Other than the occasional sounds of some early morning traffic, silence filled the little cemetery near the roadway. The grass was wet, the ground soft and Pawpaw “Buck” Huffman led the way among the headstones.
My father, “Doe Doe,” followed alongside his shuffling daddy. He’d picked the old man up to grab some breakfast at Jack’s. But ol’ Buck insisted they first stop by the cemetery.
He had something he wanted to show off.
Approaching the spot where his daughter was buried, Buck suddenly halted, then pointed down to his feet. This was it. This was where he was going to be buried.
Right below my father’s sister, Stacy, whose grave was gifted a statue of a kneeling angel.
This proximity comforted ol’ Buck. He cherished his sweet “Monkey Doodle,” whose beaming smile and blue eyes never failed to lift his spirit. Someday they’d enjoy each other’s company again, in the Earth and in the heavens.
But this wasn’t the only thing that got Buck to grinnin’. He had another reason to be proud.
“Hey, Doe Doe!”
Tapping a heel, Buck proclaimed, “This here’s the only land I ever owned.”
Yessiree. Pawpaw Buck was, at long last, a happy landowner. And on June 6, 1997, he took up residence at that very spot where he’d never have to pay a cent of rent… But not before he settled the score with a very persistent country preacher, who’d set his sights on saving Buck’s soul for decades.
Of course, you had to be persistent to keep up with a guy like ol’ stubborn Buck, whose buckwild ways and days flirted with death on multiple occasions.
His thirst for alcohol was a major contributor to this flirtation.
This was certainly the case the time he flipped his car into a ditch after hitting a curve at full speed one night in the 1950s. At the time, a young Buck and a friend had been out joyriding. But the joy ended when Buck and his buddy were thrown out of the car, resulting with Buck getting knocked unconscious.
When he came to, Buck gradually became aware that a white sheet was draped over him as he lay flat on his back in the grass. Sitting up slowly, his headache got an excruciating jolt from a piercing scream. It came from the woman who’d put the sheet over him, having mistaken him for dead.
He’d never seen anyone run away so fast.
Another time, as a bad rainstorm absorbed the night sky, Buck decided to hightail it home from a Birmingham bar, hopping on his motorcycle and making haste on the roadway. To help keep some of the rain off him, he followed closely behind an 18-wheeler.
That is, until the big truck stopped at a red light, and a startled Buck somehow managed to slide up under the trailer.
Back then, during the late 1950s, big rigs didn’t have the rear bumpers like those you see today, leaving just enough space below for something like Buck and his ride.
Heavy rain continued to pour. Buck hurried out from under the truck, then banged on the window of the driver’s door, asking the confused trucker to please help pull his bike out.
He’d cheated death yet again.
Of course, there also was the time Buck got into a big argument with his daddy, Pawpaw Make, a stout little man whose massive temper could easily rival that of any riled-up rattlesnake or red-eyed bull.
Things got awful heated awful fast, and Buck was feeling awful brave – and awful drunk. If it weren’t for the latter, I don’t think he would have ever pulled a gun on his daddy, a decision he instantly regretted.
Because, as quickly as Buck pointed the thing at him, Pawpaw Make snatched it away and bashed Buck over the head with the butt. Afterward, he told his son get up off the floor and took him to the hospital, where Buck got several stitches… and time to think about the hard lesson he’d learned.
He was lucky his daddy loved him.
The portable creek
At some point between these and other times of madness, a kindly country preacher by the name of Bro. James Posey crossed paths with Buck. And, almost instantly, the preacher became determined to save the ornery man’s soul.
Every chance he got, Bro. Posey made a point to speak with Buck: at Buck’s home, in town, in hospital rooms. In fact, the only place Buck was safe was in the bar.
Of course, Buck didn’t mind the preacher, always welcoming him inside and listening as he shared the gospel. Naturally, at the end of every conversation, Bro. Posey said a prayer and never neglected to invite Buck to church.
In turn, Buck always assured the older man, “I’ll make it out there someday.” Then off to the bar he’d go, at least until he gave up alcohol for his children.
This fact likely shocked the preacher – and literally everyone who knew Buck. This was, after all, a man who’d drink rubbing alcohol if no beer was around.
It was amazing Buck quit cold turkey. It was equally amazing that doing so didn’t kill him, though it came awful close.
Still, Buck’s family was happy to see him redeemed from addiction. But Bro. Posey still aimed to redeem Buck’s soul, and his decades of pursuit, at long last, resulted with a request from Buck to be baptized. It needed to happen soon, as Buck was dying from lung cancer.
Only problem was Buck knew he wouldn’t be able to make it out to the creek.
“Don’t worry about that,” Bro. Posey assured him. “We’ll bring the creek to you.”
And so he did. The baptism took place on a sunny day under a little pavilion at the affordable housing complex where Buck lived. Sitting in his wheelchair, Buck bowed his head before a gathering of family and friends as Bro. Posey sprinkled water on him from a plastic cup.
Roaring applause erupted, and Bro. Posey smiled. Shortly afterward, Buck passed and was buried in the only spot of land he ever owned. But he died knowing that, no matter how bad things got, the preacher and the good Lord never quit on him.
Keith Huffman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.