This is another creative non-fiction, meant to parallel the first part. It was meant to wrap everything up.
I didn’t cry at Granny’s funeral. I loved her, I knew I’d miss her, but I was also certain – more certain than I had been ten years earlier – that I would see her again. The last time I saw her was at Christmas, and she was doing better in her current nursing home. Her spirits were higher than I had seen since she first moved out of the house in Wisner – for the first time in sixty years – in 2003.
I got the call early in the morning, took a shower, and cranked up the 1994 Buick Roadmaster that Granny gave me. I was the first of the family to arrive in Monroe, where Aunt Sharon and Uncle Bill lived, so I had plenty of time to sleep. There were times I expected to cry, like when I had to call my boss and, for the first time, tell someone that “Granny died,” or when I called and talked to a family friend who prayed for me on the road, or when I got to a gas station in Mississippi and played my guitar.
I heard several stories about Granny for the first time, while sitting around with family that weekend, playing Uno and Dominoes. One that stood out was the time when Daddy was out past curfew, so Granny and Papa were awake pacing the floor. Papa decided to drive to the party and check on him. When Papa arrived, he found everything was fine, but they had lost track of time. They were throwing darts, so when one of Daddy’s classmates challenged Papa to a game, he obliged. An hour or so later, Granny also showed up at the party, and simply said, “Okay, boys, it’s time to go home.”
The Brewer family came in from a much larger area across the country. Aunt Cecile came in from Colorado, where she has lived since the 70’s; Leigh with her husband and two children (Austin was old enough to have a decent conversation; Kate, at four, discovered me for the first time and became very clingy) came from Coushatta, where my parents live; J.T. and his wife drove from Ocala, Florida; Tim came from Oxford, Mississippi, ahead of his wife and son; Luther flew in from Los Angeles; and I drove in from Hammond. My immediate family stayed at a motel in Winnsboro, since it was the closest one to Wisner. At age twenty-four, this was the first time my parents rented a hotel room for me, instead of having me stay with them.
The morning of the funeral, we got up and went to Huddle House. Luther rambled about knowing he needed to use the restroom before the service, but just didn’t feel it. The waitress brought out our drinks, and approached the table opposite Daddy. The drinks on her tray shifted, the glass of water furthest from her fell forward, and, splashing across the table, landed directly on Daddy’s chair, from which he leapt a split second before getting his lap soaked. Luther excused himself, saying, “Well, now I do have to go.” Daddy just brushed himself off and told the waitress, “You gotta be quicker than that, lady!”
The funeral was held at the same church by the same pastor who had performed Papa’s funeral. There were considerably fewer people at this service, as a testament to how many members of her congregation she had outlived. Two of the gentlemen who had been Papa’s pallbearers were still around, and they were positioned between the four grandsons. We buried Granny in Oakley Cemetery right beside Papa, near the Brewers and the Wilsons. Granny had last visited her own parents’ gravesite in 2003 when we buried Aunt Jenny in Bridgeport, Texas, where they were born.
Following the graveside service, everyone parted ways. There was no family home in Wisner to which we could return, as it had been sold. We were already checked out of our hotel rooms in Winnsboro. The closest place we could have gone was Aunt Sharon and Uncle Bill’s house, an hour away in Monroe, in the opposite direction for all of us headed eastward. I tried to follow J.T. for a few minutes, but he drove much faster
than I wanted to. It felt like the weekend didn’t have closure.
I decided in that moment that it was my time to blaze my own trail, to go on my own adventures, to start writing my own story. Instead of going back the way I came, I took the first road that went south. One sign told how far away Auburn was, which I assumed was Auburn, Alabama, but turned out to be Auburn, Mississippi. I later turned east and came out on I-55 at Macomb. Realizing this was only an hour away from Hammond, and that I wasn’t ready to go home yet, I bought an atlas, and drove to Hattiesburg for nothing more than a cup of coffee and free wireless internet. After twenty-four years, my life finally felt like it had begun.
Papa was an amazing man; this I learned all too late. After his recovery, he fathered two more children, had five grandchildren, and lived to see his first great-grandchild born. After the war, he returned to Wisner, where he lived the rest of his life, and took over the family’s businesses: a farm and a Chevrolet dealership. Papa was involved in the Lions Club and the VFW. He often spoke to high school classes about his experiences in the Army.
Papa’s service inspired something in future generations. His son, both sons-in-law, and two of his grandsons, all went Air Force. This became a bit of a family tradition; never an overtly expressed expectation, as in most families, but it just kind of happened. His five years in the service earned him the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Ribbon, campaign medals for all three theaters: Pacific (with Battle Star), American, and European (with two Battle Stars), the World War II Victory Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. He retired as a First Lieutenant with full pension for disability on 8 December 1946.
After the war, Papa made a concerted effort to account for all thirty-four men under his command in the 2nd Platoon. According to Daddy, he tracked down and contacted the ones who were living and accounted for the ones who had died either in combat or before he could contact them. There was one particular soldier he could never find, and that always bothered him. Towards the end of his life, however, he finally made contact with this one man and discovered that he had been reassigned to a different unit in the Army.
Papa’s character definitely impressed me. He lived fifty-two years after his injuries, but refused to get a handicapped sticker for his car; he always figured someone else needed it more than he did. He never complained about his injuries, even though the knee wound never fully healed. In spite of these things, he would get down on the floor and play with the kids. Papa was respected in his community, and he never knew a stranger – black or white – nor did he treat anyone different from another.
Of the greatest importance to me was his role as a lay leader in his church. He often gave a brief message as everyone gathered before Sunday School, and these messages have been preserved and passed down to me. He spoke of his experience with the Bible as God speaking to him. I believe that God’s promises in the Bible to bless the obedient to the thousandth generation apply to our family because of his obedience and faithfulness.
Finally, I know he was never one to boast about his experiences and accomplishments. I hope he’d forgive me, because I had to make up some things in order to fill in the gaps in his account.
I love you, Papa. You’ll always be my hero. See you in my dreams.