This was going to be a busy weekend. It was a quick run to my hometown to complete some work for the family farm, look at a few legal issues with my attorney-sister was working on and get some audio and pictures for my podcast. The focus was to spend some time with a lifelong friend, Radena, visiting some old cemeteries and haunts to incorporate into a podcast.
We come from a small town. Radena’s family and our family were friendly and socialized from time to time. She was a year ahead on me in school, but we had well under 100 kids per grade, so we all ended up playing together.Her family was Baptist and we were of the vast minority who were not, so we may have socialized even more had we belonged to the “right church.”
But our outing to the country cemeteries this weekend was about something else for me, not just our long-term friendship. Radena was married to a high school and college friend of mine, Brad. Brad was a couple of years younger than me. He was interested in history, like me, was a good person to talk to and if you had any questions about the band Deep Purple, well, Brad was your man. Although Brad and Radena were aware of each other, it was a small town after all, their age difference put them in different social circles. They met because Brad and I were together most of the time and Radena and my brother were friends.
One of the things that Brad and I often did was to visit and document old cemeteries in our neck of the woods. There were well kept cemeteries and even all but abandoned gravesites, small family plots in fields or other out of the way places. We went to as many as we could. Brad and I visited and documented well over 100 sites in a twenty-mile radius of our hometown.
We loved the history of it, finding out who was buried there, the families these people, mostly Cherokee, belonged to. We loved the ornateness of the old stones, the starkness of unmarked graves and the sense of connecting ourselves to this place. It was an interest that we shared and it became something that connected us to each other.
I left town, moving from the area entirely and rarely got to see Brad after that. I heard about this job and that job, a few serious health issues he had. There was a thanksgiving that I happened to be in town for. My sister announced that she knew Brad was having to work that holiday, so we made a plate of goodies and leftovers and ran it to his job site. He looked good and was feeling good, not the bad case of the stories I heard during his illnesses. It was good to see him, but the duties of his job left little time for anything more than a quick thanks and short pleasantries. I ran into him a couple of times after that, but I was on my way somewhere as was he – we’d meet up next time I was in town we said. But before that ever could happen, I receive a call one day telling me that Brad had passed away that morning.
It’s the unfinished business that strikes me in moments like those. Of course, I feel for Radena and her loss, but on a personal level…well, I wasn’t done with Brad, but I hadn’t made it a point to catch up enough to make any permanent parting, however unexpected, good.
Radena claims that no one can make her laugh like I can. It’s mostly because of that shared small town experience that we say things others might not get or that others certainly wouldn’t find acceptable. We know each other well enough that there is an acceptance, a lack of judgement maybe…a knowledge of who the other person is and that it’s okay. Maybe that’s what they mean by “to know and to be known.” We are bound also by our very different memories of Brad, we knew and were known by him in our own ways.
When I’m in town and have plenty of time, I spend a little time with Radena. We talk about the stupid things that happened back when we were in school and the goings-on in our little home town and sometimes we don’t talk about things at all. She probably won’t like this part, but she’s has become a little bit of a jumble of the old school chum and my friend’s widow. I don’t like thinking about her as the latter, but it is what it is.
Back in the day, Brad and I burned those county roads up. We went here, there and yon. Even this past weekend, Radena commented about my “off road Oldsmobile.” That thing went a lot of places it was not designed to go. We drove and drove for hours listening to music, looking for historical sites and talking. Always talking.
So, this past weekend was an effort on my part to capture a little bit of the feel of that for a podcast. Radena and I hit the Ketcher Cemetery in the rural Peavine community and wound our way to the Vineyard Cemetery, just north of Evansville, where some of my people are buried. I listened back to the audio – I don’t think it will work for what I had in mind – it might work for another story. Then it hit me.
Those fall days driving, no, really soaring, down dirt roads doing something that you loved to do with a good friend – they were momentary. Their effects seem to be eternal, but they were very much of the moment. Sort of a “you had to be there” thing. But aren’t such times, those times of real communion with nature or another person, moments? Moments worth hanging on to?
Although I had set out to honor Brad’s memory with a trip doing some of those things we used to do, I don’t think I accomplished that. At least not in full. But solidifying a lifelong friendship made all the more special because we shared moments with Brad, it is very much its own thing. And it’s precious in its own way.
As I have gotten older, of course, my life has more instances of people now gone that I wasn’t finished with. Too many. I need to find a way to rectify that.
What I wouldn’t give to spend one more afternoon with him. Flying down a back road, windows down and “My Woman From Tokyo” blaring from the speakers.