Thursday, October 09, 2008

Goodbye Ole Friend

Last Friday, I made a hurried trip from Slidell to my home town; Stonewall, Mississippi, to tell a good friend good bye for the last time. I returned Tuesday for his funeral.

The very first time I remember seeing Bryant Thompson was on one of those weekend trips families make when they live out of state, swoop home to visit the relatives, and sometimes attend church. I was about fifteen at the time, and Bryant was a year younger. The mischief dancing in his sparkling eyes was almost obscured by the broad smile and loud voice which personified him.

Not given much to studying, Bryant was an avid hunter and mechanic. He always knew when every hunting season opened and closed. After my family moved back to Mississippi in 1962, many of our Saturdays were spent walking the woods with shotguns as we scared the “bejebbers” out of every squirrel in the area. [I am constantly amazed that squirrels are such a nuisance today. In my youth, they were hunted far and wide.] He taught me the fine art of wasting 20 gauge shotgun shells while trying to hit doves which always seemed to fly faster than that number eight shot.

Camping out was another favorite of Bryant’s. After setting our trot lines in a pond or along the creek, and telling tall tales, we’d eventually fall sleep in bed rolls without fear of some pervert coming along to attack us. Bryant loved everything about those times. He excelled at cooking bream and catfish for our meals. He could skin a rabbit, filet a fish, or cut up a deer.

Bryant loved to drive, and the muscle cars of the late fifties and early sixties were nothing compared to us as we slid around the curves of Sandy Basin or flew over Thrill Hill in the family sedan. His love affair with everything automotive prepared him for his life’s work as an extraordinary mechanic. I remember a Saturday in 1963 when my 1952 Chevy needed new lifters. My dad gave me the box of lifters and told me they were under a panel on the side of that six cylinder engine. Bryant and I were double dating that night and we needed my car, so we had to get the job done. My Dad neglected to tell me that the lifters were connected to push rods which were connected to rocker arms which had to be removed from under the valve cover. I worked for a couple of hours trying to get those lifters out, before Bryant came and told me to remove the valve cover first.

If one person could be said to love life, that person was Bryant. When he married Mollie, his life changed dramatically. Suddenly the father of a large family, he set about becoming the responsible provider, his carefree demeanor belied. Struggles and family challenges molded his pragmatic approach to life, but he never lost the dancing mischief in those sparkling eyes. Over the last year, as he battled cancer, he lived 1 Thessalonians 5:18; “In all things give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” He told over and over again how thankful He was to God for using this disease, which so many fear, to allow him to right his ship of life and live out his final months with a new awareness of God’s presence and care for him and his family.

As Bryant slipped from the cover of that earthly shell and entered into the immediate presence of Jesus Christ, he completed a journey begun sixty-one years earlier. A victorious journey.

I say, “Goodbye for now old friend. I’m looking forward to seeing you when I, too, must cross that great divide. It might be soon, or far removed; but it is a certainty. A certainty rooted and grounded in the faith that Jesus Christ is my Lord, even as you see Him directly now, I see Him through the eye of faith.”

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