KENNER, La. (BP)–It started with two majestic trees in my front yard, placed there 20 years ago by the previous owner.
One was a sweet gum and the other a cypress. As trees go, they were gorgeous, gave great shade and provided a stopover for countless birds on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.
But, alas, my yard was just too small for those ambitious trees. Their roots ran like wayward children into the neighbor’s yard, messing up his lawnmower, even cracking his driveway. In early winter, the trees shed their leaves, which blew a half block in every direction. Cypress leaves are thin and slippery; sweet gum balls are round and prickly. I was not very popular with my neighbors, especially when I told one of the complainers that “everyone rakes his own yard; my other neighbor’s tree sheds over the fence into my backyard and I rake it. Take care of your own yard.” As he turned three colors of purple, I decided to rake his yard in the interest of his health and my survival.
So, we took the trees down.
They had to go; they were too much tree for my postage-stamp yard; it was the fault of the guy who planted them; I grieved. Some men from church came out on a Saturday morning and spent four hours playing Dr. Kevorkian to my trees, with minimal assistance from me. A few days later, one returned with a stump grinder. All that remained of my great trees was two dark spots on the front lawn.
One day, I’ll plant some grass there or set out another tree, but so far, I just can’t. It feels like the final resting place for two dear friends and I’m not ready to desecrate their grave. So, there’s my lawn — probably 30 feet by 60 feet, bright green Bermuda with what appears to be dual holes burned into the center, like eyes wearing too much mascara.
One morning I went to a funeral. The priest conducting the service for the mother of one of my friends said, “Someone has observed that our lives are filled with holes where good friends once stood.” That’s it. That’s what I’m feeling. I’m missing my friends.
Several years ago Jerry Clower of Route 4, Liberty, Miss., left us long before we were ready to give him up. Where he stood, a dark hole lingers in my heart, testimony to his power and influence. I miss picking up the phone and hearing that voice saying, “I understand you’ve got a mule for sale!” I miss his random calls and the occasional note in the mail. Most of all, I miss just knowing we were on the same good earth.
My aunt Ruby died a few weeks ago. They said she was 90, but in my mind she will forever be 40, with me the 10-year-old visiting her family (her youngest, Nelda, and I are the same age) for a couple of weeks each summer. I can hear her calling to her kids, I hear her laughter, I see the gleam in her eye. Her wonderful husband, Johnny, went to heaven a few years back. A policeman in downtown Birmingham, Ala., for forever, it seems, he knew everyone and liked most of them. At the end of my annual visit, he would take me downtown and fit me out in school clothes. I have five siblings; he did it only for me. Don’t ask me why. He gave me my first bicycle. In fact, my only bicycle. They were dear, dear people. I miss Aunt Ruby and Uncle Johnny Chadwick of Clanton, Ala.
The priest at the funeral said, “At the end of life, the only things that matter are one’s faith, one’s family and one’s friends.” I still have my faith, but the older I get, my family and friends keep cutting out and piling up on the other shore. And leaving these black holes where they once loomed large in my heart.
McKeever is pastor of First Baptist Church, Kenner, La.