My father in law would have loved his funeral last week… I know, I know…he was ‘absent from the body but present with the Lord’. Still. If he could have been in the body, he would have loved his Home Going – all of it. But then I’m getting ahead of myself… Wallace Wyatt, Sr. was my father in law for decades, he lived to be 93 years old- he had a long, well lived life. He was born in Cool Springs, then made his life just a few miles over in Beaver Valley- in his beloved St. Clair County. A county older than the State of Alabama, where he served the people for 14 years as their Judge of Probate. I remember he told me once that being Probate Judge was the closest thing to the role of a pastor within our government- with duties ranging from adoptions, marriages, guardianships and of course the end of life business with wills and estates. He said that a good probate judge needed to know and love the people he served. He did. He passed this on to his son- ‘To know and love the people he served.’ This is the motto of a true public servant.
He was surprisingly well travelled for a home body. I recall when he and my mother in law went to Israel, they were in their sixties but both of them rode camels, one of the camels thanked him by spitting in his eye! For their 50th anniversary, one of his daughters asked my father in law if he had gotten their mother a gift- he replied, ‘Well, I bought her a pre-paid funeral plan!’ Of course he got her more than that! On their 60th anniversary- if you can believe it- the two of them went for a little anniversary trip to Cheaha State Park, the highest point in Alabama. She would die less than two years later. I still miss her every day. Two days after his funeral, would have been their 73rd anniversary, he went to a far higher place to spend it with her.
Always a generous man, when he worked for Alabama Gas Corporation, he ran up on a young girl who was blind, her family told him she was learning Braille. He couldn’t get it out of his mind; so he talked to his Union Brothers about her. Those men raised enough money to buy her a Set of Encyclopedias written in Braille!
Mr. Wyatt was one the Tom Brokaw’s ‘Greatest Generation’– a World War II veteran, who got lost from his unit in France… it was an experience he rarely talked about. Someone at the funeral told me that- lost from his unit in a foreign country in the middle of a war was frightening enough but my father in law ran up on a Mortuary Unit. They fed him and furnished him a place to sleep with the living and the dead. The next morning, the soldiers told him he was welcome to join up with them, he graciously declined saying- ‘Well, you boys sure are nice and I appreciate what you’re doing; a mighty fine job of it too- but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’d ruther be at my own duties then do yours!’ Can’t say I blame him.
The last years of his life were spent at beautiful Veterans Home in our county- the Colonel Robert L. Howard Veteran’s Nursing Home. When he died, his body was prepared…then- while ‘Taps’ was played, his flag draped body was rolled down a long hallway lined with fellow Veterans- standing or in wheelchairs, gave him a final salute- some with arthritic hands. This is called ‘The Walk’ and is a fitting goodbye to an Old Soldier; he would have loved it.
His firstborn child was a ‘war baby’, Wallace Jr.(above) -Next, were his pretty girls- following soon after his son, Carol Jane, the next, Eleanor Kay was born 6-7 years later, the last was a late in life baby, Vicki Lynn. Then there was me, his favorite daughter in law. Really.
The first time I went to their home in Beaver Valley, newly engaged- I got ‘The Talk’… He explained, ‘Our family doesn’t believe in divorce, you’re in it for the long haul, just so you know.’ Sort of put the fear of God in me with his bright blue eyes- I nodded in perfect understanding. He restored perfect harmony by playing a stereo record – It was his favorite gospel music group- The Swanee River Boys.
I should say right here that I knew nothing about gospel music- does ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’ count? As the Swanee River Boys sang so smooth…I could not believe my ears! Mr. Wyatt alternately sang-All Four. Parts…
- Tenor and
- High Tenor, have you ever?
Well, I can tell you now…I still have never heard anything like it. What I was about to find in this huge family that embraced me… they all could sing or play. In fact I was told, if a baby was born Tone Deaf in the Wyatt family- they pinched their heads off at birth!
Can I just say right here? They (the entire clan) told me stuff like that all the time, for the shock value I guess or maybe they had detected I am practically tone deaf. I’ll have you know, my children have perfect pitch! Needless to say, there was music at the Funeral for my father in law, last week- just enough and just what he’d like and I tapped my foot a time or two.
A full blown Wyatt event, family reunion, wedding or funeral closely resembles an Ant Bed, occasionally a Fire Ant Bed, depending on who’s there. Pine Forest Baptist was the host of the Ant Bed last week, for decades my father in law was a Deacon there. For the record he would have loved having so many members of his family and the folks that he claimed kin to at his Home Going.
He would have loved the ladies in sensible block heels, flats (me), cowboy boots and four inch heels- especially if they were toting a Crock Pot or a Casserole Dish- Oh my! He would have loved the food, do I need to describe it? Groaning Church tables loaded with Food were Begging for Mercy. That’s the most poetic way to describe it. The only thing that was missing was my mother in law’s Coconut Custard Pie.
Pine Forest Baptist is a small Rock Church nestled in a piney grove, the smell of pine always permeated the dinners on the grounds, surrounded by beautiful farmland. Then there was a growth spurt and a fine Trade School was built across the road….Several sent out directions to the funeral service- my favorite was:
‘Head north on 231 toward Ashville, at the crossroads right at the Trade School, turn right like you’re going to Rainbow City, Pine Forest is beside Dollar General on the right.’
Pine Forest was at capacity, there were fine suits and designer dresses, Versace ties, denim and sequins, work clothes and a few in Military Uniforms- My father in law would have loved it all. His youngest nephew, Danny- the only one who has become a member of clergy was lined up to preach the funeral, three Nieces were asked to sing a favorite gospel song- ‘Unclouded Day’ , his Grandsons were the Pall Bearers and a handsome group that was! This is a family that can put on a funeral at the drop of a hat. My father in law would have loved-
- hearing his Nieces sing for him one last time,
- he would have loved Danny’s sermon,
- he would have loved the Masonic Funeral Rites which were done in such a moving way by Brother Talley.
- Mr. Wyatt would have loved hearing Taps at graveside and-
- that the Flag which had draped his body was given to his son.
Yes, he would have loved his Home Going- but most of all- I know he would have loved hearing the recording with his old friend Buford Abner of the Swanee River Boys- the foot tapping upbeat- ‘When I Wake Up That Morning’
Who knows? He might have been singing along- All. Four. Parts. As his favorite daughter in law, I would have loved that. There will never be another like him. For sure. William Wallace Wyatt, Sr. was greatly loved. He will be greatly missed … May he rest in peace.
Love y’all, Camellia
*Okay, I know you want to hear it- take it away Swanee River Boys! https://youtu.be/CVFWDnJtV88