Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Fond Reflection

Frankly, 2010 was not a good year for me. At work I watched the appraisers under my charge struggle to heed my caution that the real estate market was going to continue its downward trend, and that the tax credits provided by the Federal government would succeed in only moving future purchases into the present. Sure enough, in the last two quarters of the year prices have fallen dramatically. Now they are scrambling to adjust their value opinions. Call me Cassandra.

2010 was a costly year. A kitchen renovation for our home went over budget. Our air conditioning compressor died twice during record-setting triple digit heat this summer. In June I received word that I was going to lose the use of a fleet vehicle for work. At the time we were a one-car household.

The thing I will remember most about 2010 was laying my uncle Wallace Layman to rest at the end of the long, hot summer. Wallace is my mother's sister's husband, and the grandfather of Ben Howard of Standing Small, the indie Christian band whose record I mentioned in an earlier post.

For Wallace it was sufficient that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world. He was not given to doctrinal debate. He was a remarkably quiet and gentle man, the scion of a family of German settlers who migrated down the Great Valley into East Tennessee in the late 18th century. They were farmers who cultivated a large tract of acreage north of Sevierville in the little community of Harrisburg Mill. Their property occupied a hill that overlooked Murphy's Chapel, a white frame Methodist church nestled against the Little Pigeon River. Wallace quietly attended that church during his youth and again in the later years of his life. He said little but was faithful to give a word of encouragement to his pastor, recounting something meaningful that he had gotten from the Sunday sermon.

Wallace retired after a long career at Alcoa Corp. in nearby Maryville. But his heart was connected to the land and to the memories of his farmhand boyhood. In his garage were kept relics of his agrarian past, including a harness and the first saddle he ever rode upon.

The last living heir of his family, he inherited the land which had gone out of production, and began selling off parcels for an upscale subdivision development. It was aptly named "Windswept," with a view of Murphy's Chapel and the hazy, purple Smoky Mountains off to the south and English Mountain to the east. Wallace and my aunt kept a parcel with a large but plain ranch house at the crest of the development.

His Christianity wasn't one of words but of deeds. He was probably the most generous person I have personally known. Like Elvis Presley, Wallace had a penchant for gifting people with automobiles. Unlike the King of Rock n' Roll, Wallace was careful to give them to people in need, and to do it discreetly.

Hence, we were floored when, in June of this year, he phoned to say that he wanted to give our 16 year-old, who had been saving up, his first set of wheels. Then, when he understood my plight at work, he decided to give me a commuter car as well. When we went to pick up the vehicles over the sweltering July 4 holiday, he seemed to be aware that his days were numbered. He was possessed of a great sense of urgency in taking car of our transportation needs, saying, "I won't be around to help these other young'uns, so take care of these and pass 'em on."

A few weeks later he suffered a massive heartattack. I got to see him in the hospital. Then he passed on.

I was glad to be one of his pallbearers as he was laid to rest at Murphy's Chapel, within view of his peaceful home.

This past weekend, during the New Year celebration, my younger son reflected on how totally cool it was that Wallace had lived a long life and then was buried in front of his church, so close to his own land.

Yes, he mused, that was a perfect way to close this leg of the journey.

1 comment:

The Underground Pewster said...

Well said. May the new year bring new blessings upon you and yours.