“Lord, he looks so peaceful,” Miss Alice said tearfully. I braced myself for a long two hours at my post—and that was before the funeral started. Interrupting my thoughts, she looked up at me and spoke in a whisper that was loud enough for Pastor Brown, who was standing on the other side of the casket, to hear. “We’ve missed you at church, Jimmy. Don’t be a stranger!”
I’d been a stranger at Zion Baptist Church for two years, ever since I’d started Arkansas State University here in Jonesboro. Most of the girls I’d go to youth group to see were gone now—off to college in Little Rock, Memphis. And when I started going on call nights and weekends at Johnson & Son, doing removals and assisting at funerals, I came up with more reasons.
“Howdy, Jim—I almost didn’t recognize you!” whispered Sam Manning in a faux hillbilly voice, shuffling to the left of the casket, vise grip on my right hand. “Don’t let that book-learning get you all corn-fused.” I smiled and nodded.
The visitation line had died down after about a half-hour, as those who had to work and wouldn’t be staying for the funeral had gone through, and the crowd of those family and close friends who would stay for the funeral hadn’t yet arrived. Buddy Parkin—today’s “case,”...