Anita Hale died.
My heart stopped when I heard the news. Not in surprise mind you. She had, after all, survived two full years after the century mark. But my heart understood what my mind was trying to grab a’hold of. She was the last one……the end of an era.
I thought of Ricky, of course. We had graduated together. And his older brother, Gene. And little Randy. The Hale family had paralleled ours. We all understood the specialness of a mother of three boys!
But today Miss Anita transcended even that. She represented the last vestige of those parental grown-ups that guided, shaped and fashioned a whole generation of clueless youths stumbling through the Rock & Roll era.
Thoughtful, loving leadership was a team event in our little town.
Robert and Kate Hall had preceded her in death by years and years. Mr. Hall owned and operated the Western Auto up on the square. We’d go in there and talk fishing or baseball with him. We’d handle every rod and reel, try on baseball gloves and practice catching ground balls right there in the aisle.
Robert Hall always had time for us. He never rushed us or hurried us along. He also knew we didn’t have a penny to our name. We weren’t buying anything! But he’d ask about Mom and Dad, laugh about something that happened at church and pat us on the back like we were real customers.
He never failed one time in all my growing up days not to treat us boys like “we counted to”. That something you don’t ever forget!
Miss Hazel Brewer had two wonderful traits. She cooked the best spaghetti I ever tasted and she could smile down at you like you were the most special person on earth. She died way too young.
Mr. Jack Cantrell and Red Melton are no longer with us. Both could be a little rough around the edges. They’d linger over coffee at the City Café and argue about some trivial matter like it was the most important thing in the world. But both stopped in mid sentence, in every instance, to speak to the “boys” that came in for a Coke and some fries.
They’d ask about our day. They’d want to know if we were “working” or “playing”. And they were full of friendly advice whichever way we were headed. They wouldn’t let us get out the door without a “be careful”—they sounded like Mother at times! But they made us feel important.
Mr. Ed Wiley is long gone. He taught Sunday School during my high school years. You talk about a beacon of light for a confused teenager! A day hardly goes by in my life that I don’t think of him…..his teachings and his kindness.
Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Mitchum were ancient even back then. They near ’bout demanded that I bring any girl I was dating to their house. It was like I needed their approval or something. I thought it was strange, even weird at the time…..they were not even kin to me! But I have come to realize over the years how they honored me by those actions.
I could never forget Roe and Belle Alexander. They gave me a job at the swimming pool when I desperately needed work.
Dr. Holmes, rest his soul, sewed me up more times than I could count.
Mr. and Mrs. Purvis, Aunt Jessie, Mr. Paul Pinson, Pete Joyner, Chandler and Jerry King, all the Manley’s, James Williams, Woodrow Kennon, Bro. L. H. Hatcher, Bailey Moore Wrinkle….. I could go on. But you catch my drift. It’s a virtual Hall of Fame of special folks that raised a “town-full of youngin’s”.
And you can understand why Miss Anita’s passing is so noteworthy. I feel somehow all alone this morning. Sad.
BUT I am not lost!
I have direction, purpose, a strong feeling of self-worth—in the most humble way…..all droned into me by the selfless, caring love of a whole generation of folks that went before me.
Miss Anita fixed us cereal and let us eat in front of the TV. Mr. Arvie didn’t say much unless me and Ricky got to picking on Randy or getting a little rowdy. He’d walk over, lean down close where we couldn’t miss a word and say, “You boy’s start acting right or I’m going to whip you just as sure as God made little green apples.”
I’m telling you, you can’t love, care and guide any better than that!