To say that Jeff’s dad lived a full life simply doesn’t capture the scope of the things he did in his life. As a young man of seventeen Ernest Julian Allen traveled the world in the United States Navy and became Senior Chief Mess Specialist, served in three wars, and retired in the late 60’s. He went on to a career managing convenience stores in Jacksonville, FL— advanced to becoming a territory auditor for Southland Corporation and then a regional supervisor and took an early retirement. He became a fishing guide for a decade on the backwaters of the Withlacoochee River. His final career was the Florida Department of Corrections as a head cook including instructing the inmates how to cook. He’d tell stories about how dicey it felt to hand a convicted felon a sharp knife in the institutional kitchen, but he was offering them so much more—a possible way out of the system. He was married four times and has nine children, fifteen grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. Did I mention he lived a full life?
Daddy Allen loved an adventure and a challenge—worked hard and played hard. Depending on which side of the discussion you were on with him he was opinionated or loyal; stubborn or decisive; had a vision that worked as a horse’s blinders or was remarkably focused. As a daughter-in-love I was embraced by Daddy Allen the same as one of his own daughters and although I found this large rambunctious, noisy, sometimes incomprehensible family overwhelming when I first joined them, Daddy was always a calm in the storm—that is unless he was causing the storm! He was grounded in who he was and where he stood in the world. He and Jeff’s Stepmom loved our daughter fiercely and that made him shine in a new mother’s eyes.
When I met Jeff I thought it unusual that he referred to his Dad as ‘Daddy’ as I had stopped using that endearment for my father in my early adolescence. With Daddy Allen it was more than an endearment; it’s who he was. A family man through and through he helped his family weather the storms of divorce and joint custody of his brood and provided for them and loved them deeply even if he wasn’t a demonstrative man. I could listen to his stories for hours and he loved to laugh and invite others to laugh with him, he wasn’t always positive about the world but he was positive about his relationship to it. A beer and a good fishing story or trip would solve just about anyone’s worries.
His wishes upon his death were to have his ashes buried in the family cemetery in Brooksville, FL next to his beloved Lois. We gathered last Saturday at McGeachy Cemetery and I was moved by the simple ceremony performed by two Navy servicepersons. They unfolded a large US flag and snapped it free to present the colors and then folded it precisely to be presented to Daddy’s widow and ultimately one of his middle sons. Before the flag was presented the heart rending notes of Taps pierced the quiet morning and there was not a dry eye in the gathering. Daddy would have been deeply honored.