This wasn’t the first gravesite service held on the hill overlooking the Reynolds’ homestead nor would it be the last; but by far, it would probably be the most memorable. It started out like every other service where the entire family was present with the exception of the deceased, of course. The Reynolds’ clan prided themselves on memorializing their dearly departed.
Pushing back damp locks with one hand and fanning fervently with the other, Mazie began the diatribe. Leaning close to her sister her pretense at a whisper was heard by all.
“You’d think that someone would have the courtesy to die in the spring or fall for a change. Why does it always have to be in the freezing clutches of winter or the sizzling heat of summer?” A few murmurs of assent were heard.
Sitting in a watery pool of sweat, Gertie’s fan kept pace with Mazie’s. “Hush, sister. That’s no way to honor the dead. Don’t turn around but there’s a burly guy with snake tattoos sitting in the last row. Kind of creepy, if you ask me.”
All eyes turned six rows back to a man who already seemed uncomfortable. After pulling at the collar of his short-sleeved white shirt, the man stared at the grass beneath his feet. The stranger was saved from further scrutiny as the elderly minister, who had been the Reynolds’ pastor forever it seemed, began to eulogize the man who had died in a tractor accident. Letting out a deep sigh now that he wasn’t being scorned, the stranger couldn’t stop the one tear that slid down his face and splashed onto his hand.
The service progressed down a familiar path until the very end. Everyone knew what should have come next after “Amazing Grace” was sung by Cousin Fester. Instead of hearing the expected “ashes to ashes and dust to dust…” adjusting his glasses, the Reverend cleared his throat saying, “At this time a friend of the deceased, Tuffy Sloan, would like to say a few words.”
Hearing a chair creak all eyes once again looked six rows back as the large man stood.
“Well, I never!” hissed Mazie.
“Hush!” Gertie commanded. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”
“Uhm, I-I-I’m not much of a public speaker but, heck, I just gotta share with you what Billy Reynolds done for me. As you can all see, I’m a big, mean ol’ cuss. Well, I used to be,” Tuffy said as he walked over to the casket.
“Billy used to come to the prison where’d I was holed up for armed robbery. He’d get out his fiddle and sing about God and all and then preach from his Bible. Shoot! My buddies ‘n me would go to the meetings just for something to do. We liked the music but mostly made fun of his religion and all. I didn’t quite git Jesus lovin’ a man like me. Nope. I refused to believe He would die for me.”
Absently patting the casket Tuffy continued his story.
“Then one day I opened my stupid mouth and got the shi….the snot beaten out of me. I was in a hospital ICU for a long time with my head bashed in. Here, you can see the scars on the back of my head.”
Folks cringed as Tuffy showed them the scars.
“It’s amazing but every time I came to, Billy was sittin’ there by the bed in a rickety ol’ chair. It didn’t matter whether the sun was shining or the moon was a-glowin’. Day and night Billy was there. Just a singing and praying and telling me about Jesus. Some folks think I’m crazy but I swear I heard him even in the depth of unconsciousness. I-I-I owe him my life.”
Not able to stop the tears anymore Tuffy allowed them to flow down his face and neck soaking his white shirt.
“And what he said started to make sense. Enough sense that when I woke up for good I gave my heart to Jesus. I ain’t that mean ol’ cuss anymore. I still don’t understand why Jesus would love a loser like me but I’m glad He does. And I know He loves you too.”
Rubbing at the scars on his head Billy walked back to his chair. No one moved, no one said a word. Finally, the Reverend stood.
“Let’s sing ‘Amazing Grace’ one more time,” he said. “I don’t think we’re done here quite yet thanks to good ol’ Billy.”
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