Sunday, January 15, 2006

Eulogy 2: For Richard Horner IV, as told by Richard Horner V.

As I am but one in many who want to say something here, I will keep this short. My father was a well-known and influential person, and I am sure that most of you here knew his public face very well. Others who are here can tell you more about his political and business life; everyone in town knows Richard the upstanding citizen and keen businessman. I don’t feel the need to expound on his gifts as a father; bromides about little league games and post-graduation advice are not a fitting way to memorialize this great man. It will suffice to say that he was old fashioned, strict, and generous in love and advice. I stand up here in awe of what my father has accomplished in his life. He died as he lived, a gentleman of business, passing away in his leather armchair as he read what must have been the fiftieth draft of his last will and testament.

I feel a need to augment his public image, however, as it’s difficult to grieve in more than a generic way for my father as Richard Horner IV, lawyer and senator for the great state of Iowa. The small booklet distributed at the door seems to be more effective in understanding his civic contributions than in conveying his essential humanity. Until a few days ago I was actually at a loss to find some anecdote or fact that would add to this public face without seeming maudlin or trite. However, examination of his estate revealed one startling secret that I will now share with you, as I am sure it reveals some hidden aspect of his character, even if that aspect is as yet enigmatic.

Father was not a reader of fiction. However, he knew the value of being informed, so the pile of work on his desk was more often than not crowned with some small volume about investing or managing or communication. When his fathers’ health was failing, these books were augmented with a few pamphlets and softcovers on Parkinson’s disease and cardiovascular health; after the funeral there was a small book on grieving properly. I once joked with my father that he should be writing books of advice rather than reading them. He just gave a small toothless smile and submitted something along the lines of “no man is an island.”

One of the more interesting items revealed in the audit of my fathers’ estate was an air-conditioned self-storage unit outside of town that contained several thousand self-help books and pamphlets. All of this literature has some evidence of use; some books are dog-eared while other books just have a few pages folded over for bookmarks.

Some of the choices, such as “Unnatural Leadership” and “Business Secrets of the Ivy League” seem fitting, if not a little bit odd. “Tax This! An Insider’s Guide To Standing Up To The IRS” is perhaps out of character, but at least fits into my expected bibliography. However, I cannot imagine my father reading “Power Eating: A Guide” or “Automotive Upholstery for Dummies,” let alone “How To Draw: Sexy Manga.” The entire gambit of the do-it-yourself industry appears to have been covered, from “Internal Cleansing: Revised 2nd Edition” to “Small Engine Repair.” Every imaginable hobby is described, from “Beginner’s Stamp Collecting” to “Fishing On the Edge.” There is also surprisingly little overlap. “Poker: Bad Beats & Lucky Draws” is the only book on that particular card game, but is right next to “Baccarat Secrets” and “Beat Her at Bridge.” There are about a dozen books on gardening, such as “The Rose Bible” and “No Rabbits NOW.” There is, however, only one book on computer programming, “PERL in a Nutshell.”

In addition to technical manuals, business secrets, and how-tos, there is also an entire wall devoted to the more traditional self-esteem and life choices kind of literature. This ranges from “The Hookup Handbook” to “Intuitive Thinking: a Sacred Faith,” to “Coaching the Artist Within.” This one-room personal library appears to have covered very nearly the entire realm of the self-help book. It can be seen, in a way, as a library of basic advice; nearly every hobby or problem or repair could be facilitated through a perusal of this collection.

I cannot for the life of me imagine these books helping my father in any regular fashion. He never, to my knowledge, utilized or conducted any process information he obtained from reading this library. I never saw him weeding or golfing or drawing cartoons. He was worthless at home repair, and was unfortunately cold as a father and husband.

I have one tentative explication. My father was a successful man, in part, because he figured out the rules to his particular world of law and politics, and learned how to exploit and then change them. He saw the entire world, in a way, as an extension of the laws and bills he helped create and interpret. Surrounded by talk of relativism and the deconstruction of literary and social code, it may have comforted him to own a library of basic rules and guidelines, organized by topic and recorded for posterity.

For those interested, this book collection will soon be removed from storage to a more permanent location at 233 E. 31st Street. As it was not provided for in my father’s otherwise impeccable will and testament, several private donors have been procured to endow the Richard Horner IV Library of Basic Truth and ensure its growth and protection. Access is by appointment only; there is no fee for admission. The reading room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 4pm. Thank you.

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