I went to a funeral Lord, it made me happy
Seein' all those people
I ain't seen
Since the last time
Sorry I've been silent this week. Early Sunday morning I received an email from Denny Boultinghouse of Howard Publishing. Alton Howard left this world to go and be with the Lord. My parents and I left Monday morning to go to the funeral in West Monroe, Louisiana.
I grew up in West Monroe. Home of the Rebels. And the paper mill. And not too much else.
I have strange memories of the place. It was always a place I wanted to get away from, but it was also a place I frequently wanted to return to. It was in West Monroe that learned to ride a bike and fish and hit a baseball and read my Bible. I learned my ABCs there, and I learned how to do my multiplication tables. I learned how to stand up to bullies and how to fly a kite. I learned the words to "Jesus Loves Me" and "Jesus Loves the Little Children" and "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands" and "Roll the Gospel Chariot" and "I'm in the Lord's Army". All the things a kid is supposed to learn -- I learned it all in West Monroe.
And I have fond memories of Alton Howard. He was incredibly wealthy -- had the gift of making money. He lived in a big house, and he had horses (if my memory is correct). I remember riding horses over there -- seems like there was a horse named Sonny -- the color of butterscotch -- and a trick-pony named Billy. You could say, "Kneel, Billy", and he'd kneel down on the ground so you could climb aboard.
Maybe I have some of this mixed up with a movie or something.
Some of my earliest memories are of Alton Howard leading worship at Whites Ferry Road Church of Christ. I remember most of the songs he taught the church, several of which he wrote himself. Mostly I remember how he'd smile when he called out which verses we were going to sing. He'd sometimes give us instructions: "Now, just the women on this first verse, and, men, when you come in, come in strong."
He gave me a silver Cross pen for my high school graduation, and (somehow) I've managed to keep it all these years. It's in my briefcase right now. He sent Jill and I a check for our wedding -- not much money -- but he also sent a copy of a book he had written called Money Grows On Trees. If I'd taken the advice in the book, I'd be a wealthier man right now!
Alton Howard gave my parents the piece of land on which they built their first house -- the house I grew up in -- the house where I lost my first tooth and learned the hard way what happens when you leave your baseball cards lying around the house when your mother is expecting company!
I did not know him well. But what I did know of him was enough. He was a man of God with a great sense of humor. He was happy. He was tough (I heard stories). He was generous. He left a legacy. I spent the last couple of days gathered with people I hadn't seen in years and listened to them tell stories of warmth and cheer, celebrating a man they loved, respected and admired -- a man many of them will miss.
I suppose the last time I saw many of these people was 20 years ago when "Aunt Mabel" died. I'm not sure if Mabel Meeks had children of her own, but she was everyone's favorite Aunt. We got together in the same room 20 years ago to celebrate her passing. We told similar stories and laughed and cried then, too.
Seems like we shouldn't have to wait until someone dies to have these kinds of moments.
They were tellin' funny stories
Sayin' all those things
They ain't said
Since the last time
* "Since the Last Time" by Lyle Lovett