Funerals offer chance to remember good times

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, March 24, 2012

Four funerals in one week of friends, or parents of friends, is just too many.

I know, your answer is going to be one of those smart-alec replies, like, “Well, at least one of them wasn’t yours!”

Yeah, but you know what got to me a little bit is that many of the family that I was paying my respects to live right here close, and I haven’t made the effort to go see those folks like I should have. Aren’t we all like that? “I wish I’d done this or that.”

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Too late, usually, at that point.

At one, I made my way down front before the service to speak to the widow, a lady who is one of the best nurses I ever had — and I’ve had a lot of good nurses. Nurse Ann, Nurse Ruby, Nurse Jenny, even the nurse at the Ole Miss infirmary who for 48 hours woke me up every hour on the hour to ask, “How many fingers am I holding up?”

That was a football concussion worthy of the name.

Miz Payne not only nursed me through a broken back and a crushed chest (same accident), but five years later nursed me through a right hand crushed in a cotton gin accident (well, I actually stuck it in there on purpose — duhh!).

I had to go to the office a couple of times a week for over a year, seems like, and I learned the first time that Dr. Nichols was a “Let’s get this over and done with” kind of guy. He’d rip the bandage off and do the debridment with what felt like a wire brush. My routine after that was to call to be sure the Doc was gone to lunch, then I’d rush to town to let Miz Payne do the job and rebandage it gently. I was never sure that she had caught onto what I was doing 40 years ago, but when I knelt in front of her at the funeral, she immediately took my right hand, examined it, then she introduced me to several family members as, “The best patient I ever had!”

She’s still making patients feel good.

At the first funeral of the week, I went a’calling at the house, and pulled up just as one of the lady’s sons and her brother-in-law and his wife were walking into the garage. Bill and Charles Earl and Clarice and I talked about hunting and water-skiing together, and just sharing families growing up together. It was a lot of fun, actually, and the occasion was sort of happy, if you take my meaning, which I think the lady whose life we were honoring and remembering would have joined in enthusiastically with. Now that I’m trying to write this, I knew Miz Lollie for essentially all my life. They lived out here on the Dog (the Bogue and Delta Railroad line “Black Dog”), and her kids rode school bus No. 13 with me, and I don’t ever remember her not being happy and laughing, even when one of her daughters lost her swimsuit top in a skiing fall and refused to let the guy in the boat come to her aid, instead sending him a half-mile back to the barge for a shirt.

We stood in the driveway for probably an hour, then a younger sister drove up, who graduated from high school with me and married another classmate, one of my best friends. This is an aside, but Hilton was the first in our class to pass away, and our LHS class has the highest mortality rate of any other LHS class that is still below the normal mortality age, for some strange reason. Anyway, I got to meet their son, grown up now, and spend some time with Margaret.

Twice, as more and more family came home for the funeralizing, one of those guys made the same comment that I’ve heard our LHS class President Little Dave make several times: “We were raised in the best place during the best times by the best people that any kids anywhere ever had!”

What a wonderful thing to remember someone by, and to be able to laugh a little, even though we are mourning the passing of folks we would miss. Folks who had an active hand in raising us all, because back then if a kid did wrong in front of Miz Lollie or Coach Ben or Nurse Miz Payne or Big Robert or Big Dave, then they were there to correct us and mete out discipline as deserved.

Maybe funerals are for us to remember those good times, and to count our blessings, for knowing and growing up with such friends and mentors. Reckon?

Robert Hitt Neill is an outdoors writer. He lives in Leland, Miss