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The Boys of Nodaway Ridge

by Nicholas Hall

Chapter 11

The Boys of Nodaway Ridge - Chapter Eleven –

"Kiss me sweet with your warm wet mouth
still fragrant with ruby wine,
and say with a fervor born of the South,
that your body and soul are mine."
(Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

Glancing at my watch, noticing the time, I realized I'd best get to the church for the service. My reminiscing, my fond memories of days gone by, and how our little community changed over the years, while pleasant, were only delaying tactics, postponing what I must do and endure. Yet, even as I drove the country road to the church, I was still in no hurry.

Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the church parking lot and, noticing it was quite full, detoured into one of the drives into the adjacent cemetery. I parked, climbed out of my pickup, took a deep breath, and glanced upward and about me, feeling comfort and shelter from the majestic oaks lining the drive and shading the graves. In the fall, those trees would shed their leaves and blanket the graves of those resting there with a "Joseph's Coat of Many Colors" fabricated by the falling leaves, much like those colorful quilts the ladies sold at auction each year. The kaleidoscope of brown, yellow, red, and orange hues of the leaves, dazzlingly brilliant in an autumn sun as they would gently fall, kissed each stone and grave with the softness of a lover's lips and touch.

Grandma and Grandpa Harris's graves were just to my right, between me and the church, and next to them was Momma. Tears welled in my eyes, feeling the loss just as significantly now as when she passed away, but tears would not bring her back or ease my grief. Momma and Grandma did fairly well together after Grandpa died. Momma continued to work part time until Grandma became ill. Momma's nursing skills were then applied to taking care of Grandma until she slipped away. It was then, with Momma all alone, Frank and I made the decision to close my practice and his accounting business and return home to Nodaway Ridge to live.

We moved into my old room at the farm, fixed the house and outbuildings up, and eventually bought it from Momma and her brothers. Although the price was not high, it did give her some money, coupled with her social security, to be semi-independent. Of course, she lived with us rent free and we were all too happy to have her. She brought joy and comfort to our home. James and Winnie, Frank's parents, still lived across and down the road in their old house, but shared it with one of Frank's brothers and his family, who now farmed the land while working a day-job in Central City.

Frank and I reestablished my law practice and his accounting business in Central City, with one day a week for both of us in Nodaway Ridge to provide services to those who needed it. In both cases, our offices were the same building and much more satisfactory to us then when we lived in Davenport where our offices were several blocks apart.

The focus of my law practice changed somewhat to more family law and some criminal defense cases. I still continued to dabble in the arts of a trial lawyer, although not as extensively as before. Frank's accounting business didn't have the large business firms as he had in the Quad Cities, but he was still plenty busy. Our incomes were reduced, but we didn't suffer. We had more than enough to provide for the two of us, Momma and help out James and Winnie as well. It was nice for Frank and I to come home together, enjoy our evenings together, and celebrate our love for each other in a setting familiar and comfortable for both of us. Momma was just as happy we were home; "both my boys are home," she'd often say. After all, she'd nursed us both when she came home from work; leaving me in Winnie's care (along with Frank) while she did so.

Frank's youngest brother continued to live on the farm after Winnie passed away and James died. James just couldn't seem to live without Winnie and within a year of her death, he joined her in the little church cemetery. Frank took the loss of both of his parents hard, as I did. Not only did they love us, but loved us together, as a couple, as did Momma. They're buried just short way from Momma.

The cemetery, although pleasant, was still a sad place for me at times. It was filled with many happy memories of good times with family and friends. Jim Hanson and Alex Robertson rested here together, not far from Alex's mother. Abby, separated in life from her husband Henry, taken from her in a senseless murder, was united with him at last in death, laying side-by-side near Jim and Alex.

Eddie Gordon, Norm Christensen, Kenny Eggers, and Max Kincaid all rested in this quite little country grave yard. Members of our little group of "queer" boys who thought better of themselves than others did and went about doing something right for the world by helping get Nodaway Ridge Serves off of the ground.

My vision blurred as I spotted the stone marking the final resting places of our very best friends, Sam Tolliver and Micah Robertson. Our friendship with Sam was sealed the day at the school picnic so many years before when he discovered Frank bent over my back, our pants down around our ankles, his love pole encased up my chute, and readily accepted an invitation to play "hide the sausage" with us. Micah joined us and became Sam's partner in life when, with that beautiful tenor voice of his, sang Jeremiah Tolliver, Sam's older brother, to his grave. There were times, as Frank and I aged, sitting on the front porch on a summer's evening, we both would swear we heard Micah's voice echoing in the hills, treating us to "Take My Hand Precious Lord," again, long after he passed away.

My reverie was interrupted when a hand was placed on my shoulder and Pastor Gregory Tolliver, Sam's nephew and now shepherd of our little flock on the ridges said quietly, "It's time Nate- let's go inside."

The crowded church was silent as Pastor Tolliver led me quietly down the center isle to the front pew, where he seated me and I waited for my beloved Frank!

Pastor, gowned in the same, black worn robe worn by his great-uncle for so many years when he was pastor in this same little church, brought the congregation to a reverent state with an opening prayer, asking God and all here present to look with favor upon our departed brother and friend and welcome him home to rest.

The band, consisting of Cauldwell's, Robertsons, and Harris' began playing "Ashokan Farewell" as the oak casket, borne by six young men from NRS and like brethren to Frank and me, slowly, carefully, reverently, brought my beloved Frank to the front of the church. My breath caught in my throat, my eyes, old with age and grief, flooded with tears, and my broken heart fluttered a my loss!

Following the casket, faces struck with grief, was Frank's surviving brothers and their families, and my nieces and nephews. I had no one else- my uncles were gone, joining Momma in the hereafter. They settled quietly behind me in the pews reserved for them, while the pallbearers sat in folding chairs off to the side of the sanctuary.

Staring at the casket, holding the physical body of the man I'd loved for so many years, my mind seemed to blot out what was happening as I remembered the good times we had together and our last days and hours together. Frank and I had a good life together, but it ended long before either of us wished it to.

When marriage became legal in our state, Frank and I trotted ourselves to the county court house, secured our license, and Pastor Tolliver married us. We laughed, at the time, how silly it seemed since we'd enjoyed all the comforts and closeness of marriage ever since we were kids sharing a crib and nursing from each other's mothers, but now we had the paper to prove to others the legitimacy of our union and love for each other. It made Frank's last days and mine with him comforting knowing no one on this earth could keep us apart during those times.

He'd been sick for a couple of years and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Growing progressively weaker, the doctors finally said there was little they could do except make him comfortable and await the inevitable. Oh, there were pills and all sorts of treatments the doctors thought might help prolong his life for a few more weeks or days, but after long, loving, and tearful discussions, Frank decided to eschew any heroic measures, preferring to be home with me when it came time to go.

That night, when we both knew the end was near, Frank, alert in mind as usual but failing fast in body, smiled and asked me to cuddle up to him and hold him in my arms. My heart wrenched knowing it wouldn't be long, but I couldn't refuse my lover's request. I slipped under the covers with him, as he lay in the bed we'd spent so many loving moments in, cradled his head on my chest, and kissed him softly as his breathing slowed. Frank looked at me asking, "Kiss me," and when I did, he smiled that wonderful smile of his and said, "You know I love you," and slipped away.

I lay with him for a while before leaving him to call the county coroner to come out to the house. He arrived within a half hour, accompanied by a county sheriff's deputy, and the hearse from the funeral home. Even though his death was unattended, at my request, no autopsy was performed.

The visitation the evening before the funeral was held at the community center. The line was so long, I asked the funeral home director to extend the hours so all could come to pay their respects. I knew the little church wouldn't hold all who wished to say goodbye or express their condolences to me and Frank's family so this would give them the opportunity.

Pastor Tolliver reached the point in the service when he offered his blessing over my beloved and once finished, Lee Robertson, Micah's nephew, stepped forward and sang the same song his uncle had sung so many years before, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," and as the last notes cleared his throat, the pallbearers stepped forward, gently lifted the casket and began the slow walk to the church doors and to the cemetery beyond. The little band played and sang more of the old hill songs as I followed Frank out. I could hear the lyrics of a song in my head, from where I know not, with the words, "roll in my sweet baby's arms," for that is what I desired the most, but it was not to be! Without Frank, I was a bell without sound for want of a clapper; a rose without buds to flower and bloom; a bird without a song to bring joy to the morning sun; and an empty vessel longing to be filled!

Frank was laid to rest in the family plot he and I'd purchased several years before, half way between his folks and mine. It wasn't a large plot, just room enough for the two of us since there was no way I'd be separated from him. After the committal service, Pastor Tolliver suggested I leave, but I sadly shook my head "no" so he stayed with me while Frank was lowered into the concrete vault and the lid placed on it. I just had to have that closure, no matter how painful it was! I needed to know Frank now lived only in my mind and heart and, although now separated, there would be a time we'd be together again.

"I have no parting sigh to give
So take my parting smile."
(L.E. Landon)

"Kiss me sweet with your warm wet mouth
still fragrant with ruby wine,
and say with a fervor born of the South,
that your body and soul are mine."
(Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

The Literary works of Nicholas Hall are protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America and are the property of the author.

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