I am fifteen-years-old and sitting here. Here at a funeral. Today we are burying my oldest brother, Grady. No, we are not burying him because he got sick. We are not burying him because of his seizures. We are burying him because he was killed in a wreck three nights ago with Neil. Momma and Daddy are sitting on the front row. Next to them is JW and his wife Barbara, who is holding my baby brother Robert. On the next row with me is Willie Ray, Velma and Betty. The two girls sit between the two of us to make sure that they behave. We don’t think that Daddy can handle having to discipline them today.
Grady’s casket is now closed as the preacher begins the service. I can’t believe that my brother is in that cold, black box. It was just a week and a half ago that we were all sitting out on the porch telling ghost stories. I try to hold back the tears as I think about Grady and Neil, Grady’s best friend of 15 years, leaning on the porch rail. Grady’s curly hair, a lighter color than any of the rest of us kids’ hair, was shimmering in the evening sun. Both were dressed in jeans and work shirts from having helped Daddy put the new tire on the tractor. Willie Ray was there with us because Peggy had a bad cold and he couldn’t take her to the picture show. Even my Aunt Dorothy, who was the same age as Willie Ray, and her husband had come by. He was laughing and joking with the rest of us.
Then I went inside to get Lemonade for everyone and Momma asked me to change Robert’s diaper. After I did, I returned with the lemonade. Everyone was eerily quiet and no one would tell me what had happened. Finally, Neil started asking me about Kirby. That started everyone laughing again. Kirby was a friend of Grady’s from school. He was 20, almost 21 and he had been asking me out for sometime. He was very tall, with dark hair and steely blue-gray eyes. I had known him most of my life, but I was still upset about my break-up with Howard three months earlier.
A voice brought me back to reality. It was Aunt Dorothy, who was seated behind us with Granny. “Yes?” I whispered softly as the last hymn was playing.
“Why don’t you and Willie Ray ride with me and Jim?”
“But Momma will need help with the girls.”
“No, Iona is going to take them.” She touched my shoulder. It had a very calming affect, as did her voice. Dorothy was always like that. I have never understood how anyone could have that power over a person, even someone they were only a year older than. But then again, she was a lot like Granny. I smiled back at her and nodded my head.
The funeral home attendants opened the casket one last time. Everyone else filed by and we were the last to go. Aunt Iona took the girls and Barbara took the baby, while the rest of us filed by. I looked at the casket and saw my big brother lying there. His glowing skin and his beautiful lips were so pale and cold. He was so void of life. I suddenly remembered him flying me around as a little girl, like I was an airplane. The tears began to flow down my face and I fell to the ground right before the casket. It was a moment before I felt strong arms reach down and pick me up, carrying me outside to the bench on the side of the funeral home. The person held me tight and rocked me softly.
“Nita?” I looked up and into Kirby’s eyes. They were searching my eyes. “Are you alright?”
“I’ve lost him.”
“I know.” He held me tight and rocked me. “Did I ever tell you about my sister Lucy?”
“I had a sister named Lucy. She was about three years younger than Georgie. She drowned when she was five. I was so small; I only have vague memories of her. But what I do have are vivid.” He kissed the top of my head. “You won’t forget him. And right now the pain hurts, but it will get better.”
“Thank you.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. He handed me a handkerchief. “Thank you again.”
Willie Ray came around the corner. “Juanita, they’re ready to leave.” He smiled at Kirby, “Thanks for taking care of her.” He held out his hand.
“Any time.” He smiled and stood up. I tried to return the hanky and he just shook his head.
I walked with my brother over to Dorothy’s brand new car. Jim had sold some land and bought a brand new 1949 Ford. We got in the back seat and started on the trip to the grave yard, about twenty minutes away. Silence enveloped the car until Uncle Jim spoke. “That was strange the other night.”
“What?” I asked, sounding almost childlike.
Dorothy shook her head for him not to continue. But Jim kept talking. “When you went in the house the other night, Grady was telling us about him and Neil almost wrecking the car the night before.”
“We were coming back from Sherry’s party last night and a white dog jumped over the road. Neil almost wrecked the truck.”
Willie Ray started laughing. “Yeah, right. You two were drinkin’.”
“I was driving and he can’t drink with his seizure medications.” Neil said softly. That was one of the reasons that Neil always drove, since we never knew when Grady would have a seizure. The look on his face, unnerved the others listening to their story. “You know what they say about a white dog jumping over the road.” Everyone nodded their heads. They all knew it meant someone in the vehicle was going to die.
“It’s just an old wives tale like Granny tells us.” Willie Ray laughed. Then he stopped and stood up. At the edge of the yard was a white dog. Everyone turned and saw it. Then the dog turned and ran into the corn field.
After they told me what Grady had said, I was just as quiet as they were. It killed me to know that my brother was dead. But I was even more terrified that he had known it was going to happen. It reminded me of something Grady had said to me the morning before he died.
“Nita, don’t ever take things for granted. Just because they are here today, does not mean that they will always be here.”
With that thought in mind, after we entertained all of the mourners, I changed into my jeans, a long sleeve button up shirt of Grady’s and my buster browns. Then I called up Kirby. Grady was right. I couldn’t just take for granted that he wanted to go out with me. I had to do something about it.