IV. Family Destined
After the Friday Board meeting, Steve wanted the Memorial Service to just be over. He wanted everything to return to normal as it could under the circumstances.
He did not mean it as any disrespect toward his Mom or Dad. He loved them dearly and was already missing them tremendously. But the Memorial Service could be a big emotional extravaganza.
“Getting everything in place at the right time; parking at the stadium; speaking to everyone and making sure everyone was spoken too – a bit grandiose,” he thought, “but grandiose in the right way.”
He figured he would need to help Sandra. Even with two bathrooms; just getting his family with Sandra, John, and Sarah there on time to greet folks could be difficult.
Steve knew the community had to be part of the Memorial Service for his Mom and Dad. Closure is what they always relate to ‘why funerals.’ There has to be closure. You have to have a service where everyone can come and officially say their goodbyes.
“Boy, Mom would flip if she knew what we were doing,” Steve softly laughed to himself. As much as she was an outgoing person, she would have called this ‘putting on airs’ and she would have put her foot down. She would not have wanted any part of it.”
Then he remembered, “Dad would step in with, ‘Now, Dessie, you know how good this community has always been to us. We owe it to them.’ She would give in and go along.” Dad could always handle Mom
“But now, Sandra is going to handle me if I don’t step on it myself,” Steve prompted himself. “I can never get these ties tied right.”
“Steve, are John and Sarah going with us or are they coming in one of the other cars?” shouted Sandra from the bathroom, “We are going to have to step on it. We need to be there early – you know – for family and all … and of course the business.”
Sandra recognized the importance of keeping up a good front even when your heart was torn apart by the dreadful loss that all felt.
Mom and Dad had become like her own parents. She had looked up to them and for them for so much guidance and advice for her and Steve’s life.
There was the time that Steve had accidentally shot himself while on a hunting trip. “I was going completely crazy waiting for him to get to the hospital. Mom was there acting like very little had happened,” thought Sandra.
She remembered, “Mom kept telling me to be calm; that everything was going to be all right. Just her demeanor gave me assurance that I was not going to lose my husband. How I loved that woman.”
Sandra caught up in her thoughts, sobbed quietly. “How will I ever make it without her? She had accepted me and my Mom just like we were royalty in Lebanon and treated us like family.
Continuing, “Her home was my home Dessie used to say and she meant it when she said it. She was so real; she never put on about her family. You would not have ever thought they had money; it was just the way she was all the time.”
Sandra lamented, “How will I make it through this service? I miss her so much.”
Looking in the mirror, she saw lines of mascara breaking her make-up caused by her tears. “God please help me – not for my sake – for Steve’s sake!” she prayed.
Sandra’s own mom and dad had divorced early in her life. She thought little about it as she was only 4 when it happened.
Her real dad left Lebanon to go to Galveston or Houston – somewhere to work on the coast. She knew very little about him as he chose not to stay in touch. After a few years it seemed as if he never was.
Many wanted to date her mom after the divorce but her mom was cautious about new relationships. As a single divorced mom with a daughter, she seriously took her daughter’s well being into consideration.
And Sandra would not accept anyone new with her Mom. She realized at an early age that you could be abandoned by those you loved.
However, eventually Sandra’s mom was obsessed by a young man in the community. Jim Blevins, the mail carrier, delivered mail to their house every day and it seemed it was always time for his break when he reached their home.
Jim was good to Sandra and her Mom and restored their faith in people. After marrying her Mom, he immediately adopted Sandra and they became a family together.
Sandra dated in high school but never allowed herself to become emotionally involved with anybody. Then along came Steve.
She thought to herself, “He was obnoxious and will not leave me alone. He’s always hanging around; always making small talk; always joking; and that infamous ‘always smiling’ face.”
Sandra remembered, “At times it would just drive me crazy. But there was that little bit of comfort in knowing that he was there for me.”
Her thoughts even let her admit a secret she seldom addressed, “I really liked him, but all I could see was my Dad running off and leaving me. I equated that to Steve somehow doing the same thing.” Even her adopted Dad, Jim, could not erase the complete uncertainty she felt.
The day she fell on the stairway and Steve came running was more than she could take. She had to let go and let Steve.
Sandra still remembers the moment, “I fell in more ways than physically that day. I fell head over heels in love with this strange character that would not let me alone.”
It proved to be the greatest day of Sandra’s life. She and Steve could not have been more perfect for each other – true soul mates.
She continued her high school experience and attending college at Belmont with Steve. It developed as a romance straight out of Heaven.
Sandra got a degree with a teaching certificate, but she barely remembers going to class. She just remembers being with Steve every day.
Coming back to Lebanon and their wedding was, as they call it – ‘icing on the cake’. They started a new chapter in their romance.
That is the way it had always been with Steve – chapters of romance; chapters of meeting him; chapters of college; chapters of marriage; chapters of building their lives together; and now chapters with children.
This, though, would be a new chapter of compassion for both of them. My being there for him in the loss of his Mom and Dad and his being there for me. “I loved his parents so much,” she lamented.
“My entire life has been around this big brute of a man and I love him. We will make it … we will make it because we love each other. Thank you God for giving me Steve,” she prayed silently to herself.
Steve blew the horn and shook her out of her thoughts. She grabbed her purse and ran out the door to the car. They needed to get to the stadium early.
At the stadium, folks were already gathering when Sam and Joan arrived. Attendants from the Pace & Pace Funeral Service had instructed the family to drive to the rear of the trailer that had been brought in.
They were using a flatbed trailer as a platform. All the sound equipment was already in place along with the speaker podium.
The local police recognized Sam and motioned for him to come through the temporary barrier and pointed where he was to park. Sam stopped the car in the designated spot.
As he and Joan were getting out of their car, Steve and Sandra arrived. Then John and Sarah arrived.
Sam had not seen John and Sarah for some time and went to speak to them. Steve joined them.
“Hey, Bro,” declared Steve, “You OK?” Not waiting for a response from Sam, he continued, “Mom and Dad would have really been pleased to see the turn out today. The main parking lot looks full already,” he surmised.
Steve commented, “I really did not have any idea there would be this many people come for the Memorial Service. When I let Pace’s folks talk us into this, I figured ‘OK, maybe 150 to 200 people … ’”
Steve’s voice drifted off, “There is more than that now. It is still 30 minutes before the service.”
Sam replied, “Yeah, they are talking standing room only behind the bleachers. The radio station and TV has been announcing this since Thursday. And the Lebanon Herald carried a big story in yesterday’s paper.”
Continuing, “I guess it was good to follow Pace’s lead and have it here. At least there will be plenty of room.”
“By the way, Steve,” Sam continued, “the funeral director wants to form three receiving lines at the end of the service — one for you and Sandra. They figured John and Sarah would be with you. Then they will have one for me and Joan; and one for Junior and June.”
“They said that it will go better that way,” said Sam, “People wanting to speak to us personally can get in our lines. Folks will not be restricted to one or the other, it will just be better for the majority of our friends and business interests.”
“I told them that it is OK with me if it was with you?” Sam asked and assuming the answer, he continued. “I have already called Junior and informed him.”
Sam continued, “I also asked Sherry from the bank to be available to help if needed. She will be near the trailer for anything.
Steve agreed, “That is fine with me.” He had discussed this with Sandra, but Sam’s plan will be better. He had a knack for doing things right.
Joan approached Steve’s car and told Sandra the instructions she had been given by Sam. “Sandra, they are going to put you and Steve on the right of the speaker’s podium along with John and Sarah.”
She continued, “Then Pastor James, his wife, Tom Jacobs, the Mayor and his wife are in the middle behind the podium. Sam, Junior, June and me on the left side.”
She further informed Sandra, “They already have the large portrait of Mom and Dad from the living room set up on a table on the ground in front of the trailer. It comes to about the middle of the speaker’s podium on the trailer. It is covered in flowers. So many flowers have been sent,” Joan exclaimed.
Joan commented, “I came by early this morning when they were setting up the trailer with the PA system and you should have seen all the panel trucks in here with flowers. There must have been 20 trucks! They were backed up in a row on one side.”
Joan declared, “Some are from Nashville as the local florist ran out of flowers I am told. The engines were running to keep the air conditioners going. That was to keep the flowers fresh until they unloaded them.”
“Sandra, there are two big 18 wheelers on the other side that have big refrigeration units running to keep the wreaths on stands fresh … and that is after we requested that gifts to folk’s favorite charities be made in lieu of flowers, she exclaimed.
Joan said, “Look, they are starting to unload the flowers now! Someone said everything will be shut down – the engines and the refrigeration units when they get them unloaded – to reduce the noise.”
Joan could not believe it, “The community is going above and beyond board in their support. This is so wonderful for Mom and Dad.”
Joan was attempting to control herself emotionally with the details as she continued, “But it is not only Lebanon, it is the whole state.”
She explained, “There are flowers from the Governor’s office and even a telegram from him that is going to be read. He has ordered the local state flag to be lowered to half staff for 30 days in observance of their death.”
“Several of the state senators and representatives will be here but have requested to remain anonymous in the stands. Even our Tennessee Senator Johansen is here from Washington,” Joan stated.
“The mayor is going to acknowledge their presence but they are not going to be on the trailer. Other political leaders across the state have sent flowers and notes,” an emotional Joan shared.
“It’s almost more than I can stand. The outpouring of love and support is so great from everyone. It seems that Mom and Dad knew everybody.” Joan hesitated to get a breath.
“They did know everybody,” answered Sandra as she straightened her coat and smoothed down her skirt, “and everybody loved them. They are leaving a great legacy that we are going to be bound as a family to imitate. It is not going to be easy.”
Pace & Pace had set up a large tent with chairs and tables for the family to gather. They had coffee, ice tea, and juice for the family behind the trailer. They had a generator running in the background to provide electricity for the PA systems, heat, and the amenities.
It seemed nothing had been overlooked in the preparations. And everything seemed to be running smoothly and on schedule.
Junior and June drove in and parked with the other cars. June came over to Joan and Sandra while Junior went to be with his Dad.
The mayor and pastor along with their wives were starting to gather on the trailer. They were discussing the seating arrangements.
Sherry came up to lead Sam, Steve, Junior, their wives, along with John and Sarah to the stairs leading up to the trailer. The time was drawing near.
Steve thought, “This is more difficult than I thought. The actual going up on stage starts putting an end to an era – Wow!”
“Mom and Dad, I did not think it would be something like this,” thought Steve. “This is just too much.”
All the emotions come to the forefront for Sam and Steve. They had to fight back their tears to maintain their composure.
Sandra and Joan could not contain their emotions. They hung on dearly to Sam and Steve sobbing openly as they climbed the stairs. June was with Junior and equally disturbed.
John and Sarah held onto their Mom were emotional. Steve spoke quietly to them, “You know we know where Mom and Dad are – but God, how I wish they were here today.”
All made it up and gathered in a semi-circle. The women were wiping their tears away and the men stood solemnly holding their mates. They turned to go to the chairs allotted for them.
The Mayor, Tom Jacobs, and Pastor Wilson were there to escort them to their seats. Having Tom and Pastor Wilson there to navigate helped.
An inaudible gasp came from the family when turning; they viewed for the first time the floral arrangements on the trailer. It was an astonishing display of colors in every imaginable combination.
“Wow, look at this!” exclaimed Sandra. Small and medium flower arrangements were first on the side edge of the trailer and medium arrangements in the second row.
Then the large wreaths on stands were placed in the rear leaving barely enough room for them to walk to their seats. The flowers reached from one end of the trailer to the other.
Flower arrangements large and small covered the trailer from end to end and on the ground as well. Had you not known there was a trailer, you would have never guessed one was in the midst of all the flowers.
The ground level flowers covered both sides of the trailer to the large portrait of Walter and Dessie. It truly was a fitting tribute to the stalwarts of the community.
Junior and June followed solemnly as they found their respective places to sit. Junior hugged Joan and assured her he would be there for her and sat down with June.
Sitting, Steve held Sandra’s hand. Sarah sat by her Mom and was holding on to Sandra. John sat on the other side with his arm around his Dad.
Sam put his arm around Joan as they sat and pulled her to him. Joan was sobbing quietly.
Looking out at the massive crowd gathered in front of them – they were moved by the emotions in their hearts; uncertainty in their minds; and tears in their eyes. Sam and Steve took it all in.
Steve thought, “How proud I am of my Mom and Dad and what they have meant to so many people. God help me to be as they were.”
An open space had been left for the Inspirational Quartet to sing along with the piano. As soon as the family was seated, the speaker, Pastor Mark Wilson and the Mayor of Lebanon, Tom Jacobs, and their wives joined them in the middle of the trailer behind the podium; greeted the family; and sat down.
Steve looked out to see oceans of people all across the stadium. He could not tell who was sitting or who was standing, but he knew that many people did not have seats.
He motioned to Sam on the other side of the podium and said, “Sam, would you look! Where did all these people come from? I did not know there were this many people in Lebanon.
Sam shook his head in agreement. Turning and nodding to the quartet; the piano began the introduction to ‘The Eastern Gate.’
A big hush fell over the crowd as he Inspirational Quartet stepped forward and began to sing. The music left little to the imagination of the joy of meeting friends and loved ones when we get to Heaven after this time on earth.
Surely thought Steve, “Mom and Dad will have plenty of people to meet when this earthly venture is complete. Want it be wonderful there.”
The Inspirational Quartet moved on to ‘Your First Day in Heaven’ and left the crowd clapping as they went through encores of the chorus several times.
Everyone on the trailer was clapping as they thought about Walter and Dessie walking down the streets of gold. “Sad, yes, to think about Mom and Dad gone, but it will be for just a little while and then we will all be joined together for eternity to meet them in the air at the Eastern Gate.”
Steve sobbing tears of joy and sadness at the same time clapped to the celebratory music. Little doubt was left in the minds of all – the joy Walter and Dessie must be enjoying in Heaven.
Pastor Mark Wilson stood and the crowd began to settle down from the musical presentation by the Inspirational Quartet.
He raised his hands. Again a complete hush fell over the crowd.
He began to pray and as he prayed, he touched the hearts of every family member and assured them that this was not the end but the beginning.
“By the authority of Scripture, Walter and Dessie are not missing or gone. We know exactly where they were,” he prayed. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
After he finished the prayer, the Mayor of Lebanon, Tom Jacobs, stood and addressed the crowd, “Never in the history of Lebanon, has there been such as event as this. And probably there will never be an event to match what we are doing today.”
He continued, “But then in the history of Lebanon, we have not had such true and genuine citizens pass from our midst as we have in the passing of Walter and Odessa Johnson. Your attendance speaks volumes about their contribution to Lebanon.”
He continued, “Walter and Dessie were our personal friends for some 50 years. I know that they would consider this celebratory memorial service as making too much of their servitude to this fine community of Lebanon. That is just the way they were.”
He plunged forward, “You and I know different. This is but a little gesture of our love and appreciation for them for what they have done for the community.”
“As Mayor,” stated Mayor Jacobs, “I have declared a Day of Proclamation naming this the Walter and Odessa Johnson Day as Distinguished First Citizens of Lebanon. Today will be etched in our history and we will celebrate each and every year going forward.”
The crowd stood and clapped their approval. Steve and Sam were astonished with the declaration and nodded their approval as well.
Mayor Jacobs hesitated while the crowd responded and then shared, “Walter came to me many years ago, before I was mayor and shared with me the idea that he wanted to open a bank in Lebanon for the people of Lebanon.”
He continued, “Little did either of us know then or to some degree even now what it could turn into today? Had we known, he might have reconsidered. But if you knew Walter and your presence here today is proof that you do, the word ‘fear’ and ‘Walter’ do not go together in the same sentence.”
Continuing, “What he lacked in expertise back in those days, he made up for in perseverance and fortitude. You were not going to stop Walter when his mind was made up. Lebanon,” Mayor Jacobs stated, “is better today because of the vision of Walter and the bank he started to serve we the people of Lebanon.”
Mayor Jacobs remembered, “He never wanted nor sought political office; although any office would have been available to him had he run. He always thought that he could do more for the people by working with them through the bank than in a city hall or at the state capital.”
“I would be hard pressed today, to point to any improvement in this town,” recounted the mayor, “and say that Walter and his bank were not instrumental in getting it done. He was involved in all improvements; company relocations; and civic projects that have served us all. Thank you, Walter, for that!”
He continued, “Odessa, better known to all of us as ‘Dessie’ was the epitome of a wife and a servant to this community. She was always the first to volunteer for any drive or campaign that was good for the community. Few have gone without the taste of her blueberry muffins during ‘Marchfest Days’. Or the taste of her home-made vanilla ice-cream sitting on the veranda of their beautiful home during the hot summer evenings.”
He shared, “Community beautification was her forte. It goes without saying that when we have the annual beauty contest for yards, homes and landscaping, Dessie’s home was always at the top of the list.”
He further stated, “If a stranger came into town and needed help, I know by your presence here today, that Dessie was always the first to respond. Many of you here know firsthand how she has helped you at one time or another get over a bump in your life.”
“If it was food, money, or a place to stay, Dessie – without question would take you in. She would even give you a job if you needed one until things could be better for you.”
Mayor Jacobs remembered, “During my college days – no one had any money. Dessie would give me a job mowing her lawn and I am eternally grateful to her for doing that.”
He rhetorically stated, “You see, I would take that money and date the most beautiful girl in town. Today she is my wife. Thank you, Dessie, for that!”
Mayor Jacobs concluded his personal remarks, as his voice began to get louder, with, “And now, we will be served by Walter and Dessie’s wonderful family, Sam, Steve, and their lovely wives, Joan, and Sandra.”
He continued, “And their grandchildren, Junior who is serving us already through the bank while John and Sarah are finishing up their education – Sarah the University of Kentucky and John at Texas A&M.”
“John and Sarah are representing Lebanon well, Sarah in pre-med while John gets all the attention on the football field at A&M. Every time they call his name on a play, they say from Lebanon, TN,” the mayor concluded.
Then getting serious, “To the family, let me say that truly, Walter and Dessie, first – will be missed; secondly – they will be remembered by all of us; and especially by you the family; and thirdly – their legacy will be manifested daily in the lives of those they touched in Lebanon and beyond; the State of Tennessee and the United States of America. Thank you Walter and Dessie!”
Mayor Jacobs lowered his voice and became real serious, “Having said that I want to read this telegram just received this morning from the former President of the United States, President George Bush:
‘To the dear family of Walter and Odessa Johnson, and the folks in Lebanon, your loss today, is our loss as well.
Not only is it a personal loss, but it is a loss for our nation. We, however, will all be the better for having known Walter and Odessa.
Laura and I count it a blessing to have been friends with them. I loved to call her ‘Dessie’ since my mother was from Odessa, TX and was named Odessa as well. She too was called ‘Dessie.’
Laura and I have had them in the White House on many occasions and they have even stayed in the Lincoln bedroom.
I have counted on the advice of Walter as he and I talked regularly by phone. He helped me tremendously in understanding the pressures for small town banking.
Laura and I join with you in your grief. May God bless you, Sam, Steve, and your families; may God bless you the citizens of Lebanon, and may God bless the United States of America.’
Mayor Jacobs concluded, “And that ladies and gentlemen, from the former President of the United States, George Bush. I might note that this and every note is accompanied by a beautiful wreath of flowers on the stage this afternoon.”
Mayor Jacobs then introduced another special notice, “Now, I have a hand written note from the governor of our state, Governor Richard Thompson.
‘To the good people of Lebanon, the distance from the State Capital to your fair city is but a few miles and you should know that we are joining with you today as if we were there, to mourn the death of Walter and Odessa Johnson.
Our hearts and our sympathies are with Sam, Steve, and your families in the loss of your parents. Please allow us to join with you in grieving the loss from our perspective as well.
They were truly great citizens of our fair State of Tennessee and I am proud to name them to our Favorite Sons and Daughters of Tennessee.
A plaque accompanies this note and their names will be transcribed on the walls of our Capitol Building to join those many other Favorite Sons and Daughters of Tennessee. May God bless you.’
Mayor Jacobs held up the plaque and stated that it would be on permanent display at the bank starting Monday morning. He turned and faced the family for them to see the plaque.
He finished with, “Many other notes from senators and representative – both national and state were received. They will be compiled in a special Book of Memories that will be on display at the bank. The book should be ready in about a month.”
Others such as Senator Johanson, the distinguished Senator representing the State of Tennessee came from Washington along with many state leaders. They were introduced in attendance.
After the mayor sat down from making his presentation, the Inspirational Quartet again gave their rendition of a song entitled ‘Shouting Time.’ They were indeed a lively group and had presented these songs to the family for their approval prior to the service.
The family wanted the Memorial Service to be a celebration time for Walter and Dessie. They chose songs that would lift up the crowd to the greatness of Christ, Heaven, and where Walter and Dessie are today.
At one point in the song, it appeared that the entire audience would just march right up to Heaven as the Inspirational went into their marching choreography with the chorus of ‘Well it is shouting time in Heaven.’ Again, after several encores of the chorus, the crowd again settled down.
Pastor Wilson approached the podium and said that he was not going to take a long time in speaking, but that he had a very important point he wanted to get across. There was a quiet murmur of small laughter from the crowd as Pastor Wilson had a reputation of not being able to deliver a short message.
He indicated that on many occasions he had sat down with Walter and Dessie and shared great stories about family and friends. Walter loved the great stories from the Bible.
Pastor Wilson stated, “Walter was always moved by the humiliation and death that Jesus experienced on the cross. He would go back to that hot summer night at a church brush arbor when he realized for the first time that Jesus loved Him.”
He shared, “Not only just loved him, but loved him so much that He endured the cruel cross and all that went with it just for him so that he might be saved.”
He commented, “In the light of a lantern after one service, he knelt down with the preacher and prayed for Jesus to be his Lord and Savior.”
Pastor Wilson shared, “Walter said he did not remember much of what happened that night prior to the service, but he never forgot what happened after it was over. He settled forever his choice of being in heaven today.”
Pastor Wilson went on to say, “We are not given much in this world that we can lay claim and hold onto forever. Scripture says, “We are not to store up treasures on earth where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves can break in and steal.”
He continued, “We can, however, store up on earth and take with us to Heaven our choices.” Pastor Wilson said, “Our choices affect how we live our life on earth and where we are going to spend eternity.”
Further, “Many today would have you believe that this life and this life only is all that we have. If that is true then you have the option to make the best of it or the worst of it.”
He stated, “If that is true, then you will be accountable to man and man only for how you live this life, as in the end the body goes back to dust from which it came.”
At this point, Pastor Wilson emphatically stated, “However, if this life is but confirmation for the life to come, those of you who are not ready will miss it. Walter and Dessie believed that there was more to life than just this life and because of Jesus and His death on the cross, they will not miss it.”
He confirmed, “Make no mistake about it, neither I nor you will escape this life in the mortal body we know today. Not our goodness, not our being a good neighbor, not our being an honest man and not even one of high integrity as Walter was – can get us out of this world with a free pass. We are going to die and our choice with Christ makes the difference in the world to come.”
Continuing, “What we are celebrating today is the choice made by Walter and Odessa Johnson to acknowledge what Christ did for them that assured them of an eternal home in Heaven.”
He then pointed to Scripture saying, “Scripture says “The best we can look for is 70 to 80 years on this earth and that depending on our heath. Some live to be 90, 95 and even a 100 but in the end, they die.”
“You are going to die,” he stated, “It may be in a tragic accident like Walter and Dessie, or it may be after you are 100 or over, but you are going to die. No one has gotten out of this life in other manner than death.”
Pastor Wilson concluded, “Wouldn’t be a shame if you were to die today and not be prepared. Walter and Dessie were prepared. If you aren’t then you will be found at risk because of your choices.”
Again, he referred to Scripture, “Hebrews 9:27 says in the Bible, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” You are going to die once on this earth. You will die a physical death of your earthly body.”
Laying down the preface to his point, he said, “Now note something of great earthly importance that I want you to see. You are going to die once, and after that to face judgment.”
He continued with fervor, “There is that little clause ’after that’ that so many overlook. I know that I could zero in on facing judgment here, but I want you to zero in on after that. There is an after that!”
Pastor Wilson dug in “After that implies simply that there is something else. Death is not the end.”
He illustrated, “You know when you reach the end of the road. It stops and goes no further. You know when you reach the end of the day; it now starts afresh with a new set of 24 hours and a new calendar number for the day. The old day is finished – there is no after that for the day.”
“But notice here, it says that when you die,” retorted Pastor Wilson, “to me means when you die that it is not the end.”
“The writer under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit brings it home – after that suggests that death is not the end but that there is life after death.”
“Isn’t that great? Those are probably the most comforting nine letters in the Bible,” lamented Pastor Wilson, “to know when we go to the graveside service later and place Walter and Dessie to rest, we know that is not the end for them because there is an after that.”
Elated, he continued, “Praise God for the after that. Don’t you just love God for putting that little phrase at the end of that important fact of life – you are going to die once but after that…. Just two little words – only nine letters but it promises life after death with those two little words – after that.”
Pastor Wilson ended, “Where are you with after that in your life? Walter and Dessie knew where they were. And it did not matter if they were taken by surprise with an accident or not, they knew about life after that. Do you?”
He concluded, “To the family, you have shared Walter and Dessie with us for so many years and we appreciate you doing that. Now you will share so many years of your life with us and for that we will pray for you. May God bless you.”
Pastor Wilson voiced a short closing prayer and then addressed the audience with instructions. “Folks, we are going to have three lines for the family to receive you – a line for Sam and Joan; a line for Steve and Sandra along with John and Sarah; and a line for Junior and June. Three lines, Sam and Joan will be over here to my right; then Steve and Sandra along with John and Sarah in the middle; and Junior and June to my left.”
Making sure they understood, he instructed, “This does not mean that you can only go through one line, but there will be many who will want to share with the entire family and this will speed up the process.”
He cautioned, “Please take into consideration the hour and the number of people here and take as long as you want but take only as long as you need. Thank you!”
Steve stood up shaking Pastor Wilson’s hand and whispered to him, “Tell the folks to please take any flowers they want. These flowers are so beautiful and can be a blessing to someone.”
Pastor Wilson then turned and addressed the audience again. “The family thanks you for your outpouring of love and support.”
He finished, “And they want to share these beautiful flowers with you. Take them home; share them with a loved one; a friend; a hospital; or a nursing home! Please take what you like as you go and that will help them tremendously.”
Pastor Wilson and his wife turned and shook hands with the family. He pointed them to the locations mentioned and they moved toward them. The mayor and his wife also spoke with the family as they departed the trailer. The Pastor and his wife along with the mayor and his wife moved off the trailer to shake hands with the people.
The Inspirational Quartet moved to the piano and began a melody of their songs and sang through the time people were coming through the lines.
The sun was approaching the noon hour as they addressed the last people in line. Various volunteers loaded the flowers that were left over and the family portrait into trucks for delivery to the bank. Sherry had the keys and was going to let them place the portrait and flowers in the lobby.
“Mom and Dad are rejoicing in Heaven over what happened here today,” declared Steve to John and Sarah who were moved with appreciation for the turnout of the people. It had been quite a morning. The sun was reaching its peak and they only had a short time until the graveside ceremony.
A lunch was planned for the family and close friends at Walter and Dessie’s home for 12:00 noon. Dignitaries, family and close friends had been invited to join them by the family.
Sherry had taken care of getting a catering company to cover the food and amenities for the lunch. Many times the bank had served the community with a special event including food. She was no stranger in planning the food. She knew exactly which caterer to get to have the occasion come off without a hitch.
Much was said about the Memorial Service. The turnout was overwhelming. Appreciation for the attendance and concern of the people was expressed by the family.
After lunch and receiving friends, the family prepared to go directly to the cemetery for the internment service. Steve was dreading having to go and really say goodbye, but he knew that it had to.
“Mom and Dad would be laid to rest at 2:00 PM regardless,” he surmised, “with or without me but I need to be there.” A private family and close friends service does not change the outcome. They still say goodbye to their Mom and Dad.
Steve, Sandra, John and Sarah came to the cemetery in the same car and arrived at the Lebanon Community Cemetery 30 minutes prior to the service.
Pace & Pace was located on the cemetery property. They were guided by the funeral director to a special place for parking. There an 8 person people electric cart met them. They were taken to the chapel area where they were to be marshaled until the entire family got together prior to going to the gravesite.
Sam, Joan, Junior and June arrived right behind Steve. Another cart was brought for them to gather as well in the chapel area.
Close friends and relatives had already been escorted to the gravesite and all were awaiting the family to arrive.
When it was determined that the immediate and extended family had arrived, the director motioned for the carts to be brought up. The family was transported to the gravesite.
Pace & Pace had many carts and could accommodate a great number of family and friends to the cemetery gravesite. It was a service that few in the funeral home business sought to provide.
The gravesite was beautifully adorned with the flowers and wreaths from the Memorial Service. Both caskets were placed side by side in their respective places and the family flowers placed on top as a moving touch of love for Walter and Dessie from Sam and Steve.
When the immediate family was seated, Pastor Wilson opened his Bible. He shared some thoughts from God’s Word regarding the passing of Walter and Dessie.
He began his comments from Psalms 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Pastor Wilson explained, “From this passage as we share in the last few moments of Walter and Dessie's life on this earth is defined.”
He began, “First that we know that Walter and Dessie are not here. Their souls have already departed to the green pastures of eternity. Scripture says that He restoreth my soul – whatever was taken from Walter and Dessie in that last fleeting moment prior to death and in death has no control over what happened after death. God restored their souls for heaven.”
He continued, “Secondly, we know that Satan has no control over us in this life or in death. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. When was the last time someone was hurt by a shadow?”
He explained, “It is not the shadow that causes us harm therefore as we walked fearlessly though the shadow of death; we are comforted by God’s protection.”
Quoting Scripture, “Death is given over to victory not defeat. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Wilson concluded, “Lastly, thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Finishing, “Walter and Dessie are romping across Heaven today as only Walter and Dessie can do — looking down on us and inviting us to come be with them instead of wanting to come back. My cup runneth over.”
He added, “Yes they would love to be here with you Sam, Steve, Joan, Sandra, Junior, June, John and Sarah. They loved you and they would not want you to be grieving over them today. They are happy today and together in Heaven.”
Pastor Wilson ended, “Zig Zeigler said that tears are the price we pay for loving others here on earth. There will be many tears shed in the next few days, weeks, months and years. There was a great love for both Walter and Dessie by their family, by their friends, and by their acquaintances.”
In conclusion, “Let those tears flow when your emotions overwhelm you. Know that you are expressing a great love for them when you do. May God richly bless you and the legacy left by this great family in the time to come.”
As the pastor stepped to the side, Mayor Tom Jacobs came forward with a flag that had been flown over the state capitol in Nashville encased in a wooden frame. He presented it to Sam so that it could be displayed in the bank where Walter dutifully served the community.
He also presented the plaque to Steve designating the day as a Day of Proclamation for the Meritorious Service to Lebanon by Walter and Odessa Johnson. He said, “The charitable and unending capacity to work for the betterment of the Lebanon community is measured only by the love they held for reach of us.”
Pastor Wilson then prayed. After the prayer, he walked over to once again to share comforting words with the family in the loss of Walter and Dessie. Those who were standing nearby followed the pastor in speaking to the family.
The pall bearers placed their boutonnieres’ on the caskets. Each said a silent prayer.
As quickly as they had been carried out to the gravesite, they began moving the attendees to the chapel area. Only the immediate family was left.
Junior and June greeted John and Sarah and got on a cart with them. They had not had time to spend with them since they had arrived in town. They made plans for lunch on Monday at Ruby Tuesdays.
Steve sat still – not moving – under the huge tent. He never wanted to forget this day and all that had transpired. His Mom and Dad were truly great people.
He thought, “So frequently you see these types of services presented for some politician and you just know that it is all for show – but in Mom and Dad’s case – I know it is genuine and received well by the community.” Only time would tell the eventual outcome with the success of the bank going forward after this.
The carts were leaving. Sandra was sitting in their cart waiting. Steve got up walked to the caskets bent over and placed a kiss on each casket and said goodbye.
“I’ll do my best Mom and Dad – thank you for all you did for me,” he muttered under his breath turned and walked to the cart.
Steve contemplated, “After this – then the bank opens on Monday?” Whatever will be the outcome of the changes that were made for Monday?
The mantel had fallen on Steve’s shoulders. Not having his Dad around was certainly not going to be easy for him. The times they sat for hours discussing various phases of banking.
What they could do to help a farmer; financial planning for a senior citizen; a young couple wanting to build a house for themselves. There were the respected people who wanted to look at starting up a business in Lebanon – whether fast food, restaurant, hair salon, or a hardware franchise.
All these options were on the table most of the time. Steve thought, “Just having his Dad to help with the decision making process was invaluable. Now it was him.”
“Could he do it?” he questioned. “Do I have the ability to size people up like Dad did? Will I see the fruition of my labor come to success the way he did?” he wondered. “Well Monday is coming and I guess we will see,” Steve concluded.
“Then there was Sam – what will he do?” Again, he thought, “We will see!”
It was agreed that the family would go back to the home place for the evening meal. Steve and Sandra with John and Sarah arrived first and Sandra scurried about putting food together for the family.
John and Sarah went with Steve into the parlor to spend a moment with him to reflect on all that has transpired over the weekend. It had been an awe inspiring weekend.
Sam and Joan followed. Joan went with Sandra to help with the meal. Junior and June arrived shortly thereafter and joined John and Sarah with Steve in the parlor.
As they reflected on the events, certainly it had been a momentous occasion not soon to be forgotten in Lebanon but it was more than that for them. It was their Mom and Dad – Grandmother and Granddaddy. All the pomp and circumstance could not remove that.