Bessie Mae Evans died last week in Alabama. She was a 63-year-old black woman from a little town called Camp Hill. She had numerous health issues, and a heart of gold. She was step-mother to my bride Deb. Most folks don’t know this, but Bessie loved the Baha’i teachings. She memorized her favorite prayer, and would sing it with Deb from time to time:
“O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Over the past five days, Deb and I made the difficult journey back to that little town for Bessie’s funeral. It’s in a part of the world where racism still lurks beneath a sociable veneer and the pain it has inflicted is reflected in the eyes of everyone you meet. Throughout our trip we could see both the condescension and the suspicion veiled behind cautious smiles and “how do you do’s”. But we also saw some heartfelt sorrow and some cathartic healing. Bessie’s daughter “Keela” (Deb’s half-sister), had a rough time. Our prayers for healing and peace are with her now.
We connected again, however briefly, with Deb’s family. I met some relatives I had never met before, including my brother-in-law Kenny. He’s a man with a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. And it was good to see the other “brother-men” again too – Jerome, Chris and Wendell. Whenever those guys get together, it’s a rowdy party, just short of a competition…or perhaps even a bench warrant.
Saturday morning breakfast, prepared for the whole extended family by Deb’s mom Ruby, was a veritable exhibition of “southern cooking” on a scale that would give any roadhouse a run for its money. Biscuits, eggs, grits, salt-pork, fried green tomatoes – Man! talk about cholesterol looking for a place to park! Well YES I ate some! Not so, however my vegetarian bride (her brothers don’t understand her at all).
All in all, it was quite a send-off for a gentle lady of quiet charm and spiritual grace. Bessie’s warm memory, cast against the specter of that hard-luck town, was a stark contrast. She was like a gemstone in a box of rocks.
Good-bye Bessie, with love,
///Darrell & DebDarrell Rodgers Singer, Songwriter, Performer, Humorist http://darrellsongs.com