When exiting my car the other day, I glanced over at some scraps of paper on the front seat and saw a familiar face “looking” back at me from the side of that paper pile. It was a “life picture” of a man, replicated on his printed funeral program, the paper relic from my attendance of his funeral service a few weeks ago.
I pulled out the program and looked at it again. I refer to it as a “program,” but it is basically a church bulletin. City funeral homes have their own printed programs of the services for the departed, but in a country church, the funeral “program” most often resembles the Sunday bulletin, with a few modifications.
I noticed “dimpled” areas about the size of fingertips scattered over the front of the bulletin, and then recalled that January day’s weather, the source of the paper’s “watermark.”
The man, George Cleveland Daniel (“Cleve”) lived into his late eighties and was a well-respected member of both his community and Caswell County, by reason of his true life-long adherence to the golden rule. His obituary stated that all of his children and grandchildren reside within a 5-mile radius of his home. By that fact, it seems to me that his life was regarded as an ongoing regenerative spark by following family generations wishing to remain close by to receive the good from that continuing life-energy.
The day of the funeral was both cold and rainy, the kind of January day on which one expects to see a little snow or sleet mixed in (but thankfully, that never happened during the funeral, waiting till later on that night of Jan. 17th). Somewhat past mid-morning on that day, I made my way down Highway 62 North in Caswell County, being glad that a new pair of wiper blades had recently been installed, as the rain was so intense that anything less than brand new would have failed to keep pace. Very shortly after turning onto the Long’s Mill Road, and before I could see the church (New Hope Methodist), I saw cars lined up on the shoulders of both sides of the road, where a funeral home assistant was serving as parking staff.
The church’s Sanctuary was full, with a spillover of respect-payers taking up the whole fellowship hall. An extra audio speaker had been placed there to carry the minister’s words that greater distance from the pulpit. Since the pews of the sanctuary and the chairs of the fellowship hall were filled, all that was left was “standing room only” in which I took my place alongside a good many others. For this man’s funeral, the number of attendees could not have been greater if it had been a warm, sunny, spring day.
The minister spoke of Cleve’s regard for his fellow man, and of course, for his wife, children and grandchildren, along with his church. I personally remember his friendliness from those times when my late wife Diane and I would perform at local functions (she played the piano and I sang). If Cleve were present, he never failed to compliment us afterwards, with sincere warmth. The minister went on to mention Cleve’s wit, which he used to cheer up those around him whose outlook on life, from time to time, may have been experiencing a temporary, “negatively challenged” moment.
In addition to having regard for his fellow man, Cleve truly cared for his several hundred dairy cows, and not just because they were his livelihood. The minister said that Cleve gave each one a name, and that he could visually distinguish one from the other, calling each by name (not all people are alike, and neither are cows). There are some people at church whom I only know by face, having long forgotten the name. When Cleve retired from the business, he made sure that his cows went to people who would care for and about them, as he did.
In keeping with his love of the singing of the hymns of the church, the congregation sang five or six hymns during his service, much more than usually sung at a funeral.
Following the service, I helped an elderly lady (in her eighties) to her car (such “elderliness” for me now only twenty years away). I helped steady her while we walked, and also helped hold her umbrella. The ground was totally saturated, and the rain was still coming down in an almost solid stream. It sort of reminded me of the “rain planet” in the segment entitled “The Long Rain,” from the old Rod Steiger movie “The Illustrated Man.” Added to this was the unevenness of the ground upon which we were walking, so our conversation out to her car was conducted in a very unusual fashion, with two pair of eyes only meeting two pair of feet, instead of each other.
The ground was so saturated that the water stood above it. Even in places where there was no grass covering, the weight of our walking didn’t produce mud, but just served to press out more water from the ground, adding to that which was already standing.
Looking down at that once-raindropped bulletin in my car again, I remembered that the minister had referred to Mr. Daniel as a “pillar of the church” and a “pillar of the community,” but a pillar is just a solid and stolid thing, standing only in architectural support. Such men as Cleve (of which, sadly, there are few, many fewer than needed nowadays, in every community) are more like the outside air, streaming around a portico’s standing pillars, entering the door, freshening the stale air inside. They are also like sunlight, traversing windowpanes, bringing relief from shadows within.