Digging up Daddy

JOE BOB CLARK is one of Esto’s most successful sons, having moved all the way down to Bonifay, the county seat, and become a prosperous insurance and real estate agent.

Even as a kid I was aware that Joe Bob was an important man. People from Esto who had a problem went to Joe to get it solved. Several times when I was in school in Bonifay he helped and encouraged me — especially the day I turned 16 and thought I just had to have my driver’s license that day. When I was a senior in high school, few things seemed bigger than getting invited to the weekly lunch of the Kiwanis Club, to which all of the businessmen belonged. A boy from Esto could feel way out of his league at the Kiwanis lunch, but Joe was always there, welcoming me in, introducing me around. We kept in touch through the years.

In retirement, Joe has come full circle. He still lives on a hilltop just north of Bonifay, but he returns often to Esto, just 12 miles up the road. He also has taken on the role of caretaker of our neighbors who have gone on to the great beyond. He makes it his personal mission to keep the grass cut and the graves tidy in the Esto cemetery.

My mother is buried in that cemetery. And my grandmother and Uncle John, too. So is nearly everyone else I grew up loving in our little town.

But not my father. Cottontop, as they called him, lived hard and died young, when I had just turned 4. He was buried up the road at Lee’s Chapel, where many people from Esto had been buried before we had a cemetery of our own. The cemetery at Lee’s Chapel didn’t get the care that Joe lavished on Esto’s dead, though, and my father’s grave was in bad shape. I’d found through the years that the best way to deal with the absence of my father was not to think about it too much, and that was how I dealt with his grave, too.

One day I raised the subject with Joe Bob. What did he think about moving my father’s grave to Esto?

“Well, I sure wouldn’t want my people buried up there,” he said. And then he went out and found a local funeral home that would dig up my father’s grave and rebury his casket in Esto.

In the end, I couldn’t do it. I found the prospect unearthed too many memories I’d learned to forget. It’s enough for me to have Joe Bob in the Esto cemetery, cutting the grass, taking care of people in Esto, just as he’s always done.

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