Dustin Hardage

On April 26, 2013 my grandpa, Papa Tooter, the most influential man in my life passed away.

Our last mule deer hunting trip to the Jicaria Mountains in New Mexico, 2011. He hunted there from 1950-2012.

Our last mule deer hunting trip to the Jicaria Mountains in New Mexico, 2011. He hunted there from 1950-2012.

Three weeks prior to his death he asked me to preach at his funeral. I obviously told him yes. However, I had no idea how I could ever do it without completely falling apart. I want to thank my entire family for being so supportive and trusting, I could not have done it without you. But most of all I thank God, who gave me the strength and grace to be able to deliver the message.

Not a day has gone by since his death that I have not thought of my grandpa and stopped for moment to shed a tear. I loved him dearly. He meant the world to me and so many others. He influenced my life in a tremendous way and I can only pray to have the same impact on those I come in contact with.

In honor of Father’s Day, this post is meant to be a tribute to my grandpa, E.C. “Tooter” Fish. Included are several items from the funeral, a video, two songs*, the obituary, service details, and the message I delivered.

Songs: Keep on the Sunny Side :: I’ll Fly Away

{This is the message I delivered at the funeral of my grandpa on April 30, 2013.}

Today is a celebration of life, the life of an incredible man, a father, friend…and my grandpa.

About three weeks ago I got a phone call from papa and he asked me if I would preach his funeral. It was one of the most difficult yet honoring phone calls I have ever received.

Today, I am extremely humbled to be given this opportunity and consider it the highest honor in my life to date.

What makes this especially tough is that papa was very special man. So, how can I represent him well,  and also represent all those that knew him and loved him so dearly.

Also, I am a very emotional person, so I ask for your patience as I do my best to keep it together.

Today we’ll shed some tears for sure, but I also hope that we do some laughing, as I know that’s what papa would want.

So, I only have a few minutes to honor 87 years, of the most influential man in my life and probably many others…. No problem, right.

All of us have our unique experiences and memories of papa tooter. . . and I’ll share a few stories…and frankly, overtly brag on my papa as much as possible.

One of many things that comes to mind when I think of him is Abundant Life.

You could just see it all over him when he walked in a room, a restaurant, a bowling alley, it didn’t matter. You could tell by the way he greeted folks and the way he was greeted.  He was a joy, a light and just fun to be around.

Papa embraced life and lived it fully and actively, and I stress actively. I mean he did a lot of things, played basketball and dominoes (80 and 42),  and so much more.

It reminds me of the scripture in John 10:10.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

I believe he had this joy of life because of his belief in God… and the choice he made to be in control if his attitude.

Did bad things happen to him. Absolutely. Work was hard, he lost his wife, a son, and those are just some examples. But he made the choice to push through it, to smile, to laugh, to make others laugh, to be happy, to find that sunny side.

I think that is why so many enjoyed being around him no matter where he was. He lifted your spirits.


I don’t think many people know this, but because of my grandpa I have some major addiction problems. That’s right, because of him, I and many in this family have some addictions. As far as I know, there have been no 12 step programs created for these addiction’s yet. Before you jump to conclusions on what they are … its Hunting. And that just seemed to be a gateway addiction to heavier things like  …  fishing.

My grandpa was passionate about fishing, hunting and camping and everything that went along with it. He hunted every year from 1950 to 2012 in the Jicaria mountains and in all that time he only missed one year.

I think the thing he enjoyed most about hunting and fishing trips was being with people. I mean our hunting camps were huge, many times over 50 people including friends and family. Late nites of dominoes and plenty of laughter.

Yesterday I was able to talk to one of his long time hunting buddies, Alfred. They were friends since the 4th grade. They have hunted every year together since 1965.

When I asked Alfred to describe their friendship he just said, INSEPARABLE.

Here is just one of the many famous hunting stories I remember.

Papa was driving a pick up with several hunters in the back… and they would cruise around slowly meticulously scouring the woods for deer.

And if the truck stopped,  it was like everyone adjusted their eyes to 10x magnification.

So they continue to cruise around… about that time papa slams on the breaks, grabs his gun, and takes off running into the woods.

And everyone else does they same thing, I mean they scatter, they just know papa has seen a huge buck and they might even have a chance at killing it. After about 30-40 minutes they start wondering back to the truck and papa is sitting in the drivers seat. They all begin asking,

Did you get one? What did you see?

Papa was like, I don’t know what ya’ll are talking about … I just had to pee.


Papa also loved to bowl and he was really good. He bowled for over 40 years.

And when you saw papa there …. man, you REALLY saw him in his element. He made lifelong friends and memories and at one point the bowling alley became like a central hub for our entire family…whether you bowled or not.

It was a sad day when papa had to stop bowling because health reasons. I remember thinking, whoa, this is going to be a real set back for him.

What is he going to do?

This will be devastating. But not papa.


That is when he made the transition “BACK” to playing pool. That’s right, I said back to pool. A long time ago he ran the pool snicker in Clovis.  He loved playing pool, and he was very good. So, even though it was hard to breath and his health was declining he was insistent on staying active …. and for several years he would drive into town every weekday and play pool at the Senior Citizen’s Braxton Hall.

I was fortunate enough to talk to Everett one of his pool buddies. He said they are Sincerely going to miss him.

I want to thank all his pool buddies, for carrying in his oxygen, always encouraging him, and for being such an inviting and inclusive butch of guys. I know he really enjoyed you all.

Remember, I told you I was going to brag.

Over the last several days, I have heard many folks talk about him endearingly,  so please just give me a minute to briefly describe just some of the attributes.

  • Responsible
    • Hardworking
    • Joyful
    • Happy
    • Cordial
    • Feisty
    • Respectful
    • Encourager
    • Wise
    • Honest
    • Humble
    • Provider
    • Awnry
    • Smart
    • Caring
    • Patient
    • Funny

He had a special knack for keeping things light-hearted and making others laugh.

  • Supportive

I know his kids, grand kids and great grand kids, we’ll never forget him supporting us in whatever we were involved in, sports, singing, showing animals, life, you name it.

  • Loving

He loved is wife, his kids, his family, and friends.

And I tell you what,  he loved his pets.

I could go on and on about dog Prissy, and to go way back to the blue heeler named Kelly.

And what was crazy was seeing how much those pets in return loved him. And let me just say this got pretty intense. True story: Dogs would search for miles and for days looking for Tooter.

I honestly don’t just throw these attributes around lightly. But what I saw in papa, was that he LIVED them out.


I would be remiss if I did not mention papa’s love for farming. I’ve never met a man that worked harder and with more pride than he did. It is where many of us in the family learned our work ethic. He was consistent, relentless, put in extremely long hours… he had an inner drive to get things done.

I think that his work ethic was a way of showing his love for his family.  Although he worked hard, he never made it feel like work was more important than family.

And even as he got into his late 80s he was still driving tractor and plowing…. UNTIL….  he plowed up three blocks of the highway …. Then it was time to hang it up.


Being around papa and ESPECIALLY being at his house was a special place. A place where kids could be kids. Where adults could be kids. . . sometimes where the adults acted more like kids than the kids.

At his house you felt safer. You felt loved. You felt like the world had stopped turning for just a little while and everything just seemed to be right.

Honestly some times I don’t know how he tolerated the large number of people at his house. . . or the noise level. And with a family as large as ours there just seemed to always be young kids, running, yelling, making messes … oh wait… no,  maybe that was the adults.

OK grand kids and Amy… this is just for us. We were spoiled. I hate to say it but what we experienced together at papa and grannies may not be matched for our kids. It was a special gift that we should cherish for the rest of our lives. I mean let’s face it. There were a number of times where papa should have beat us until we couldn’t walk. But I never saw him lose his temper… and in his own way, he helped us learn the lessons we needed to learn.

He was loved, and not just loved, … but he was truly adored. 

He was the kind of man that made you want to be a better person. So as I pondered that, I wondered how?

How am I going to let papas life and the influence he had on me,  affect me for the rest of my days in a very tangible way?

I’ve tried to come up with something very simple that I hope you all can use. It’s a simple little phrase.

What would papa do?

When I am faced with difficult circumstance?

When tired of working and I just want to quit?

When a chance to be dishonest arises?

When I have a chance to go fishing or hunting? (just kidding)

You think of the next question…

But in the Bible we were given an even greater example. And truly one that I think papa was following all along. And that is the one of Jesus Christ.

When you follow Christ, and it affects how you live your life, the Bible explains it as fruit.

 Matthew 7:18

“A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Papa was a good tree.

And here is another Bible verse I want to share with you. This is Jesus talking in

John 14:1-6

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way? Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This is what Papa Tooter knows and would want you to know right now… to live life abundantly, to love fervently, and to know that Jesus is the only way to heaven, He is the way the truth and the life.  And my grandpa knew that, he knows that right now.

So, we will miss him, no doubt.  And for all those that believe in Jesus… we will see him again one day.

Today, I think the highest compliment I could ever give him is to just say. . .

Papa, I’ll do all I can to be like you. And thanks for all you have meant to so many.

{Learn more about my grandpa and his influence in my life by visiting my About page, and Three Reasons Why You Should Leave a Hunting Legacy. Here are other items from the funeral of my grandpa: Service Details and the obituary from the Clovis News Journal.}

*Songs posted here are from the Oh Brother Where Art Though soundtrack. 
However, they were performed live at the funeral by my mom, Geneva Hardage who sang 
I'll Fly Away, and Darrill Mitchell who sang Keep on the Sunny Side.

Related Articles

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Dustin – If you removed the playing pool, bowling and farming then this could be your eulogy. It sounds like you turned out a lot like your Grandpa. I’m sure he was very proud of you. I’m proud to say you are my friend.

    • Thanks Tom. As you can see my grandpa meant the world to me. And he set the standard high as a way to live out your life. Thanks again and I can say the same about you. Proud to be your friend as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *