The big day is here, my heart aches and I have butterflies in my tummy, thinking of standing up to share about the man who holds such a big part of my heart.
My step mom, Drea had a super fun idea, that each of us should pop some sort of checkered flag clothing, in honor of dad finishing his race here on earth. He would've thought it was super cool.
The Floridian weren't sure what to think of cold Kansas, but they bundled up and stuck it out. I am grateful they flew and drove in to be part of today.
The service was beautiful! I don't have any photos except what people sent me, but my cousin read the obituary and added all kinds of fun details that dad would've loved. Chad and I spoke about dad, Pastor Howard had us go up together and that was really comforting.
I already shared my speech with you the other day, you can go read it here:
Chad's went something like this, although he changed it up quite a bit. Including a line about passing gas when he was nervous, which I quickly walked away from the pulpit. Haha, laugh so you don't cry, right?
Dad was my hero. He was a best friend and a friend to all. He did not know a stranger. In fact all my friends during grade school, high school and present, realize that he was a cool dad. And was in fact probably cooler than me.
I remember sitting in church as a kid and we would pass notes back and forth with drawings pictures of trucks and cars.
I remember the story he told about how he fell asleep in church and woke suddenly, kicking the pew in front and scaring a lady half to death. He seemed to be able to scare everyone with his crazy loud sneezes.
From the time I could walk, I was at my dad's side. I went to his meetings with him, to work, to the races, and I was always known as "Clay's son". And I was proud to be known as that.....
I thought it was normal to know what a time card was and a pay check was in 4th grade. Any time we talked about work Dad said that I had it easy. He started working at about age 5 and they would strap him to a tractor and send him out to the field until he was done.
My summers where a highlight as I was able to work at dads KTC Shop during the week and spend late nights going racing on the weekends. We had a blast doing this!
Many times we would bring our friends to experience the night time excitement. Towards the end it was usually Dad and I driving together in the semi to and from the races. He called this "windshield time" for us to talk about life, schools, friends and pretty girls.
During the winter time we would spend hours every weekend chasing each other around on 4 wheelers. It was always best in the snow. He said it was a good excuse to stay in shape for the off season of racing.
After ktc trucking business closed, it seemed he was able to pick up and go with about any job or opportunity without hesitation. He was always so smart and driven when it came to business.
Once Dad moved to Florida, it was about two years before I made my way down there to work for my dad again. He had the opportunity to buy a furniture store and was excited to get me involved. He knew I loved selling and thought it was a good fit.
I dont remember a time when I said "Go fast, Dad!" that he didn't go fast. Whether it was a work pick up, his motorcycle or one of his cars, he never seemed to pass on these chances.
He taught me what a controlled drift was, as he was able to go completely around the circle parking lot of 1st Nazarene Church, sideways when it was snowy.
I'm pretty sure I showed several friends later what I learned....
Dad loved to go fast and was extremely competitive. As you all know he was an amazing racer thru his life and was remembered in the dirt track as the flying preacher. This was mainly for his boldness in praying before races or offering it up after an accident.
Dad was not only competitive but also a trickster! He didn't pass up an opportunity to scare us or pull a prank.
I can think of several occasions of us literally crying on the floor from laughing so hard. Normally from either Mom or Tonya peeing their pants from being scared, or hearing about something he pulled on a friend or brother during his younger years.
He showed us how to pull out Kleenexs from peoples hands right as they blew their nose, or pretending to hit his head somewhere, usually a door or sign. Something rhat made a nice ruckus. Usually someone came running to see if he was ok because he was a good actor too.
Another good trick we learned from Dad (which he said his brothers showed him) was how to make a gutter at the dinner table using the table cloth and soaking your neighbors pants with water. The stories go on and on....and Dad is leaving a huge void here on earth. He will be missed greatly.
He always knew what to say. He always knew what you needed, he always had a way out and he always knew how to fix it.
He could literally rig anything to working with tape, a few old bolts and misc parts he had saved in his tool box. We really gave him a hard time about this, but each of us needed him many times for repairs!
One thing I know for sure..... I never heard him yell. He was always soft spoken but stern. If he was talking, you were listening. Even under serious stress or a lap car causing him to wreck - he was always calm. And of course I was a perfect child so he didn't have to yell.
He always had faith in me. He always encouraged me to just do it. He always let me try before helping. He trained me to be a thinker, a doer. He told me that common sense is better than any school degree, so use your noggin.
I always knew I'd work for him and it's an honor and joy to carry on that legacy for him at our Florida furniture store and to have my oldest son carry on the CEB name.
I could talk for hours about my Dad , but I know that my sister will do it for me next.
Ps 127:3. Be strong and courageous ...
Next up was a beautiful memorial message from Pastor Howard, and special music. Again, no photos, but we ended the service with closing prayer, and a special guest.....
Dad's good friend, and race announcer and radio personality, Warren Hardy closed out the service with a checkered flag finish.....
He did AWESOME, painting a word picture of that dirt track and the final laps of an exciting A Feature.
He ended with something like.....
"They are coming around the final turn, and Clay Bontrager, 7B has finished the race!"
Oh man, it was so great, just the right ending to celebrate dad's final chapter. He would've been proud to have his friend announce his final race home. We handed out little flags to all the family at the service.
My little pall bearers and their cousins, helped load Papa and off we went to the gravesite, in a small amish mennonite town near by. His brothers and parents are also buried here.
We all stuck our flags out the windows.....
It was cold, cold, cold. This part was going to be short and sweet. A few words and "I'll Fly Away" by the mens quartet.
This was the part I was dreading the most, I was having flashbacks to Don's funeral (Dale's daddy) and remembered the awful finality of that box going into the ground.....
Someone sent the grandkids a flower arrangement that could be taken apart and laid on the casket, so amazing.
Dale and my dad were very close, they worked well together and got along like best buds. I am so thankful someone captured this moment of him saying his final goodbyes to my dad.
And just like that, the box was lowered in the ground, and my heart broke into a million pieces and tears poured from my eyes. I couldn't help myself, sobs burst forth. In that moment, there was nothing to do but grieve in the deepest sense of loss and finality.
I still don't think this will all hit me until I go back to "his" neck of the woods. Back to Florida, where he is missing. He isn't usually here in Kansas with us, unless he is visiting, so it doesn't feel abnormal to have him gone.
I have picked up my phone to call him twice. Dale checked his phone for the text, how far did you all make it tonight? as we drove the 3 days home. And the first person he wanted to show our new railing apartment photo to, was dad. So instead, Dale just stood there and wept bitter tears for all we have lost in the past 3 years -
A Papa named Don, who lived out his final weeks in our living room, gone 3 years ago. A Grandma, who treated Dale as a son, just months ago, going to see Jesus. And now, this.
Another Papa gone, another loss to bear.
My Paxton Clay asked, "Hey Momma, do we have any more Papas left?"
Oh buddy, no. I am sorry you sure don't.
I had a prayer warrior friend call me on the way home to the Kansas funeral, she said Tonya, the Lord showed me in a dream something about your daddy and I'd like to share it with you. I don't want to hurt your heart, but I think you need to know this....
Your daddy, he was given the choice to go to Jesus. He was given a choice to be healed in a miracle here on earth, or healed in a miraculous eternity in Heaven. He picked heaven. He picked Jesus.
Who wouldn't after catching a glimpse of something so unimaginably beautiful?
There were days at the end, where he just stared at the ceiling, absent, that I wondered if he was visiting with Jesus. This was confirmation and it came again, one more time in a person I hadn't met before. There was no doubt. I LOVE when the Lord speaks to His hurting children, and when He repeats Himself, I LISTEN.
It was something I had never heard of before, someone being given a choice. But I believe. And it gave me great peace and hope.....
Congrats on your victory lap, daddy. You've fought the good fight, you've WON the final race, and you are the victor......