along the way. He spent part of a year teaching in Ohio just after graduating college, but then a fellow teacher he knew, Ed Axline, told dad he was headed west to look for a job, so Dad joined in on the move, and went west again, this time to California. Mom was saying they actually made the drive twice – once to come out and get jobs, then they had to drive back to get their stuff. 37 hours and 2,500 miles each way. Those where the days.

So where did they get jobs? They both ended up at Buchser High School, but Howie was only at Buchser for a year, because he then moved to a new high school that was opening, Wilcox High School, in 1960. He’d stay there until he retired in 1997.

He got a little more than his start in teaching in California at Buchser. He met the attendance lady among others, and after a whirlwind romance, normal in those days, and they got married. That office lady turned out to be the SJ Superintendent’s daughter, Kathleen Downing.

And they so settled in. Dad was a Math teacher, basketball ref, tennis coach, counselor. To help make ends meet, he taught Monday night adult education pretty much the whole time we were growing up. He also spent many summers teaching summer school too, a few of those summers teaching troubled youth at a place he called The Ranch in south county.

I remember one summer he was as a summer school principal too, but that was the most administration dad dabbled in. I think he preferred the direct engagement with the kids and the classroom.

He liked clean cars, lawns that were mowed both ways (criss-cross), he liked to eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, and he loved to watch sports. He checked the boxscores every morning in the newpaper.

Growing up he was a tireless supporter to Scott and to me and all our activities. We were never really superstars, but win or lose, he celebrated and supported us the whole way. Every game, every performance, whatever it was. Dad was always there. Mom was too.

Howie was always available to shoot baskets, play catch, and toss the football, which we did for countless hours with him growing up. He built skateboard ramps for Scott, bought him an introductory drum kit…that kit traded time with a dirt bike Scott also had in the garage…and dad was all for Scott’s electric guitar and amp rocking Rosalie Drive in the high school years.

As we got older, Howie was always the “cool dad” (especially since he was a high school teacher and a coach) and our buddies liked him.  He had good relationships with a lot of them, which gave us a whole additional perspective and dimension to appreciate. He would talk music with us, mention Led Zepplin, and his Cool Factor increased even further.  

In fact, even when my Scott and I were both grown men, dad’s cool factor continued many years later.  When a bunch of us went to see the Canadian rock band RUSH, dad went with us, one of the guys. He recognized songs like “Limelight”, and “Red Barchetta”, and “YYZ”. He would talk about the band’s drummer, Neil Peart, with as much reverence as we did. And he seemed to have a great time at the show. And just a few years ago, Scott and I took him to a couple gigs at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland, and he really seemed to enjoy himself at those shows too, soaking up the people, soaking up the music, the time together. Ever one to strive for a little better next time though, I remember Dad saying, “Next time, maybe we could sit a little further back, to see better…” And this was after sitting right up next to the stage.

He enjoyed being with us, doing things with us, just being together. From a parent’s perspective now, I can understand that even more. I think we were mostly insulated from his life trials and tribulations, and his successes, really.  He was just our dad.

I know his dad died at a young age, when Howie was a teen.  That might have shaped the kind of dad he wanted to be, and he certainly shined bright in our lives. Always there to support and counsel and encourage.

Dad loved us and mom dearly. Mom was honey, honeys, Kath.

They were about being with others and having fun. Mom and Dad were part of a bridge group in the 70’s that got together once a month to play cards. There were four families: the Buchsers, the Flohrs, the Lindstroms, and the Ludlums. At some point the bridge group became the Yosemite group, with an annual trip to Curry Village every Mother’s Day Weekend. Hikes and bike rides and BBQ picnics and plenty of Bailey’s Irish Creame typified the annual trip. Four families. Two kids each. Eight kids total. Those were a lot of GREAT trips. As Mel Flohr put it to me in a note this week, “a lot of good water has gone under the bridge between our families…” for sure that was a the case. The good energy between the parents extended to us kids. Special shout-out to Sue Buchser (now Harris!), as she was the only girl in the bunch. No surprise, she held her own.

Dad together with mom continued to be supportive to me and then Scott through college, picking our majors, finding our way. Do what you love, what interests you, was the mantra. Mom felt the same way and they were in lock-step helping us get started in the world.

I mentioned tennis earlier – Dad actually got a scholarship from Hiram College to play tennis there – that’s how he ended up in Akron Ohio.

We found a newspaper article going through pictures and momentos. The article was from 1957, and hailed how the Hiram “Netmen” had concluded a very successful season. One Howard Ludlum had gone undefeated that year, 13 matches in all, not dropping one the entire season. He played golf too. In fact, Mom mentioned to me last week that three days after she and dad were married, he was off to play in some golf tournament down in Monterey or somewhere near-by.

The funny thing about his competitive spirit, Dad supported us in whatever we chose to compete in, but never insisted that winning was everything. We didn’t feel that pressure. We did our best, and that was good enough for Howie. For his sons. But for himself, he was relentless, I think, to be the best he could be when competing.

I didn’t play golf with him too many times, but when I did, I saw that competitive spirit first hand.

It was early in the round, we were on the green, and I mistakenly crossed him as he was sizing up his putt. “You just walked across my line…”, he said to me, the first time I played with him. YIKES. “Sorry, Dad”, was my meek reply. Later that round, we were in the tee box getting ready for the next hole. We had foursome playing that day. Howie was lining up to address the ball. He paused, but instead of looking down the fareway where he was going to hit the ball, he looked back at me. “You know you’re standing in my backswing…?” Again I had too say, “Sorry, Dad.” So he was a fun-loving guy, a very supportive parent, but also a serious competitor.

Life took an unexpected turn for Dad and Mom in 1996 when Mom had a stroke. She was just 58. So that became a new test of determination and fortitude for them both. And Howie rose to the occasion again.

Dad taught one more year, and retired in 1997 to take care of Mom full time. They kept up the annual Yosemite trips for a few more years. They toured and they traveled some, and they had as much fun as their circumstances allowed. They went to Florida, and had an east coast tour to see friends, including Bob and Peg Jones (the Hiram connection). They went to Hawaii, too.

Dad had picked up flyfishing years before Mom’s stroke and made several multi-day trips to fish the McCloud River in northern California. Howie loved being outdoors, and fishing was definitely a way to do that. Those activities slowed after mom had her stroke.

Ever the optimist, Howie had yarn on a stick to practice his casting, hoping he would get out again. He played more golf, as tennis went by the way-side, as his body slowed down and Mom needed more care time. But it always seemed that Dad was striving, best intentions never far away. Even as he struggled in the later years.  Care for mom was considerable, but he soldered on.

Howie found fellowship and a fresh opportunity to help others through the De Anza Lions Club in Cupertino, invited by Scott’s father-in-law, Norm Eliason. In fact, it was that step that influenced Scott and my membership in the club not too long after, so it be came a bigger, family affair. It was a great blessing, those friends from the Lions club, in the last ten years, which offered a new social circle our folks could tap into, and we could also share those relationships with them.

Lots of friends reached out after Howie passed to send condolences, share the love, and be supportive. Those who knew Howie used descriptions like “always upbeat”, “positive and cheerful”, “honest”, “fun to be with”, “engaging”, a great man, great family.

One of Jill’s favorite memories of Howie she said was the first…talking to Scott, she explained:

When you brought me to dinner to meet your parents (after only a month or so of dating!), we went to By th’ Bucket and your whole family was there…your dad upon hearing my name asked if I was Norm Eliason’s daughter, and I said, “Yes”…they had known of each other through coaching.  And they Howie said, “Scotters, you better be nice to her. Her dad is a brute!” Your dad had my back from day one.”

And Sydnie shared this recollection…”My favorite memory of gramps was when I was a little kid. It was way back when Grammy and Gramps owned their own house. They lived right by this little fountain where a ton of coy fish would swim around every day. When I would get restless or “bored” he would take me for a walk there and we would just sit and enjoy the coy fish. It was really fun and we would eventually come home and eat a big meal from the Fish Market. I will never eat another salmon or see another coy fish and not think of Gramps.”

And this from an old school friend of Scott and me…”I was thinking about your dad, that I can still hear his voice, but it was his smile that I was actually hearing.  He had a joy and laughter about him with us that was really awesome.  This is where it departs from being your dad to being our friend.  I think he liked being part of our circle and connecting with me, Michael or any of the guys.  Perhaps that is a dad thing in wanting to be cool and relevant.  In my eyes, that is exactly what he was.

I also loved his serious, intellectual side.  He’d dig into conversation with us and talk things out.  He didn’t dismiss ideas or try to impose, but really listened and connected.  That is a pretty good model for any of us.

His demeanor invited you to enjoy being with him and being around him.  What this makes me thing also is how much trust he had in you.  Though you might have felt the same way, I think about our times about and our trip to George’s place and just a sense that he could see you both as son as well as maturing young man.  I respected that about him and about the relationship you two shared.

Of course, I too got to see that competitive side of him in playing doubles several times in the late 80s.  I know that was one conversation he could have with my mom was tennis.  That might have been the connection.  The invite was there, I took it and away we went. It was Serious stuff, playing with your dad.  It was fun and serious simultaneously which is some of what many sports are all about.

The one last thing that also jumped into my head as I think back to your house, your mom and dad together, etc.  He had a confidence about him.  He was a doer and a trier.  He’d muscle up as necessary and didn’t shy back from the physical or intellectual.  I sensed that part of his identity was being capable and a model as someone who’d take on challenge.  It certainly was a model from him for me.

And this from his niece, Lisa (Roger’s daughter):

When I think of Uncle Bruce, I think knobby knees, tennis, yearly birthday phone calls I could count on every year, devoted teacher, father, friend, husband,counselor to all… loved him very much no matter how far away… “

So “Love” in tennis means you have zero points…but in Howie’s world, over and over again,

he chose Love, and that saw him through to the end.

When we were growing up he chose Love over harsh punishment — not to say we didn’t suffer consequences, but I think Scott would agree, Dad didn’t parent with a heavy hand. He and Mom chose Love.

Throughout his life teaching math, couching tennis, working as a counselor, working with at-risk youth during the summers, I’m sure Love is what propelled him forward.

When Mom had her disabling stroke that turned their worlds upside down and changed the very course of the rest of their lives together, Dad chose Love, and was Mom’s primary caregiver until he couldn’t do it anymore, a year or so before his own stroke.

I came across this passage right after Dad had made his exit, it talks about ​Sanctification by Suffering, and it goes like this:

So how do we become like Christ? It is a work of God’s Spirit, and it is frequently effected through suffering. Suffering is God’s tool. He chips off our rebelliousness by fire, burning into us Christ’s character. Suffering is God’s furnace of affliction to refine us as individuals and bind us together in his family – personal and corporate holiness. How is gold refined apart from by fire? How are diamonds formed apart from under extreme conditions of heat and pressure? It would seem that God’s main tool in our refining, our becoming like Christ, is that of fire – the fire of suffering.”

During this difficult time, that idea gives me a full measure of comfort for sure, this idea…as in the last two years since Dad’s stroke and his slow decline afterward, and especially the last 45 days, the thought came to mind, that this maybe was God’s final lesson of grace for Dad. That after taking care of Mom for the better part of twenty years — not so much the retirement they imagined – that he would live is final time as mom had for so long. Not a curse, but an opportunity to better understand.

The Basque Jesuit Pedro Arrupe offered this prayer after he suffered a massive stroke in his later years: “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.”

So Dad is now in the Hands of God…at peace, without pain, free of his broken body…and I’d like to think, he has already gotten in several rounds of golf on the heavenly course, and several sets of tennis on the heavenly court and is smiling down on us right now…

That man, our father, our friend, Howie Lud…Honest and authentic and down to Earth and fun-loving and full of love. May that be the memory we all carry with us of him the rest of our days.

Amen.

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