Thurman P. Woodfork
I went to a funeral today, despite the fact they always depress me no end. But ‘Sonny’, Phillip Flowe, was a friend of long standing from my childhood days, so I went. I arrived about a half hour before the actual services began. Sonny, in his coffin, lay before the altar, some of his immediate family seated in the first row. Mourners were passing up the long aisles to view the body. I sat down in a back row and looked around the church.
So much had changed over the years; this was not the Mount Carmel I had attended almost every day in my youth those many years ago before joining the Air Force. The old, venerable Mount Carmel I remembered had been torn down and this new, modern building erected in its place. It has LCD TV monitors along the side walls showing the pulpit and the area immediately before it. I wondered what Reverend Jernigan would make of that.
Quite a few people spoke to me in a friendly manner, though I didn’t recognize any of them at first. Then a lady came up from behind me, threw her arm across my shoulder and presented her cheek for a kiss, demanding to know if she had called me during the holidays.
Startled that she had somehow recognized me from behind after my long years of absence, and wondering how she had gotten my phone number in order to call, I answered no, but my phone had been acting up, anyway. She swept on, greeting others as she moved up the aisle, and a rusty file marked ‘Vivian Mozan’ creaked open in my mind. She was the wife of my old Scoutmaster. Mr. Mozan had passed away many years ago, before I joined the Air Force. As a matter of fact, I had become an assistant scoutmaster at Mount Carmel, myself. I had known Vivian’s family for years before the two met. She was Vivian Paine, then.
I sat there looking around the church rather bemusedly; more faces climbed out of the misty distant past as I watched from my seat in the back. “Mercy Snakes, I used to take that grey-haired old guy camping when he was a boy!” Mental head shake; I wondered if he’d remember his balding, gray-bearded former scoutmaster now…. So many years have passed. I finally got up and walked to the front of the church to take a final look at Sonny. I did not see any resemblance between the waxen face in the coffin and the warm living person in my memory. A remark made by one of his family members was noted on the back of the funeral program: “Whenever he left the room, I always thought, ‘There goes the coolest man I know.’” I passed on down the next aisle to the rear of the church and on through a door in search of the men’s room.
“My goodness, its Woodfork!” a female voice exclaimed as I asked a gentleman where I could find the men’s room. I turned toward the voice and saw a familiar face, but wasn’t sure who it was. “Go ahead,” she said indicating the restroom, “I’ll be right here when you come out.” I stood in the men’s room trying to put a name to the face to no avail, so I finally went back outside, having finished my reason for going in there in the first place. Standing there racking my brain wasn’t doing any good. True to her word, the lady was still standing in the hallway, and immediately cleared up the mystery of her identity while giving me a hug. She called out to her husband.
“Richard!” she said, “It’s Thurman Woodfork,” and the familiar lines of her face crystallized and cleared in my memory. They were the Campbell’s, childhood friends who had forged an enduring marriage of over fifty years. The services began just then and they hurried away, as they were active participants. After a moment’s indecision, I walked outside and headed back to my car filled with an unaccountably deep sadness.
I don’t think I’ll be going to the funerals of any more childhood friends. It’s too much like attending the death of my youth.
©Copyright December 27, 2010 by Thurman P. Woodfork
I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,
Looks like between ‘em they done
Tried to make me
Stop laughin’, stop lovin’, stop livin’ –
But I don’t care!
I’m still here!
Written by James Weldon Johnson