“LIKE AN EARLY nineteenth-century poet, when I have melancholy moments and feel the world is too much for us and that late and soon we lay waste to our powers in getting and spending, I’m forced to pause and reflect upon my experiences with the dead and the hold they exert on our lives.” -Dave Robicheaux (fictional) written by James Lee Burke
The dead do indeed have a hold on my being. But this is a story of the living as much as it is about the dead.
It was a Saturday and I’d come “home” to help get our children ready for camp the following Monday. While my home is in Waco, “Home” for the purpose of this story is Mama & Daddy’s house on West St in my hometown. The home that I left when I was barely 18. It’s been their home since 1980.
Daddy wanted to go visit the spot where his daddy was born in 1918. This day would have been his 100th, so it was a most appropriate time.
While the stop at the corner of 7th and Congress was brief, Daddy seemed to be speaking without talking. Glancing up into the pair of pecan trees as the sun’s rays flash through the dry green leaves blowing in the breeze. As if to say he felt whatever spirits were there.
The visit was almost interrupted by a failed drug deal along the sidewalk by 7th Street. The mood lightened as one skel said to another, “I’ve got a map of Australia here I can sell you.”
It was hard not to laugh from across the vacant yard and high tail it out of there. Instead, we picked pecan seedlings in hopes of planting them elsewhere.
From there, our ride took us through the Rose Hill neighborhood of Texarkana, Texas. All 6 of the Haldeman siblings Daddy belonged to were born into the same frame house at 1930 W. 9th St. As we drift slowly down one street and then another, he recalled with lightning precision who lived over there and down there. Who moved away and when. Who they married. Where their Daddy worked. Their baseball team in junior high. Which sibling was in their class.
More spirits and serenity found us when we stopped by the Rose Hill Cemetery. Just down from the old site of the Federal Cotton Compress, the graveyard has managed to survive the past 130 years thanks to a takeover by the city. His grandparents, Robert Shaw and Mamie Dickens Neely Haldeman rest there, along with a half dozen of Mamie’s people who came over from Mississippi.
Daddy surprised me when he wanted to sit between them. This image turned out to be as priceless as the day.
After a stop at Pecan Point Brewing for beers and another stop at the mall for a bowl of phô, we had to make a stop I initially dreaded. I haven’t been to see the graves of my grandparents – his parents – since they passed. But it was time.
A few quiet moments later, we were back on our way for home. Feeling better for the time spent with our people, always living within us. Regardless of the dimensions of which they choose to be.
It was a good day with Daddy. One that hasn’t happened like that in quite a long time. While I’m sure we’ll spend quality time like that again, I don’t know that we’ll ever capture the magic of that day. The peace that could be felt. The slight sting of sadness or loneliness that made it feel like we were the only ones living walking the earth that day. The happy moments in between where you felt another presence.
I don’t know we’ll get that again. I hope we do.