Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Death Trumps All

*2 Day Diet Progress at end of post

Death trumps all. With many topics in mind as I sit down to write today, the funeral I attended yesterday has to come first. For seventeen years, from 1975-1992, I lived on 17 acres in Roane County, WV, between two Moores: Daryl and Nina (pronounced nine' ah -- she was her mother's ninth child, and I suppose she'd run out of names) Moore and Frazier and Bernice (pronounced Ber’ nis ). I built a house there, and it’s where, with my ex-wife, Pat, we raised our daughter, Hannah (thirty-seven this week), who now lives in Albuquerque, NM. Daryl was Frazier’s uncle, and when I first moved there, they were friends who helped each other out, plowing a garden with a pony, getting a chain to pull a stuck vehicle out of the ditch on the steep, muddy road we shared with two hairpin switchbacks (that’s redundant, but maybe everyone will understand one or the other).

Frazier worked for Pennzoil in the local oil and gas fields and Daryl drove a water truck delivering water to schools (hmm, correlation? I don’t think so; just a lack of a water system and dependence on wells) Sometime in the eighties Pennzoil went on strike and Daryl’s son-in-law took a temporary job as what was euphemistically called a “replacement worker”, known among union guys as a scab. Frazier held Daryl responsible for his son-in-law’s choice, and they never spoke again, that is, Frazier never spoke to Daryl, and he also did some unkind things I won’t go into. Not quite a feud, but definitely a falling out. Daryl was a very laid back country boy at heart, he loved to farm and he had, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful, well kept, “head of the holler” properties you’ll ever see. He died a few years ago of complications from diabetes, and Nina, now 84, still lives in the house alone, her daughter and son-in-law who live on the paved road at the top of the property her only lifeline. She never learned to drive.

Frazier, who had moved to South Carolina to be near children and grandchildren, died in a car accident last week at the age of seventy-six. His children brought him back to West Virginia to be buried on the homeplace, just down the holler from my (former) property. I’d watched the kids grow up, and two of three of them are parents now. Ginny (Virginia), told me that Frazier used to stay up late into the night sitting on their porch to listen to the fiddle music drifting down the creek from my house.

Ginny asked me to sing Country Roads (aka Almost Heaven, West Virginia) at the gravesite ceremony. He was to be buried across the small creek from his house in an area he had used as a garden that would now become a family cemetery. Kenny asked me to sing Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” I spent the last few days learning and practicing it.

The funeral itself was in a little country church, one room and some picnic tables outside. A woman who sounded a lot like Hazel Dickens sang a couple hymns, including Will the Circle Be Broken. A soft spoken man Ginny had asked to lead the bulk of the service talked about Frazier, read some handwritten tributes in a hesitant and stumbling way, and spoke confidently about the need for all of the forty or so people, local folks who have no doubt been hearing this message all their lives, to understand that death is only temporary if they just give themselves over to Jesus to be saved. The regular preacher took up that message a little later in the Evangelistic preaching style full of praise Gods, dear Lords, shortness of breath and exclamatory explosive Hut’s and such. It was somewhat hypnotic, but thank goodness he did not actually do an alter call and ask people to join him, and no one offered to.

I don’t think Frazier was that much of a churchgoer, and I don’t think his kids are either. He struck me as the type who might stand in the back of the room with some of his buddies. If Tears in Heaven as a choice is any indication of belief, it reflects a bit less certainty, “Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven?” And the youngest, around thirty, spent some time in front of the open casket speaking to his father, begging him tearfully to open his eyes, “just open your eyes, just come back to us, it’s easy,” and assuring him when he didn’t respond that he would see him again someday, and reassuring himself that even though they disagreed about a lot of things, that they always talked later and forgave each other.

I also took the opportunity on that beautiful cool spring day to sit on the porch with Nina, who, perhaps reflecting on Frazier’s passing, showed me a quilt she was working on. She has always made quilts. She does the embroidery by hand, but the actual quilting on a machine; I’m not sure if among aficionados that counts as hand-made. She told me a story about a grandson who had asked for a quilt to put in Daryl’s casket, and when he’d come down from the upstairs room where she keeps them with one he said Daryl had always claimed as his own, she decided she ought to have one for her own casket. As I left her, I said, “Don’t be in a hurry to finish that quilt.”
I love the tilt of Daryl's cap. They were married in 1947.

Nina's making this for her casket....

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