Standing on the veranda, mom’s arm wrapped snuggly around dad’s waist. “Listen, do you hear them?” Mom spoke with a soft voice not wanting to disturb the beautiful southern spirituals flowing on the winds of mourning. The music filtered through the pecan trees as the sweet melodic sounds soothed dad’s saddened heart.
Dad just stood there stoically, shoulders slightly slumped. Reaching with his free hand, I saw him brush a tear away. It had been a stormy week for him.
The warnings echoed over the airways. Storms blow in quickly during the spring in Mississippi. Bracing for the spring storms, they were now upon us in full force. The dam, which separated the river from our property, occasionally broke during the heavy rains. Other times, the river simply flooded the lower areas. If the cattle weren’t moved before the storms came we suffered loss of cows and claves.
Dad picked up the phone to call his long time helper and friend. “Bear, would you grab your gear, load up the horses and come help me?” “ We need to move the cattle before the dam breaks.” “Sure thing, Mr. Bob, I’ll be right over,” he replied without hesitation.
Bear hugs were commonplace with Dad’s friend, a big burly man filled with joy and love for people. I once asked Bear how he kept such a positive attitude. He replied, “Miss Marie, Jesus puts this smile on my face, he fills my heart with joy.” Giving me a bear hug, he walked off singing, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot.’
The truck and trailer rolled into the driveway, grabbing his rain slicker, Dad raced out of the house…. screen door slamming behind him. I watched from the window waving as the two drove off together. Reaching over to Bear’s hat, Dad teasingly tipped it forward.
Moving one pasture of cattle without incident, the men moved to the next. The waters were already flooding causing the cattle to panic. Dad swam his horse forward. Bear followed behind.
Within moments pandemonium struck. A huge bolt of lightning caused Dad’s horse to lunge, the strong current ripping him from the saddle. Dad grabbed for the saddle horn, but missed. Seeing Dad’s dilemma, Bear urged his horse forward. Dismounting into the water he swam furiously, fighting the current, to help Dad remount. Nearing the back of Dad’s horse, the horse landed an accidental deathly blow to his Bear’s head. He went under and never resurfaced. Dad was able to get back to his own horse, but could not see Bear. Once back on land, he called for help.
For days a search brought the same results…nothing. As the rain ceased and the waters receded, Bear’s lifeless body was found entwined in underbrush.
Dad grieved deeply for his dear friend. But the one comfort he had was in knowing that although this side of heaven he may not be able to work side by side, nor would he see that wonderful smile, someday they would be reunited once again. That day has come. Dad said goodbye to his family several years ago and perhaps they now walk those streets of gold together. Listen closely, can you hear them singing? “Swing low, sweet chariot… coming for to carry me home!”