Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Summer of '67

Rear left to right: Grady (my Dad), Uncle Franklin, Uncle Wilburn, Uncle Hilyard
Front row left to right: Uncle Jerry, Grandpa Jimmy, Uncle J.B.

So last night checking my Facebook, my cousin Melinda mentioned a show with Billy Crystal where he talks about his Dad and lessons learned over the years. His father died when he was 15. Her Dad, Mark, was 17 when his Dad (and my Uncle Wilburn) died. Instantly I was transported back in time, even more when I tuned into the show she mentioned.

There are times in our lives when it seems everything swirls out of control. It's like the universe is realigning, and that includes the person you are as well. My year of reckoning was '67. On July 9th, I celebrated my 20th birthday. That very next day we would get the call. There had been a terrible accident. My Uncle Wilburn had been killed, My cousin Mark was in Parkland Hospital with a closed injury, and the other family members were scattered about town in other hospitals.Immediately we left for Dallas. After the funeral, we returned to Tyler for a couple of days before me heading back out for Irving, spending as much time keeping an eye on Mark. He had a closed head injury, and any fall could be deadly.

Before going on with this story, I've an observation to make. amidst all the chaos, some of the most mundane details were stored in my old and often fading memory cells. What we talked about around Aunt Louise's kitchen table. My cousin Gary was released from the Marines and together we would talk into the wee hours waiting for our next shift at the hospital. The memories of this time are as if it all happened yesterday despite the fact almost 47 years has elapsed.

So this all went on until July 18th. Then Dad called. My Aunt Vi on Mom's side had a coronary and had died. I hopped a bus back to Tyler and we set out for Arkansas where her funeral was held. In a family filled with preachers her brother in law delivered the eulogy and she was laid to rest in a small country cemetery, then back to the old family homestead in the back woods. Wow, two family members so close together. Back to Tyler we went, where I spent a couple of days helping Dad build a corral.

I should say the corral from hell. Working in that hot East Texas sun, we pounded away putting it all together. Towards the end of that last day, both our tempers were worn thin. Daddy apparently asked me to hand him something and I didn't hear him and then he exploded. He was yelling and screaming and I was yelling and screaming back and both of us were so furious it's a miracle we didn't come to blows over it all.

Now I used to talk about how Daddy didn't know how to use the word "sorry." In fairness at that part of my life, neither did I. So we didn't talk that evening, and the next morning I headed out for Irving once again. I got into the routine of all night sojourns at the hospital, sitting in the kitchen at Aunt Louise's chatting and visiting. Daddy called once, but the conversation was strained. Oh how I wish I had not been so proud and stubborn.

On August 1st, 3 weeks since my Uncle had been killed, Mom called. She was in tears, sobbing and crying and it was hard to understand her. Daddy had been back out with an old War Buddy visiting to the farm and he'd done some more work on the corral. This morning, he seemed totally exhausted. He collapsed to the floor in front of Momma and my brother Marlowe where he died. She had called the doctor and he had rushed over to the house, but it was too late.

I gathered my clothes, and Gary drove me back to Tyler. We made the trip in record time, and immediately I was busy helping make the funeral arrangements, picking a casket etc. Life from this day forward would be very different.

I did not realize at the time yet how much that fight had affected me with Daddy. I drank a lot which numbed some of the pain. But somewhere in all this I had developed a nervous twitch in one hand and it was there for some years. Many years later, through a program of sobriety, I sat down and began talking to an empty chair, where sat my imagery of Daddy. I talked about that day. About all I had done wrong that day. Then I asked him to forgive me. From that day on, the hand never shook again.

The lessons from all that are pretty clear. We never know when a loved one or friend will go away. Take the time to tell them you love them, and don't let arguments have time to fester into resentments. Funny thing: One person I was pissed of with was Daddy for dying before we could make amends. Pretty lame eh? But my hunch is talking with others that it's not that uncommon. Oh and relish the moments you have with family. Most of my family doesn't communicate with me any more because of my "difference." A few do and I love each one of you so. Still I've got memories. A game of dominos, or five card draw, or Monopoly, mixed liberally with plans to save the world, laughter, arguments about what cards are wild, adventures in the great outdoors,telling our stories as only a family of storytellers can, each forming a memory mosaic that encircles the heart.


  1. Thank you! I just had a trip back to my Aunt Polly's table in Mt. Salmon (by Jacksonville) at nearly the same time. Take care. C.

  2. Precious memories, not just good, but even the bittersweet. I pretty much was able to make amends with both my parents and even though they are both gone now, I feel that everything that needed to be said was said. My grief is light, my happiness is full.

  3. This is beautiful Jessica. And reminds me to do the work I need to do with my own dad. Not specific fights but rather a general improving of the relationship. You're right. We never know how much time we have with someone.