The post was originally up on May 8 and was deleted by mistake. I feel it should have its eternal place in cyberspace so I am presenting it once again.
I just got back from a very memorable memorial service. Claude Arnold, 88-year-old citizen of a little town called Fairhope, Alabama, died peacefully Friday afternoon. At the service this morning I learned that he died with his family around him, and then the family did what they felt Claude would have wanted and went out to the American Legion Club to go dancing. That may sound unusual, but they are an unusual family, and they love to dance. Claude was among the best of them.
Claude was among the best that the Fairhope I used to know and still love had to offer. He was a World War II veteran, a surveyor, and with three different wives, the father of 13 children. He was a nice gentleman who could tell stories about old Fairhope. There are many besides his large family who will miss him, and the city will never be able to replace him.
When I got to the funeral home I was given what I guess you call a "program" with a picture of young, handsome Claude and the Organic School prayer on the front page. I saw from the inside that we would be singing the old song "Fairhope," a corny old waltz that used to be sung at the end of every Fairhope event. I knew there would be some tears shed.
Claude's son Michael gave the eulogy, reading the biographical material and telling stories about how he used to ride around Baldwin County when he was a little boy with his daddy when he was doing surveys. Michael is a surveyor now, and a very touching speaker with a warm, deep voice and a quick sense of humor. He reminded us of Claude's war record and how no memorial day went by that Claude was not out at dawn putting flags in the cemeteries and saluting the flag whenever it was raised. His words were almost a call to arms to the assembled: Who is going to do this now that Daddy isn't here? I have no doubt that someone who was there will take up the task.
Mordecai, Claude's sterling and wise younger brother, was there in full Marine regalia complete with medals -- he retired about 16 years ago, but there was never a prouder patriot (unless it was Claude, a Navy man). Mordecai rose to say a few words. Everyone who knows him knows he never says a few words, but this time he was brief and read an interesting document that Claude had written when his younger sister Sue died. It was a recounting of a war incident. Claude had landed on the beach at Normandy, and jumped in the sea to rescue who he could in the mobs of people jumping. He realized that he wasn't going to make it, blacked out, and was confronted with a beautiful scene. His grandmother stood before him. It was not the old lady he had known, but his grandmother in a former day, a much younger, vital woman, running to him and welcoming him. He was in a beautiful place. "Look, Claude," (his grandfather's name), "It's Hawkins' boy. He's come to us," she kept saying. Claude then saw his two little boys at home, Paul and Michael, and he said, "I have to get to them," and his grandmother said, "No, you're with us now." There were trees and clouds, and bright, glorious colors in the sky.
Claude then was jarred by battle sounds, hospital sounds. "Oh, someone has to go back," said his grandmother. Then she realized it was Claude. "Oh, it's you who is going back now," she said. And then he came to, in a hospital.
There will be lots of reactions to that story. The minister at the service, of course, said that it was proof of Christ's promise on the Cross. I don't see it quite that way, because, after all, Claude never said that he saw Jesus. But it is promise of something, and Mordecai wanted us to know that Claude told him that for the rest of his life, when he lost someone, the memory of that experience helped him with his grief. It will help many more people now.
Someone emailed me recently that the way to get responses on my blog is to say something controversial. I expect many comments on this one.