*This post was written as a tribute to my cousin, James Bradsher, III, who entered into eternal rest in August of 2016.
There were always so many of us… we Loy-boys. Like a litter of puppies – always moving…eating…making a racket. Funny and clumsy and awkward… and always in each others space. Our parents all parented us when we were together – first cousins and second… it never mattered to us – or them. And Uncle Byron was our fearless leader – dreamer of the adventures and schemer of the plan.
We used to play army at the brick pile between the house and the barn. All the cousins. We’d make the little ones medics and Uncle Byron would divide us up into two sides. He didn’t abide any dissention in our ranks – you whine – you’re out. We’d use sticks as “shooters” and lob dry corn cobs as hand grenades. We hid behind old tractor skeletons and ran as though our lives depended on it. I learned to serpentine run at an early age – because you’re a harder target to hit if you run serpentine!)
We drank from the water hose, jacked tomatoes and cucumbers from Grandma Lona’s garden (taking our cue from Byron to “pick stuff that the bugs have gotten to first!”). We sweat, got skinned up, bruised and bashed, but nobody dared complain – because somehow that broke the magic. If someone got hurt… really hurt… it was over. We had to find a new game to play. If anyone got whiny or threatened to tattle to a grownup – all bets were off. Game over.
And if in the heat of battle, somebody said, “Man down!” and you knew you got shot – you took it like a Loy-boy. You could argue – but if Byron said you were dead, you were dead. End of story. You either faked an epic shot to the chest or you fell in the place you were standing. Girls tended to die first. Not sure why, but I can honestly say I spent a lot of time laying on my back in the high grass waiting for my battalion to come carry me off to “our side.”
We played some nights into the gloaming – that time of day when the crickets sing, and lightning bugs begin to blink. When the uncles came out and threw the ball back and forth – and someone would tell the funny story about Great Aunt Lil trying to kick the football in a pencil skirt. All the aunts were in motion; setting the table, taking the wash off the line, shucking corn or washing dishes from earlier in the day.
And we couldn’t smell our “kidness”… No. We had just fought – man to man combat. We’d sit in the shade of the big house trying to make blades of grass whistle, eating sweet clovers and catch frogs – always hoping that Uncle Byron had one more battle in him. That he’d say, “Let’s go!” just one more time.
Last Saturday (August 27th) when my mom called to say you were gone, Jamie, I thought, “NO! Argue with him Jamie – say you aren’t dead!” I didn’t mean Uncle Byron this time… I meant God. I was so mad. Mad at the hand you got dealt – mad that there wouldn’t be one more battle, or chance to spend the twilight chasing dreams with you.
You weren’t supposed to be the first of us to go… not in my mind. You were the best of us, Jamie. You were the one who fought in real battles with real guns. You were the one who cheated death and won when it wasn’t sticks and corn cobs. You were the precious man who let my then seven year old daughter talk to “a real live family veteran from a war.”
I’ll never forget how you sounded on the phone when we called – just like Uncle Byron – your voice, cadence and timbre. She naively asked if being in the army had been fun – you paused and said, “You know, there were some really fun parts about my job!” and when she pushed and asked what had been hard, you said, “Being away from family was the hardest thing for me.”
After Uncle By’s accident – when we knew he was really hurt and we all knew there wouldn’t be anymore playing army, I remember he changed the game. When the doctors said he’d never walk again, he said, “Oh I’ll walk again!” We, his family, knew that he meant he’d walk again when he passes from this life into eternity; that he will walk when he meets Jesus face to face.
Byron told me a secret though. And if I know By… he told you too. There is gonna be a touch football game when we all get to heaven – on the back forty. Byron’s pretty sure he is set to play quarterback. So since you beat all of us to heaven – would you mind warming up the team? We Loy-boys are gonna miss you Jamie. And, we know it will be your voice that we hear at the edge of the field in the gloaming, sayin’ “Let’s go!”
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
The Hymnal 1982, pg 287 vs 1 and 5