Death

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Yesterday was the viewing and today is the funeral for Pa…

The sign

This isn’t the boys’ first experience with the death of a loved one. They lost their Nanny Vera (Cindy’s mom) a few years ago, but they were only 3-years-old and really too young to comprehend what was happening. This time around, they saw and spoke to Pa while he lay sick in his bed. Now they’ve seen him lying in his casket, and although they seem to sense the weightiness of the situation, they’re still protected by a childhood innocence. The most interesting thing was their compulsion to touch Pa…they laid their hands on his forehead. During our drive to Virginia, we talked about Pa and I explained that he was dying. Alex asked if he was going to Heaven to be with God. I said, “Yes he is.”

My cousin Mark, who is a Methodist pastor, performed the funeral. I was touched by his words. The sky had opened up about an hour before and the rain was pouring down. Mark reminded everyone that Pa was a farmer and would’ve appreciated the rain. This made me smile. After the ceremony, we moved to the gravesite. I was one of the pall-bearers and helped lift Pa’s casket into the Hearse and from the Hearse to the grave stand.

Casket

Mark said a prayer at the gravesite and we left Pa to the funeral workers to lay him next to Granny to whom he has now been reunited…

Gravestone

WELCOME HOME!

Granny and Pa

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Last night we got the call. My Uncle Jerry, who was staying with Pa through the night, called about 10:50 p.m. with the news. Everyone was in bed, so I answered the phone, and Jerry said, rather simply, “Well…Pa’s gone.” I asked how it happened and he said Pa went in his sleep–he just stopped breathing. The Hospice nurse was on the way and making arrangements to move Pa’s body to the funeral home. I woke mom and let her know. Although we knew it was coming, it was a strange feeling…a kind of hollow feeling. I didn’t sleep well.

Pa at Mabry Mill

“Pa” Collins was 99-years-old. He was a farmer and a sharecropper, and over the years he also worked the sawmill, on a road crew, and as a janitor at the local elastic plant. He was a simple man, and honest. He couldn’t read very well, and aside from his name, couldn’t really write, either. But he could tell you how to rotate your crops to maintain the soil, so the field wouldn’t need to lie fallow. He could raise and keep horses, cattle, pigs, and train a dog not to roam. He could grow, harvest, cure tobacco, and sell the crop at market. When my dad and I built a tree house for my kids up above his house, Pa explained how it wasn’t going to remain stable for very long due to the way we secured it to the tree, and as the tree grew, well, you can guess the rest! When he was a young man, he made illegal moonshine with his brother-in-law Frank, and even showed me how to do it using a mock-up still that was on display at Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He may have been a simple man, but in many, many ways, he was smarter, and certainly much wiser than I.

Pa never said much, but when you got him alone, he would open-up with stories. I remember visiting him once and there was no one else around. I wanted to take some pictures of the old buildings on the farm and especially around the old tobacco smokehouse in the pasture below his house. Pa came with me and as I snapped pictures, he talked about the buildings–how they were built, the purpose they served, the work he did in them. He told me he would sometimes walk out to the barn in the afternoon and take a nap on the bails of hay stacked there. He loved his home and the land it was on. When we returned to the house, Pa asked me if I wanted a beer, as he pulled two cans of Bush out of the refrigerator–I don’t think I had ever seen him drink. We sat on his porch, sipped our beer, and watched the occasional car drive by the house, returning the inevitable wave delivered by the driver of the vehicle. We didn’t say much and were just content with each other’s company. And now that I think back on it, I never enjoyed a beer quite as much as I did that day.

I miss you, Pa.

Pa and the Gator hat

Lee Eligah Collins
February 9, 1919 – July 3, 2018

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