Gordon Salyers: In Memoriam

I wrote this post on June 24 and sent it to family, friends, and colleagues. 


Dear Family and  Friends,

I am beginning this letter on the train from Haifa to Ben Gurion Airport.  I moved to a window seat on the right side of the car so that I could see the Mediterranean, but I mostly catch glimpses through industrial areas and medium-rise apartments whose designer chose not to squander his imagination on living spaces.  Oh, there it is, just a few hundred feet away.  Maybe I will catch the sunset.

I’m leaving the country early to be with Laura, Sarah, and my in-laws at the memorial service for Laura’s father, Gordon Salyers.  He died yesterday after a prolonged decline following a stroke around five years ago.  At Shikhin, my parents, Aaron Carr, and Dr.s Denny and Connie Groh will complete the final drawings, supervise the backfilling of our archaeological squares, and see to the storage of our artifacts.  I am profoundly grateful for their help.

I am also grateful for Gordon, for he helped Laura to become the woman I love, and he was also so important to Sarah, especially during those first five years of her life before we met.

He was someone to admire.  His father abandoned the family, leaving Gordon to assume responsibilities at an age when no one should have to do such a thing.  It is apparent to me that Gordon made a decision that he would become a different sort of man.  He married Betty and the two raised their three children together in Miami and Lexington, Kentucky.  Gordon became the provider that his own father chose not to be.  He did it by graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami, serving his country in the Air Force, and ending up at IBM where he worked very hard at sales and marketing, at which he was quite successful.  He became a Regional Director (I might not get all the terminology right) and was able to retire in his late 50s to a life filled mostly with golf and long vacations in North Carolina. 

One of my favorite memories of Gordon is watching him dance with Betty at their fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration.  In Phil’s (eldest son) and Janet’s (daughter-in-law) living room, Betty enthusiastically stepped and turned in bare feet while Gordon appeared to stand still.  But if you watched carefully, you could see his feet making small steps in all the right ways and his hands deftly moving Betty through her turns with understated bends of the wrist and subtle pressure on the small of the back.  But what I remember most is his smile.  I’d never seen that expression on his face.  Gordon had a great smile, but this one was different than the one that he put on for photos.  His eyes never left Betty, and his lips turned up delicately in the unvarnished pleasure of dancing with his wife of fifty years.  I love dancing with my wife too, but I’m glad that on that night I did not, for I got to see this sight instead.  It was a gift and a delight.

So I end the inaugural season of the Excavations at Shikhin thinking little about the project.  Later there will be time for combing through the data and composing a preliminary report.  This train ride is a time for thanking God for Gordon Salyers.  His decision about family, made those years ago, lives on in his children and grandchildren.  It is certainly present in my household.

The train is nearing Tel Aviv and the sun has set into the Mediterranean.

May Gordon Salyers’ memory be a blessing.

James

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