As we pulled up behind the hearse in Mam’s SUV, we noticed the six pallbearers standing there in their bare feet, the cuffs of their pants rolled high over their ankles. What was this? Inspired by the sight of Claire and Rebekah standing in church barefoot the night before, Mel Percy thought it would be a proper final tribute to Ruthie, who loved being barefoot, to cast aside their dress shoes and carry her to her grave with the wet green grass of Starhill between their toes.
So those good men, the barefoot pallbearers, did, and it was a thing of great and startling beauty. Hannah, Claire, and Rebekah, seeing their mother’s friends standing in the road shoeless by her casket, took off their shoes as well. They stepped out of their black Ford SUV and Hannah, taking hold of her sisters’ hands, led them barefoot down the hill and through the grass to the graveside.
I thought about this scene this afternoon as I was driving away from the Barnes & Noble at Citiplace in Baton Rouge, after signing books for a couple of hours. Why? Because I had been listening to the stories of cancer survivors, of people living with cancer in their families, and in one case, the story of a man who buried his wife after she succumbed to breast cancer. People like to tell these stories; people need to tell these stories. The man whose wife died spoke of how they had moved back to Washington state, to his wife’s hometown, after her diagnosis, and it was there that she lived among her community until the end. He said that it was so beautiful to him to see how the town embraced them, and held them all close until she passed. They even held a fundraiser for her, he said.
Yep, I said. They did that in St. Francisville too, for Ruthie. This is what good communities do for their own.
“It’s amazing how good people can be,” said the man, whose name I never learned. “You hear about bad things happening all the time, and you think the world is a dark place. It is a dark place, a lot of the time. But then something like this will happen, and you see the goodness in people, and it makes it all right, some kind of way.”
The man left without buying a book, but he really didn’t need to have done so. His story was his gift to me. It reminded me that the story of Ruthie and her hometown is universal.
After I left the bookstore, I rewarded myself with a restorative shrimp po-boy from George’s, my favorite po-boy joint in Baton Rouge. Has been since I was an undergraduate at LSU back in the 1980s. As anybody who grew up eating at George’s can tell from the photo below, which was the view from my table three hours ago, the place hasn’t changed a bit. Neither have their shrimp po-boys. There’s a lot to be said for continuity. And for George’s. This one’s for you, Mighty Favog: