I was once their dream: now they are mine.
Friday, April 16, 2010 Jacksonville, Florida
It’s been four months since my last entry here. I’m getting to a stage in my life where it seems more important to be living it than writing about it… or I’m just getting lazy. In any case, I never stop thinking… sometimes I just don’t write. On the other hand… sometimes you just have to write.
Wednesday the fourteenth was a beautiful Spring day in Meigs County. At one thirty in the afternoon I drove to the Ewings funeral home in Pomeroy, Ohio with Vanessa and Ginger to say goodbye to our friend and neighbor Charles Picket. I met Charles in 1991. I bought part of the farm he was born on. An amazing road has led me to my home in Southeast Ohio and in a way Charles was always there along the way. My friend Mark was Charles’ nephew and Mark and I have been friends since the 60’s. Uncle Charles was a father to Mark as well as to his own four boys. In a lesser way, as he became a friend to me in 1991 he was a father figure as well.
Here was a man who farmed the land that is now mine. He farmed it with horses and mules and in his time he lived to see men on the moon. He loved to speak of the old times but he didn’t live there. He had a cell phone, and satellite TV and all the superfluous stuff we take for granted but all these things never submerged the man he was. He knew what it was to have absolutely nothing and he knew what it was to live in modern comfort.
I came to Meigs County in my fifties… a flatlander with no knowledge of the wondrous world I have come to call home. The magic of the hills and hollers where I live are seductive to say the least and I knew I belonged here the first time I saw this country. Charles was family the first time I met him. ‘Getting old ain’t for sissies, Jorma,’ he said the first time we met and he said it last year the last time I saw him.
He left his mark on everyone he met. A family man with a work ethic that is largely forgotten In these times he was surely larger than life to me. His was a truly American story from a time that is slowly slipping into the shadows of time. My Father’s story as the son of immigrants was another of those American tales from the last century. My father’s path, however, was to distance himself from the mines of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and the Borax mines of Trona, California. My Dad had his share of calluses and he didn’t like them. Charles thrived on them. That said, the men and woman of these times walked a path I will never know. They survived the Great Depression where having nothing was a way of life. They walked the landscape of the American Twentieth Century with giant steps and a resolve of better times. The good and bad times revolved through their lives as times will and they accepted these things as the flow of destiny.
I would come to Charles for counsel and insights into my land. I would come to him in a way I never would have approached my own Father. He treated me as he treated all people who were in his graces… with friendship and respect. He and Annie are both gone now and I consider it an honor that I was able to call them friends. My son Zach, got to meet them a couple of years ago and perhaps someday he will recall this and know what a special moment it was. Charles and Annie were there for my wife, Vanessa, when she rolled my truck down the big hill by their house. Sometimes when the grass on my land needed mowing, he would do it without being asked. He was that kind of neighbor. He was also so much more than that… family and friend, a part of my family’s life. His oldest son Charles, wrote… ‘He was the greatest man I ever met… and I was blessed that he was my Father.’ What can you say after that? At the service at Ewings Funeral Home in Pomeroy, as various folks were telling stories and remembrances I could hear the old ones around me talking to each other… ‘I remember that… I was there… they’re gone now too…’ Whispers from the past, a bridge to the future.
The cortege drove to Shade, Ohio. When I first moved here in 1991, I had a post office box there. It is a small part of my history too.
Annie went to school in the little brick building across the road from the Cemetery. It is now a senior citizen’s center. The view from the hillside is stunning as is the one from their house by the Fur Peace Ranch. They rest together on a peaceful hillside surrounded by the land of their birth. I will visit them often.
Charles was buried with his cowboy hat. In death he still looked larger than life. As we all get older the sound of the Reaper’s scythe becomes more apparent. The Reaper is always there, of course, but when we are young it doesn’t seem to matter. There is a measure of time for all of us and there is not one among us who will miss the call to go home. The preacher at Charles’s service said something that I can’t forget. ‘The body is not who you are… It is just the house G_d lent you to live in.’ I like that.
And there it is… the passing of a great man. I too was blessed to share a very small part of his time on earth. I shall not forget him and I know that his like shall not soon be seen again.
…and one more time…
In Many Houses
In many houses
all at once
I see my mother and father
and they are young as they walk in
Why should my
to see them laughing
That they cannot
is of no matter:
I was once
they are mine.