Often my mother calls me with news that someone I knew when I was growing up has died. The same thing happened about a month ago and filled me with an ineffable sadness. She told me a man who had worked for years for our family and for the family business, Holmes Canning Company, had passed away. His name was Bud Jordan. Tall and broad-shouldered with a smile a mile wide, he was the sort of person who affected everyone he came into contact with in a positive way and inspired confidence and trust in all who knew him. He seemed immortal as though he would always be here. I didn’t think the world could do without him.
I’ve known Mr. Bud since I was a child. In fact, my earliest memory of him was when he used to help make cane syrup at the cannery next to my grandparents’ house. Those memories are vague, images faded over time, but the overall impression is one of love and happiness. He made me feel valued and special, something a chubby, youngest child especially needed. He used to give me a bit of the thick syrup after it had cooled enough to taste. It was like candy. Back then I couldn’t decide whether I liked the syrup with its smoky warm flavor, but I loved Mr. Bud. He was gentle and sweet, always smiling.
Mr. Bud’s wife, Ms. Cora Mae, also worked for my grandmother after my grandfather’s death. Mr. Bud did a lot of the yard work, looking after the trees and clearing brush around the pond and the cabin behind Grandmother’s house. Ms. Cora Mae looked after my grandmother, cooking and cleaning and putting up with her and her feisty sister, Aunt Marion. Sometimes she even had to tolerate the shouting matches between my nearly deaf Aunt Marion and Uncle Barney over whether a word was really a word when they played Scrabble. However, I never once saw her complain about her work or about my relatives, and I’m certain there was often cause to complain.
Bud and Cora Mae Jordan were not that kind of people, however. They are salt-of-the-earth, dependable, kind, loyal friends. They have been for all these years. Our family owes them a debt of gratitude for their friendship and care of my grandparents and our family. Of course, they would never see it that way, but I do. It is a debt we can never repay, especially now that Mr. Bud is gone. I’ve written a note to Ms. Cora Mae, but words can never express what I would like to say about Mr. Bud. How do I express the respect, admiration, and love for a person who passes away when I haven’t seen him in over twenty years?
What I feel for these two people, Bud and Cora Mae Jordan, will forever be tied to the little girl I once was, the little girl who took for granted that those who loved her would always be a part of her life. They seemed immortal to me, but the longing I feel for the moments Mr. Bud made me feel special, when Ms. Cora Mae hugged me or gave me a yeast roll from the copper tin on the stove are etched in my memory and helped build the strong woman I have become. For the love and kindness they showed me, I will be forever grateful.
When my mother calls and tells me someone else from my past is gone, a little piece of who I am dies along with them, especially this time. The part of me Mr. Bud knew and loved will not be known by anyone else in the world. I am forever changed because the people who remember my history are dying. When I go home to Georgia, I see the places where the people of my past once lived and laughed and loved, and I am bereft. I will remember them and the places they inhabited. These people will remain in my heart long after they are gone. Mr. Bud, I hope you rest in peace. I miss you. I will always remember you, and I loved you very much. I wish I had told you that while you were here.