Our family was surrounded by authentic people this week; genuine goodhearted people who can be counted on when times are tough or one of “theirs” is in need of comfort. You know they mean it when they shake your hand and then hold onto it, look you in the eye, and tell you they love you; that they are praying for you. It’s not just words when they say it. They mean it and you can feel it.
Going home always brings a myriad of memories for me. I see where I went to first grade, where I played my first baseball game, caught a stringer full of fish and got sick from eating too much homemade ice cream. I saw all that again on this trip to Gordon County, but more importantly I saw what makes, and always has made, our community so special, and why I will always proudly call it home – the people.
Momma passed away Tuesday. Walravens came from everywhere. Momma was the oldest of 35 grandchildren. Freddie Walraven tried but could not count all the great-grandchildren. My cousin Brent and I spoke about how they all loved and supported each other. “I guess growing up with such hardship bonded them together,” he said. I suppose he’s right.
She was born in a dirt floor house at Crane Eater – one her daddy built with his own hands. Her momma died when she was 11 making her a momma to her brother, my Uncle Bobby. She was a “Momma” for the next 68 years – a title she cherished. She married a Mill boy and stayed married to him for 60 years – a feat by modern standards.
She loved gospel music, fried chicken, tenderloin and cube steak. She cooked the best white gravy that ever graced a homemade biscuit and she loved her family. My son says, “Daddy doesn’t cry anymore. All his tears dried up a long time ago.” That’s not true, of course. I suppose we all grieve in our own way. I choose to see her in a place where she walks with new legs and excuses the alto Angel that’s been filling in for her in the Walraven Quartet. That’s nothing to be sad about. I know where she is.
My great-uncle Otto was the first one to the Funeral Home. He’s about to turn 89 and when I was just a boy I knew him as the mule man. I asked him how many mules he had now. He said, “Just one, but I don’t have a penny tied up in him.” He said Ronnie Hunt told him he could have all the corn he could pick up after they ran the combine through the fields. Uncle Otto, who the family called “Toby,” said he picked up corn, twisted it off the cob by hand and filled enough bags to feed his mule all year long. Did I mention he was 89 and never wore anything but Liberty overalls, because he was always working? That’s why he’s still working, and I guess always will.
Truett Wilbur Moss II “T2” came to the house to visit and reminisce about our childhood adventures, mixed with myth. Always happy, T2 was born with a smile on his face. He seemed to be ready to clear his conscious of our childhood mischievousness. I stopped him because my daddy was present and, well, he’s still my daddy. We were good boys and never really got into trouble, unless you count running amuck during Sunday School, or liberating a watermelon from a garden here and there bad.
Momma would have been proud. Despite all of our shortcomings, she loved and was proud of her family. Everyone she loved was there, if they were still living. For those already gone home, well she’s singing to them now, with a smile.
I can’t begin to adequately thank all of those who came, cried, laughed, hugged, and cooked. I left Gordon County 26 years ago to go play Army and don’t get back often enough. What I saw this week made me proud of where I was raised, of who I was. They are my people and they understand that people matter most. Thank you for who you are and what you’ve always been.