Saying Goodbye To An Old Friend

I find it really ironic that the best things in life and the worst things in life often happen simultaneously. Yesterday was one of the happiest days in the life of our family—the wedding of my brother. But yet, I came home last night and found an email from my old friend, Jennie. She wanted to let me know that her Uncle Jack had passed away. And here, I’d like to thank Jennie for the picture above. It’s the only one I have of her Uncle Jack. He’s the sweet old gentleman sitting at the bottom of the picture.

You may have read about Mr. Jack before. In the year and a half that I’ve blogged, I’ve written about him at least three times. But In case you never met Jack—in person or through my writing—let me share with you this excerpt from Suppertime:

I’ve been sharing with you about the life lessons I’ve learned by growing up country, but I’d fail at my task if I ignored this lesson…

We feed those whom we love.

I learned this lesson from our friends The Farleys. They never had children, but they spent their lives on the farm where Mr. Jack had been born. And when I was a child, it was a novelty to leave our little country neighborhood and go to their house, about 3 miles out in the country. At five and six years old, I loved to follow Mrs. Eva as she went into the henhouse and gathered the brown eggs from the nests. Until then, I had only seen the cold, white eggs that came from cartons in the store. But when we moved to their town, we started eating warm, brown eggs. What a change!

For the whole fourteen years I knew Mrs. Eva (she passed in ’97) she hobbled around on a cane. But I never walked into her kitchen—any time of day or night—that there wasn’t something on the stove. And lunch or supper with them on any given day was a buffet. They didn’t just have one meat, one vegetable, and a starch. They would have two or three meats and six or seven vegetables. And sweet tea that was almost like syrup. And skillet cornbread.

Some of y’all see my picture and wonder how I got to be so very healthy… Now you know.

Mr. Jack and Mrs. Eva weren’t wealthy folks, but I never saw them turn away anybody in need. And some of my favorite childhood memories were cold nights that Mr. Jack would cook and invite practically the whole county. He would roast oysters, cook pigs, deep-fat-fry quail—sometimes all at once. For days, Mr. Jack and Mrs. Eva would prepare and cook. Friends, family, church members would come. And local firemen, EMTs, and deputies would come in their uniforms to take their turns at the tables.

It would be easy to look at that from the outside and think that it was all about food. But it was about way more than that. It was about love and serving and community. It was about knowing each other and taking care of each other. And about just enjoying being together…

One of my favorite scriptures is the passage in John 14 where Jesus tells his friends that He is going to prepare a place for them so that one day, they can all be together, blessing God and enjoying one another. I’ve heard it said that in Heaven, we’ll have spiritual bodies and won’t need food. That the Marriage Supper of the Lamb referred to in Revelation isn’t going to be a literal meal, but just a time of celebration. And I’m okay with that, because I know that the important part isn’t the meal that’s shared…

Last December, Daddy and I made a day trip down to the Farleys’ house. Mr. Jack is now in his mid-80s… And on this particular day, Mr. Jack was really wanting some homemade banana pudding and a homemade pecan pie. And so I stood in that kitchen where God had taught me so many lessons about love and I made a homemade banana pudding and a homemade pecan pie. When I finished putting the meringue on top of the pudding, I could almost feel Mrs. Eva there with me. I think she would’ve been proud of me for learning that the important thing isn’t the food. It’s the caring, the sharing, and the love.

And tonight, as I was pulling this post together, I got a call from my Dad. Several years ago, my Dad went to visit Mr. Jack and he took with him a copy of the poem I’d written about Mr. Jack and Mrs. Eva. He gave Mr. Jack a copy and being a crusty old farmer, he didn’t say much. And that’s the last I ever heard about it… Until tonight. Tonight, Daddy got an email from Mr. Jack’s pastor. Mr. Jack had shared the poem with his pastor and his family. And they would like permission to share the poem at the funeral tomorrow.

If you’ve read it before, forgive me for posting it again. But one more time, in honor of my old friend who’s at home with Jesus and Mrs. Eva now…

Harvesting Silver Queen

The only place my dad would rather be

than the pulpit was in the field

with “Mr. Jack,” the paunchy, work-worn

farmer who sat in the third pew

of our small country church

every Sunday morning and Wednesday night.

Early on hot, heavy summer mornings,

Daddy would drag my brother and me,

lazy and complaining, out to Mr. Jack’s

farm, where I’d sit, barefoot beneath

the tailgate of his red pick-up,

shucking and silking ear after ear of corn—

Silver Queen mostly.

In front of that hundred-year-old,

unpainted wood house, dozens

of chickens and cats witnessing—

Mr. Jack’s wife would sit

on her rusty, ancient rocker,

her cane against her lame knee,

supervise, swat mosquitoes, and holler

at the chickens that nibbled

from the bushel baskets.

Quick and efficient on her strong leg,

Miz Eva cooked homegrown vegetables—

field peas, butter beans, okra—

all seasoned with country ham.

She made the sweetest iced tea,

the most perfect, golden cornbread,

for anyone who stopped in her kitchen.

An hour after dark, the adults at the table,

we children sat in rush-bottomed chairs

that scratched our bare, sunburned legs

covered with mosquito bites,

dots of Absorbine Junior.

We held our plates on our laps,

and tried to keep our eyes open

long enough to eat.

About Sarah Salter

Comments

  1. Wow, what an impact. People like this teach so much without even knowing it many times. Thanks for blessing us with the stories and lessons. Sorry for your loss too–praying peace and God’s presence for all the family and friends.

  2. Lovely poem. :)

    Praying for you during this time.

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks, guys! Your prayers and support are ALWAYS appreciated and I really felt them today!

  4. Thanks for sharing about a friend who was more than a friend to me, but more like a father. He never made me feel like I was his pastor–that stand off feeling. He made me feel like the very words he often begin speaking to me by saying, “son…” Even though it has been seventeen and one-half years since we moved from Hallsboro, we kept in touch and saw each other as often as time would allow. It was a month ago, I talked with him and planned to see him this week. Thanks for sharing those good memories to help ease the pain of loosing such a good friend, a wonderful man who meant so much to me. I didn’t get to see him this week as I had hoped, but I know one day…

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