It was one of those wickedly hot Sunday afternoons in my hometown… the kind of heat that makes it hard to breath. Combine the weather with the fact it was Sunday in a tiny place like
De Kalb, and you get an eerie calm all over the place. This atmosphere persisted on that day… even with someone running their lawn mower off in the distance. I rode my bike everywhere back then, and I remember not being able to find anybody outside… nobody to play with. Nobody to talk to. It didn’t matter much, because I wasn’t much in the mood for talking anyway.
My meandering bike trips back then would take me all over town… past city hall… the fire station… the elementary playground… the Ag farm… and all 3 cemeteries within De Kalb’s city limits.
Most kids my age would shutter at the sight of such a place. But to me a cemetery was nothing to be afraid of. I spent too many afternoons hanging around my grandparent’s flower shops to be scared of a graveyard… or funerals. And I’d spent more than a fair amount of time down the street at the funeral home. It was just 150 feet, which was close enough for any 7 year old boy to deliver pot plants in my spare time.
Back to this particular Sunday though… I ended up at Woodmen Cemetery, which was without a single living person except me. That is, until a line of cars rolled slowly through the front gate. When he got out of the lead car, you could see his shiny white hair blowing in the wind as the doors were opened for the family. It wasn’t a very large funeral. Only a dozen or so mourners filed under the green tent set up just a few feet away from the road.
That man I was telling you about was a towering figure… both in person… and in reputation. Noble Bates commanded this small gathering without saying a word… or so it seemed to me. It was the kind of class that’s lost on many professions these days. Even though I’d known him most of my life, up until that Sunday afternoon I’d never really paid attention to how he operated… and how small town America grieves for their dead. Words were spoken. Bible verses were read aloud. Hymns were sung and prayers were given. 15 minutes spent to commemorate a lifetime, however short or long this particular person was on this earth. But it was done with compassion and class.