Dew glistened with tiny flames of light in the sunrise of the early July morning. Bethany Ivory knelt on the hallowed ground, the shimmering beauty immediately transformed from the pristine of the surreal to the damp coolness of water stains on the knees of her blue jeans. She placed a bouquet of red, white, and blue carnations into the white plastic vase adorning the front of the black granite headstone.
Mahognus “Hog” T. Worthington.
Born June 12, 1950 Died December 13th, 1969
With Courage He Lived, Through Evil He Died,
By Grace He’s Living Still.
Tears mingled with the dewdrops, tears she made no effort to hide or control. She was alone here, and yet it would not have mattered if a hundred people surrounded her, she did not care if others heard her cries, she only longed that somehow Hog could hear her sobs. Bethany’s slender hand slid tenderly along the smooth engravings on the stone. Her tears slowed and her voice, soft and intimate, began to share the thoughts welling up from her deepest being.
“Hello Gallant, my brave, brave knight. Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, the day of freedom. You wrote of this day…you remember…seven years ago, before we met, before the championship, before my world exploded in love and despair. Remember? You spoke of the parades—the monochrome distortion riding on our flowery floats. Today, Hog, that is changing. Today, your mother is the Grand Marshall of the parade, riding side-by-side with Mayor Barlow, and they are riding in the Bishop’s Cadillac, yes, the same one, dents and all.”
“The Bishop never drove it again after that night. He put it in storage at his brother’s place, right where you used to work. But Mom,your mom, asked if they could use it for this event. She said it would be like having you there with her.”
“There isn’t a day that has gone by that we— me, Mom, Marria, Malissa, and especially Mabell— haven’t wished for some way to bring you back, back to be with us, back to meet and play with our son, Tibias. But, you are and will always be here beneath this stone.”
“But those words of seven years ago are alive and vibrant, growing in ways we could have never imagined. Everything you wrote in that essay was true, except for one thing. You said your words would not be remembered, but they are, and they will be forever because they are inscribed on a plaque set in granite to be unveiled at the gazebo in Confederate Park by the Mayor and your mother.
The price was high, for both of us—too high— but you made a difference. You made a difference.”
“MAAAAMA! MAAAAMA!” Bethany raised her gaze from the headstone and stood to her feet. Tibias, her energetic, nearly five-year old son, bounded in her direction. Making a valiant, but ineffective effort to keep pace with the boy, was Bishop Jericho, who laughed at his obvious inability to keep up with his Godson.
Bethany moved away from the grave and quickly masked the emotions of her heart. Mother and son met, Bethany whooshing her pride and joy into the air and swinging him around and around.
“Helicopter going up!” she said as she twirled him through the air. Tibias’ laughter shattered the seriousness of the early morning meeting. Soon he had enough and shouted, “Helicopper down, helicopper down!”
Slowly Bethany brought the spinning to a stop, and she laughed beneath their breath as Tibias’ still circling equilibrium caused an involuntary dance as his feet touched the ground. Bethany grasped Tibias’ hand and steadied her son’s return to earth.
“Mawmaw Jairco made me pancakes, Mama,” Tibias said, tugging on his mom’s arm.
“Really!” Bethany’s eyes widened in exaggerated surprise. “How many did she make for you?”
“I think ten, or fifty.”
“Wow, ten or fifty, did you eat them all gone?”
“Yup! All gone!”
Bethany grinned. “Did you leave any for Pawpaw Jericho, and
Tibias looked at the Bishop who rubbed his stomach like he was really hungry.
“Nope, I ate them all!”
“You ate all ten or fifty of the pancakes?” Bethany gasped
“Every last one of them?”
“I think I did,” Tibias said clutching his mother’s leg as she moved toward the Bishop.
“Then you know what that means don’t you?” Bethany said, her smile expanding ear to ear.
Tibias stopped dead in his tracks, his eyes growing wide.
“It means that if we want pancakes for breakfast…we’re going to have to eat YOU!”
The Bishop grabbed Tibias in his arms and began chomping his teeth and chanting “I want pancakes, and I’m gonna start by eating this one right here!”
Tibias screamed and wiggled in his Pawpaw’s arms as Jericho placed his mouth on Tibias’ stomach and began gnawing. “Mama!
Pawpaw Jairco thinks I’m a pancake and is gonna eat me.”
“A pancake! He thinks you’re a pancake?”
Tibias twisted about in the bishop’s arms and squealed.
“Yeeessss…he’s eating my belly.”
“Pawpaw Jericho, is that a giant pancake you are eating up?”
Bethany said pointing at the squirming Tibias.
Jericho bellowed. “MMMM, yes it is, and the best pancake I’ve ever eaten. Would you like some Miss Bethany?”
“Why yes, I think I would!” she said, licking her lips.
“Then be my guest”, Jericho said, turning Tibias’ belly toward his mother.
Tibias squirmed all the harder. “Nooooo! Mama, it’s me, Tibias. I’m not a pancake!”
The game continued as they walked from the cemetery behind Shiloh Temple Pentecostal Church, to the front porch of the Jericho’s home where Mrs. Jericho greeted the trio.
“What on earth is going on out here?” Mrs. Jericho asked coming to the door. “You had better get in here before the pancakes are completely cold.”
“There are more pancakes?” the bishop asked. “Why we found this boy over there who said he ate all ten or fifty of the pancakes, and that there were no more left. So we were gonna eat him for breakfast.”
“Jeremiah Jericho, put that boy down and you two get in here for breakfast. I’ll get Tibias ready while you eat. Then we’ll have to go pick up Matilda and the girls and get downtown. We can’t run on Jericho time, today…” her voice broke as she tried to restrain the urge to cry, “…today is Hog’s day!”
Bethany and the Bishop also worked to conceal the overwhelming sense of sorrow and joy commingling in their hearts. Their efforts were vain.
“Mama, why are you and Mawmaw and Pawpaw Jairco crying? I didn’t really eat all the pancakes. Come see, I’ll show you.”
Bethany gathered her son into her arms, and smothered him in a deep hug.
“No, Tibias, honey, we are not crying about the pancakes. Mawmaw has some for Mommy and Pawpaw.”
“Why are you sad then?”
Bishop Jericho came close to Bethany and Tibias. He placed his hand on Tibias’ head and ruffled the thick black curls of his hair.
“Sometimes, “T”, people cry when they’re happy, and today is a happy day to think about your daddy.”
“My daddy is in heaven,” Tibias said, brushing away the bishop’s hand from his hair. “Are you happy that he’s in heaven?”
Mrs. Jericho joined the closeness of the others. “‘T’, we are happy your daddy’s in heaven, but we wish your daddy could be here with
you today. We’re also happy because your daddy was a very brave man who did a lot of good things for people like your pawpaw and me, and Mawmaw Worthington and your cousins.”
“Mama says Daddy was like an army man,” said Tibias proudly.
“Yes, honey,” Bethany said, “your daddy was like a very brave army man, and today the whole town is going to talk about how brave he was and what he did. You can be very proud and happy that he is your daddy.”
Bethany gave her son another squeeze and a kiss on his forehead. “Now, you go with Mawmaw Jericho and get ready for the parade. Mawmaw Worthington and Pawpaw Jericho are going to be riding in Pawpaw’s big white car for everyone to see. Maybe they’ll throw you some candy!”
For any soon-to-be-five year-old, candy is a wonderful distraction from perplexity, and the glint of Tibias’ eyes indicated a change of his focus.
“Mawmaw,” he asked, “what kind of candy will Pawpaw throw to me? I hope it’s bubblegum, and not those red-hot balls. I don’t like hot balls.”
“Me either,” said Mrs. Jericho. “I’ll make sure Pawpaw doesn’t throw you hot balls. Now go to the bathroom and get ready for your bath, I’ll be there in a minute.”
Tibias ran off down the hall and disappeared into the bathroom. The three adults eyed each other with whimsy, wishing that bubblegum really could cure things so easily.
“Oh to be young again,” Bishop Jericho said, “but in lieu of that, Jessie Jericho’s pancakes are a great second choice!” Jericho winked at his wife. “Let’s eat Bethany! We have a parade to get to.”
An hour later, breakfast was finished, as were the dishes and Tibias’ bath. Bishop Jericho stood outside with his brother by the gleaming white, though still marred surface of the Bishop’s Cadillac. Jericho had forgotten how much he loved this car, but the feel of the blemished finish reminded him of the greater significance and value ofhis possession, and the preservation of this symbol of grace was by far more important than the pleasure of daily use. Nevertheless, he was going to enjoy the feel of being behind the wheel again, if only for the briefest of moments. That it could be driven for such a day as this was both humbling and exhilarating, and the bishop counted it an honor to help represent the memory and legacy of his friend and parishioner, indeed, his brother in Christ.
“I’m all ready, Pawpaw,” Tibias exclaimed as he ran down the steps of the front porch. “Mawmaw said you would throw me some bubblegum, not hot balls.”
“She did! Well I’ll have to make sure that I save some bubblegum just for you.”
“Not too much, Jeremiah Jericho, I’ll not have a mouthful of cavities on my conscience,” Mrs. Jericho admonished.
The two women descended the porch steps clad in red, white and blue. Mrs. Jericho wore a tri-colored dress, Bethany, blue jeans and a flag emblazoned sleeveless blouse. Her long blonde hair was in a ponytail, tied back with red, white and blue ribbons. Tibias’ was dressed in the colors of the day too, his blue shorts in contrast with his white shoes and socks, and T-shirt whose bold red lettering proclaimed “God Bless America” across the front, and “I’m Proud Of My Daddy” on the back.
Bishop Jericho, not inclined to such fashion trivialities, wore black slacks, and a long sleeve, tie-less white shirt, which was as casual as he would allow himself to be seen in public. He, as well as Bethany and Jessie, was ready to enjoy the festivities, and he lifted. Tibias over the car door and placed him in the back seat. Bethany climbed into the other side of the seat in the usual way, and tried to settle her exuberant son enough to sit down so they could leave.
The fifteen-minute trip into town to pick up Matilda and the girls was spent looking at flags on every available pole, fence post, and house. Huge banners spanned the three main intersections along Main St, all of them with messages ofWelcome to Principle, and salutations for the nation’s birthday. The chamber of Commerce supplied patriotic bunting for every window of every storefront in town, and every church had some display of celebration and thanksgiving prominently displayed on their properties. Bethany noted a few of the houses without some symbol of the day adorning them, as did Tibias.
“Mama,” he said extending his arm outside of the car’s interior, pointing toward one particularly drab house, “why doesn’t that one have any flags?”
Bethany dutifully pulled his hand back inside the car. “I don’t know, ‘T’.” Maybe the people who live there are on vacation, or maybe they didn’t have any money to buy a flag. What do you think about it?”
Tibias thoughtfully looked backward at the barren house. “Maybe we can stop at the store and buy them one?” Bethany saw the Bishop’s eyes looking at her in the rearview mirror. “’T’, that is a very good idea, and if the stores were open today, we would do just that. But I am very proud of you for thinking of a way to help. Your Daddy would be proud of you too.”
“Would Daddy buy them a flag?”
Bethany drew her son in close to her chest. “Yes, that is exactly what your Daddy would have done.”
Tibias pushed himself back from his mother’s hug. “That makes me just like Daddy!”
Bethany smiled and drew him close again to hide the tear forming in her eye. “Yes, ‘T’, that means you are just like your Daddy.”
The Worthington home was not like those few unadorned dwellings. It was, thanks in large part to Mabell, on the other end of the spectrum, and as the Cadillac pulled onto Matilda’s street, Tibias was all but doing jumping-jacks in the back seat as he saw the dozens of flags in all sizes embellishing the old Victorian.
“Mama, look…flags at Mawmaw Worryington’s house!” Tibias cried, jumping up and down in his seat.
Tibias’ kinetic energy, Bethany had learned from numerous inadvertent bruises, was something better redirected than restrained.
“Yes, ‘T’— and you know what Mawmaw does when she sees you…?”
Tibias’ perpetual motion stopped instantly, only to manifest itself a spit-second later through a forward lunge into his mother arms.
“A “T” hug”
“And then, what happens?”
Tibias pulled his face back revealing his dancing almond eyes. “Mabell gives me Surpy Kisses that tickle my belly.”
“Maybe you should hide before they see you.”
Tibias looked around and saw Matilda and the girls gathered at the front of the house, Mabell on the forward sentry position, their festive wardrobe blending seamlessly with the décor of the house. He slid quickly to the opposite side of his mother, squeezing himself as best he could between her back and the seat cushion.
“Tell Mawmaw Jairco not to tell.”
“We’re almost there,” Bethany whispered warningly, “better beChristmas quiet, or they might find you.”
Tibias gave a little gasp, as he tucked his head into his chest and held his hands over his mouth. The Caddy pulled to a stop, and Tibias tried to curl himself into a tighter ball behind his mother’s back.
“Where’s Tibias?” Mabell enquired, as she ran up to the car. “I’ve got a slurpy kiss for his belly.”
Bethany felt Tibias trying desperately to squeeze himself between the seat and her back, his knees pressing into her ribcage. “I don’t know, where he is, Mabell, but my back is killing me,” she said with a wink.
Mabell reached into the back seat and grabbed Tibias by his ankles, pulling him from his sanctuary and into the air. Tibias tried unsuccessfully to hold onto his mother’s blouse, and began to scream and laugh as Mabell began kissing his exposed stomach.
Bethany followed Mabell, who still held her nephew by his ankles, up the stone steps to join the rest of the family on the porch. Mabell up righted Tibias, and a kneeling Matilda took hold of his shoulders. “Let Mawmaw get a kiss in too,” she said, as she pulled her grandson to her and kissed his forehead.
“Did you have fun at Mawmaw and Pawpaw Jericho’s?” Tibias, nodded. “We had pancakes, but Mama and Pawpaw thought I ate all of them and tried to eat my belly to get some.”
Bethany smiled at the Bishop and Matilda.
“But Mawmaw Jairco had fixed more so they stopped,” Tibias finished.
Everyone laughed and Matilda gave Tibias another hug. “Well, I’ll never eat you for breakfast,” she said.
“Come on, ‘T’”, Bethany said taking his hand. “Let’s go to the bathroom while Mawmaw packs the car.”
A few minutes later, Tibias and Bethany exited the house and descended the steps toward the scarred Cadillac, now full of Worthingtons and Jerichos. Just before reaching the car, Tibias stopped staring at the plethora of tiny flags that lined the perimeter of the lawn and driveway.
“Why are there flags in the grass?” he queried with a point of his finger.
Bethany knelt to her son’s level. “Those aren’t just flags, ‘T’, they’re freedom flowers.”
Tibias looked at his mom incredulously. “They’re not flowers Mama, they’re just little flags stuck in the ground.”
“I know, Tibias,” said Bethany, “but flowers come up from the ground, right?”
Tibias nodded his head.
“Well every time you see a little flag stuck in the ground, think of it as a freedom flower that your Daddy planted for you to enjoy.”
“Daddy planted the flags in the ground?” came the puzzled query.
“Yes, in a way he did, because what he did has made a lot of other people able to enjoy their freedom. They are happier now because of your daddy.”
Tibias thought for a moment before walking toward the edge of the driveway. “Can I pick one of the freedom flowers Daddy planted to take with me?”
“You’ll have to ask Mawmaw Worthington, they are her freedom flowers,” Bethany replied.