top of page

Indian

My stepfather, whose nickname, Indian, was given to him by one of his coaches at Ole Miss, had passed away in the middle of the night with all of us at his bedside. I hadn't slept in what felt like days, and yet here my mom was asking me mid-morning the next day to write his obituary. She should have known better than to ask when she saw the Miller Lite in my hand, but she had a lot going on and I knew I needed to do anything she asked in that moment. I hadn't read very many obituaries, but I knew there was likely a format for such a piece, so I went and grabbed my laptop and another Miller Lite and got to work.


What I found was so boring I almost got the sleep I desperately needed, but instead, and surely because I was on the same back porch where we had shared so many great times, I ditched the funeral home's template and just started writing. Ditched for the most part anyway. I made sure readers knew that even though he despised the word "step" that he was indeed survived by his stepchildren, myself included. I also made sure to include his full given name because, well, he hated the name Elmer and this was my chance to rub that in because he wasn't around to defend himself.


I made sure readers knew he'd played football for Ole Miss under legendary coach Johnny Vaught, but more importantly, I told them that he regularly played two-hand-touch football with Elvis at Graceland (in fact, in one of those games it was rumored that Indian broke Elvis's arm). Turns out, Elvis loved Ole Miss football. Funny thing was, if you hung around Indian enough, you'd hear these stories trickle out. I say trickle because Indian didn't love to talk, but if you were lucky enough to be around him late night after one-too-many whiskey toddies, he had absolute gems to tell. Like how Elvis would take a select group of Ole Miss players shopping. How he'd rent out the entire Orpheum Theater just for them. And he told the stories so nonchalantly I can remember on many occasions asking him to repeat because it was almost unbelievable. Thing was, if you knew Indian well enough, you also knew he couldn't care less if you were impressed and had no reason to exaggerate, much less lie.


I made sure readers knew about his professional accomplishments and accolades, but more importantly, I made sure readers knew about the impact he had on a small town and the thousands of players he'd coached--an impact I was lucky enough to witness because despite the initial dire prognosis he received, Indian lived nearly a year longer than doctors initially expected. Most of that year was spent on the back porch, where parades of visitors were able to come and pay their respects--something not everyone is fortunate enough to experience. That experience impacted me so much I wrote about it in a piece that was picked up by Mississippi Magazine.


But for me personally, it went far beyond that. I cranked out his obituary in an hour or so, and I had so much fun doing it. For the first time in a very, very long time, I was forced to admit how much I enjoyed writing. Because of the responsibilities of life, business, rearing three boys, etc. writing had been an almost guilty pleasure I would only allow myself to do on very rare occasions as my conscience had decided along the way it was a waste of time if I wasn't going to make a living doing it. Readers' reaction to what I wrote spurred me on to write the magazine piece, and I had to laugh.


When I had gotten really into paddling and started planning bigger, longer, more strenuous and challenging trips, Indian would hear my plan, shake his head, then support me. Like the time he dropped me off the coast of Horn Island from his sailboat and let me use his dinghy for a hike around the island, then picked me up four days later at the appointed time. He was still shaking his head when he picked me up, but he was there. Later when I planned a paddle from the Singing River Yacht Club in Pascagoula to the east tip of Petit Bois for a week-long campout, windsurfer in tow, he was the one at the launch to see me off, shaking his head as I left.


Indian was a man of few words, which made things beautifully ironic for me--that writing his obituary was what rekindled my passion for writing. And my desire to celebrate his legacy was what inspired me to write that magazine piece. And his early passing reminded me of how little is guaranteed and that if I wanted to do something, I'd better get on it. So with that said, I guess the only fitting end to this piece is with the actual ending of his obituary.


There will never be another "Indian" and he will be missed.

































68 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page