Monday, May 28, 2012

Restless Spirits ~ My Column from Sunday

This week I've spent time at Davis Cemetery, where my folks are buried. Decoration is the second Sunday in June, and it takes a while to get the old cemetery in shape.

It's a peaceful place most of the time. My mom, dad and brothers are buried at the top of the hill, close to the service road that encircles the graveyard. I was there one evening this week, sitting on the tailgate of my truck, giving them updates about what's happening in my life.

I sat there for a while in silence, listening to the pines whispering to the wind and the sound of birds getting ready to turn in for the evening. 

Off in the distance, I heard a freight train blowing as it approached Burnwell and Bergen, warning drivers to approach the crossings with care.

The sound of trains moving eastward and westward makes this a perfect place for my dad and my brothers, all of whom had an undercurrent of restlessness coursing through their souls. 

In our younger days, whenever I went anywhere with my older brother Neil, he always walked quickly like he had an appointment with destiny and he was running late. 

Later when he graduated from high school, he moved up north for a time to put some distance between himself and the hills and the hollows of Walker County. 

He later moved to California to see if he could find what he was looking for out there but ended up moving back here, where he married and raised a family. He seemed happy and he loved his kids, but he died young at 50 years old, and I'm not sure if he ever found what he was looking for.

My younger brother Darren seemed even more restless than Neil. He left home soon after high school and moved to Birmingham, Atlanta and later to Houston, Texas. He also died too young at the age of 33.

My dad seemed more restless than either of my brothers. He spent very little time at home. On weekends he'd be on the Warrior, or he'd be driving around Walker County in his pickup visiting with his old friends. 

It was hard for him to sit still for any length of time. He always seemed to be searching, though he never said why.

Even though this next part happened over 55 years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday.

It was late one evening after the sun had slipped below the horizon to the west. We'd finished supper and he went out to the front porch to sip the last of his ice tea and smoke a coffin-nail, as he called them. 

As he sat, the chains of the old wooden swing creaked and groaned. I crawled up into his lap to watch the lightening bug show that had just gotten underway. Off in the distance we heard the sound of an old freight train blowing for the crossing at Dora, and it chugged down a notch to change gears, but to me it sounded like it was taking a breath.

He said “Joe Ab,” (don't ask me why he called me that) “I'm gonna ride that train one of these days.”

I was too young then to realize how deep that seam of restlessness ran through his soul, but looking back, I get a sense of just how much he longed to be somewhere else at times.

Neither Dad nor my brothers ever had an opportunity to travel that much in their lifetimes. My prayer, as I sat on the tailgate of my pickup, was that they are now wandering the universe like hobos.


  1. I absolutely love this post. For so many I guess they keep searching for something they don't even know. I love to travel, always have. But there's nothing like coming home. I love the ending to this and I too hope your family are traveling the universe like hobo's. I bet that whistle blowing is them passing through!

  2. What a wonderful post! You are such an excellent writer. I can hear that train whistle and smell the scent of the towering pines. Great job! So sorry your brothers died so early in life. That was really sad. Take care. Susan

  3. Thanks Barb, Susan. This piece seemed to write itself.
    I love it when they do that. I really appreciate y'all :)

  4. Wow! So true.
    You travel and then one day you see there is no place like home.
    Everything goes full circle and you go home.
    There is noting out there you can't find right in your own back yard.
    Takes a while to find out

  5. Lovely post. It made me think of T.S. Eliot:
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.

  6. Thanks for sharing such lovely sweet memories. I too like to think that your father and brothers are now travelling freely and happily wherever they want! Take care

  7. I have only been to Alabama once, but while reading this post I felt as if I lived there - right next door.

    Great piece of writing, Rick!

  8. I'm also sorry you lost your brothers at such a young age. My brother died at 21 yrs. old. I understand the restlessness; I have felt that way many times. I loves seeing new places and and many times wish I was on the road. I would actually like to live in an RV and not be tied down to one place.

  9. That was so bittersweet, and yet beautiful. It made me remember that we have family we love and cherish, and yet we also have our own private dreams - some of them never realized. I like to think of them exploring the secrets of the universe. My dad expressed regret lately that he'd missed the eclipse, saying he'd always wanted to see a full one. I think he'll do well in the next life when he can explore and learn to his heart's content. Hopefully it won't happen soon, though.


Please consider sharing

Email Signup Form

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required