2 March 1995
Memoir by Michael S. Usey
Whether or not Jesus liked to fish, I don't know. But our Lord certainly must have loved fishermen. Of his original twelve disciples, a half dozen were most likely fishermen. In fact, fishing was Jesus' metaphor for discipleship. Luke, in his gospel, tells the story of one of Jesus' first meeting with these fishermen. They had been fishing all night in the Sea of Galilee, but they hadn't caught anything, and were discouraged. So Jesus gave them some fishing advice: he told them where to let down nets in order to find the fish. Peter, the one who becomes the leader of the 12, was skeptical, but he did as Jesus said. You know the rest of the story: the men caught so many fish that their nets began to tear. Jesus said to these outdoorsmen, "Come and follow me, and I will make you fisher of men." And all three fisherman--Peter, James, and John--left their nets and followed Jesus.
Another fisherman that Jesus called to follow him was Edd Fullington. Like Jesus' early disciples, Edd loved to fish. He was happiest in his life when he was fishing on the Other Banks, at Cape Hatteras, or at Drum Inlet. And he was a serious fisherman: he accused one of his sons, Bill, of carrying so much food with them that it was more like a picnic than a fishing trip--as though this were some cardinal sin. But Bill must have quit eating long enough to learn how to fish, since he and Edd went on a annual fishing trip to Cape Hatteras for a whole week each fall.
In fact, Edd was a sportsman of many talents. Having been raised on a farm, he loved to hunt. His own father had taught him to hunt, and in fact it had been a rite of passage for him growing up. Edd said he had wanted to hunt with his father when he was just a boy, but Edd's father would not allow it until he said he was ready, that is, until Edd was a young man. And when his father finally did let Edd come with him, it was an important moment in his life. His father taught him to love and to respect nature, and Edd passed that love on to his children and grandchildren.
Edd loved nature and being outdoors and nearly EVERY form suited him. He raised chickens, ponies, and dogs. In fact, he had a way with animals in general--and especially dogs. The family had dozens of dogs like beagles and brittany spaniels--some were for hunting; others were house dogs. One of Pat's dogs, Lobo, used to run from everyone and obeyed Pat only when it suited him--but he ALWAYS came immediately to Edd when he called. Bill once expressed to his dad his frustration with one unruly dog, and Edd had patiently given him the secret of successful dog training. Edd said to Bill, "You got to be smarter than the dog in order to train it."
Edd always had a huge garden that produced bushels of corn, peas, beans, and the like. Dot patiently canned it all, and the children not-so-patiently shucked the corn and snapped the beans. This was especially tedious since there was a park with a baseball diamond directly across the street and within view from their house, and Edd would not allow them to go and play with their friends until their chores were done. So they have a memory or two of shelling peas while watching their friends across the street played ball. The whole family enjoyed the fruits of Edd's labor, but they were swept up into the whole process too. But of all his outdoors activities, I believed that Edd loved fishing best.
Edd was not only a fisherman, but he was a fireman as well. For 32 years he served the community of Greensboro as a fireman. As you can imagine, Bill fought fires in the days before firefighting was high tech, and when the science of it was still in infancy. This is the period of his life that I personally found the most fascinating, and the couple times that I visited Edd at home, I always wanted to know more about his work as a fireman.
When had he come the closest to dying on the job? I asked him this once, and he told that, when he was a young man, the firemen did not yet have those distinctive firefighter helmets. Eventually the city bought helmets, and one week after he was issued one, Edd was in a house on fire when a huge burning chunk of wood fell on his head. It was a glancing blow, but one that Edd was sure would have killed him without the new helmet.
Like most firemen, Edd was experienced with dangerous back-drafts too. He told me of one time that he and his company were approaching a large burning house. The flames seemed too small for the house and only on the inside, and he and a fellow fireman felt the front door for heat. The door was extremely hot and he and the other fellow turned to leave the front porch. But at the same time another not-so-cautious fireman was breaking in the backdoor. That is when all the windows of the house seemed to explode at once; the incoming air from the backdoor caused a backdraft. Edd and his partner were protected by the porch ironically; had he gotten a few steps further onto the front lawn, he said they would have been dead, sprayed by hundreds of pieces of glass. And there were good times too: he and his fireman friend Huck cooked BBQ and Brunswick stew for--not only their firefighting efforts--but every civic organization in the city, and this was before BBQ was so popular. Their cooking was famous.
Edd was a firemen in the days which the fires were more numerous, firefighting equipment was crude, and preventive measures virtually non-existent. Edd blessed the day that sprinklers were required in all new buildings. Edd was also a fair man: in the days when fire stations were largely segregated, he was the head of a station house in which he was the only white person. And he was chosen because of his fairness and impartiality. In a prejudiced time, Edd wasn't; he treated everyone alike. As one of his friends told me, "You didn't have to be anyone special to talk to Edd."
Edd was not only a sportsman and a fireman, but he was also a father and a husband. Edd died last Monday; he and Dot's 58th wedding anniversary was Tuesday. They loved each other in way that is plain for all to see. And his adult children remember him with stories that would make any father proud. Edd believed in discipline, but it was the discipline of respect: he never raised his voice, or lost his temper, but he wasn't above a finger thump to keep someone in line. Edd was wise; in a foolish time he lived a life that showed he had an extraordinary amount of common sense. He was quick to help, and since Edd could do so many things well, his help meant something. As Peggy said, he would spend long hours with Read Touchstone fixing something at the church, or helping his neighbors with various problems--he even pulled one neighbor's tooth! He valued education. Edd wanted each of his children to have a better life than he had, and he work hard to make sure that each of them had every opportunity to shine.
Edd was content and happy; his even-keeled nature gave the family a firm foundation. Edd valued hard work; he had an unequivocally strong work ethic. He wouldn't let any of his children sleep during the summertime, and he required that each of them to have a job by the time they were 16. In fact, the only bad thing about having Edd as a father was this. Because Edd normally didn't get off his 24 hour shift until 8 in the morning, Christmas mornings were excruciating as only they can be for children. The children were not allowed to leave their rooms until he had arrived after 8 am, an extraordinary difficult thing for an excited child anticipating Christmas morning. He blessed his children. When Pat was going to be ordained as a deacon at her church, Edd was not fully recovered from a serious operation. But he made a point to come and, despite requiring help to get to the front, he laid hands on her and blessed her, the way that he had blessed all his children.
Edd was a gifted fisherman, a good fireman, a great father and husband, yes--all these things and more. But the best thing about Edd was this: he was a faithful follower of Christ. And in all the various aspects of his life--his recreation and love of nature, his career of protecting people from fires, and his love for his family--this fact came clear: Edd was indeed a follower of Christ. Tuesday night I went home to my wife after meeting with the family for some time. Ann asked me, as she always does, what I learned about the person from their family--as they did the work of grieving and remembering together. My response to her made me articulate something I'd been pondering without even realizing it. No one had a single bad thing to say about the man. Sure, most families shy away from revealing negative qualities after a death, but it comes out. It always comes out unintentionally--in stories and comments. Edd Fullington's is the first funeral I have ever done (and I've done a bunch) where no one had a single bad thing to say about the person--even unintentionally. The man lived 83 years and no one stands up to mention not one minor fault. Here was a life lived in decency and simplicity. Family and friends agree: Edd lived a life that honored God.
What I imagine is this: Edd and Simon Peter are swapping fishing stories in heaven. The brothers John and James are telling Edd about fishing on the sea of Galilee, and Edd tells them about Drum Inlet. And Jesus welcomes with open arms another faithful fisherman into the kingdom of heaven.