Thursday, February 23, 2006

Goodbye, Dear Friend

She was the grandmother of the love of my life and the matriarchal head of my wife's close family. Last week she went to be with the Lord. She was 94, nearly twice my age, and she was one of my dearest friends. When I first met her I was a freshman in college, and quite convinced I knew more about the world than anyone my age and most everyone else. You see, I was a voracious reader and had traveled--I was a man of the world. Mrs. Cannon was the hard-working wife of a Mississippi hog farmer and I made the mistake of underestimating her at our first meeting. After that first weekend at her breakfast table I never made that mistake again. She was one of the smartest women I have ever known, and she kept her sharp mind until her last breath. In her I found a kindred spirit of sorts. We shared a love for reading and birds.

She and her husband were charter members of the Greatest Generation and I instantly liked them both. They were a study in contrasts. He was taciturn and a focused perfectionist. She was talkative and related family stories that were the definition of free association. By the time I met them they had been a team for over 40 years and had their farming life down to a practiced science. Despite the fact that I hung all over their precious granddaughter like a cheap suit, they accepted me from the start and treated me like another son. I later learned that I was just the latest in a long line of young men and women they had befriended, fed, raised, disciplined, and set-straight. During the Second World War, army units camped near their homestead and Mr. Cannon regularly brought home soldiers (young boys, really, away from their homes for the first time) for a home-cooked meal.

They had raised three sons, the oldest of whom had the twin girls my buddy and I had double-dated through high school. When the girls matriculated at Memphis State they lived their freshman year on their grandparents' farm 20 miles outside of Memphis. I burned up the asphalt between Oxford and Memphis on a regular basis and the price for my room and board on the Cannon farm was some of the hardest work I had ever done, or ever did. The education I received from those southern survivors of the Great Depression was invaluable. They were, frankly, poor in possessions. But they were proud and rich in their self-sufficience. Mr. Cannon died 15 years ago, at the wheel of his truck, hauling slop for his hogs.

Saturday we buried Mrs. Cannon next to her husband of 59 years in a small country cemetery in Northwest Mississippi, near where they were born, reared, and married. A steady down-pour ceased long enough for her family to gather graveside and share. There were tears, but there was also laughter at remembrances of a special couple whose lives continue to influence generations after them. Her three sons, a nephew, my son, and I carried her casket from the hearse to the opened grave across a soggy ground. It was fitting that we toiled in the mud for her--she had done the same for us.
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