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Luck of the Irish, Guardian Angels,
Intimations of Morality, and Unrelated Subjects
It must have been early July, Lucille says July 6, I had finished moving the wheel move irrigation on the south peanut field, and mounted my Polaris four-wheeler. I approached our FM Road 2247 from the west. Looking first to the right, as far as George Bingham's at the brow of the hill, and then looking to the left as far as our house, and seeing nothing in sight from either direction, I pulled out onto the Highway heading North. And suddenly there was a young man by the name of Chad Newman right alongside of me in a new pickup truck.

Luckily for me and maybe Chad too, he had the reflexes of youth and was able to swerve just enough to avoid side-swiping me or even plowing me under. At the same time I swerved to miss him and went out of control and wound up with my Polaris on its side and me in a barbed wire fence belonging to Dean Hall. As soon as Chad could get his vehicle stopped, he ran back and helped extricate me from under the Polaris. He had a towel with him which he wrapped around my badly gashed arm which was bleeding profusely. He then transported me home where I was able to contact Derwin Isham (the son-in-law that lives nearby), and he rushed me to the local Comanche hospital emergency room.

I have said it was the Luck of the Irish that kept me from being maimed for life, or even killed dead, but on reflection, I think it must have been Lucille's guardian angel that granted me the two or three inches that separated me from Chad's vehicle. (But if it was, why didn't he (or she) shut off my ignition before I got onto the pavement? Or is that being sacrilegious? (Son-in-law fixed Hall's fence good as new, thanks, Der!)

But where the Luck of the Irish came in, on a Saturday afternoon in the emergency room a Doctor Gustino happened to be on duty, together with Laquida Pyburn, Rose Howerton, and Billie Clark. Together they cleaned the grass and other debris, such as dirt and grassburrs, and sewed up a gash about two inches wide, a half inch deep, and three inches long, plus other lacerations. Dr. Gustino modestly affirms that any one of many other local doctors could have done just as good a job sewing me back together, but I don't think anyone could have done better. I asked him later just how many stitches he took (when he removed the stitches). He said he didn't count them; he didn't charge by the stitch.

I wore the sling on my arm a couple of weeks after he told me I could leave it off thinking I might get some sympathy, but it didn't work.  People said anybody 83 years old driving out into traffic on a four-wheeler deserved whatever he got.

All of which brings me to the third segment, intimations of mortality. I could have been kilt, or crippled for life, or become a vegetable. We are already contributing a very modest sum, which we are reminded often enough, to two cemetery associations, one where my O'Brien grandparents, and Lucille's paternal grandparents were buried, and the other where our parents are buried.  We have a burial plot of our own laid out thanks to Lucille.  And, we have other relatives buried elsewhere besides all over Ireland that we want to remain anonymous, lest we be reminded of other tributes to those gone on.

I learned only recently that my very good buddy, Bill Bean, has a sizable burial plot at Arlington, TX. where his ancestors are buried. The way Bill describes it, it is a very spacious plot, and some of his very dearest friends indicated they have valued their friendship over many years, and would like to continue the association through the years.  So Bill has established a "Friends and Family Cemetery Association" in which his mother, a delightful lady who was the pianist in her Baptist church for some fifty or so years and died in her nineties, is in charge of music. He and another good friend are to attend bar, one of his sisters is in charge of social activities, and his dad is in charge of admissions.  He is not sure what duty his brother Bruce, a mortician, will be in charge of.  Bill, who is a single man who never married, said at the time he took out his burial plot he didn't know how many wives and children he might acquire, so he took out eight plots. 

Since my chief philosophy of life as been  to borrow anything that is available to loan, I have thought seriously about seeing if I could borrow a resting place from Bill and be a part of his "Friends and Family Cemetery Association". Why buy something if you can borrow it.  Still, I will need to talk to Lucille, and I haven't talked to Bill either.
And I hark back some thirty or forty years when I was asked to be pall bearer to some lady, from west Texas or some- where, I did not even know. I think she was a relative to one of Lucille's relatives by marriage that she didn't know either. Anyhow, we went across several county lines to a little rural cemetery whose name I never knew, and all I remember was there was a little beer joint right across the road from the cemetery, and I have often thought what a nice resting place that would be for an O'Brien. After the pall bearers had put me away, they could stroll across the road and hoist a few in my memory and maybe sing "For he was a jolly good fellow" (but not very smart) or "Roll out the Barrel" or "21 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" or was it 29? I haven't discussed that idea with Lucille either, nor the girls, nor our Methodist Pastor. (I believe my son-in-laws might approve.)

One other thought I have mulled over, we have a very good friend, Dick Hawkins, who is a very fine carpenter.  Lucille has bought two nice trunks that he has made at our Methodist Harvest Festival .  I mentioned to him awhile back that I just might want to get him to construct my coffin. He talked like I was being a bit premature and that I might talk to him again some ten or twenty years later, but after my recent Intimations of Mortality, I think farming is a very hazardous occupation. I have thought of a plain pine box, not as ornate as the trunks Lucille bought and maybe Hackberry instead of pine, as I think Hackberry would turn to dust faster than pine. I haven't thought much about dimensions, and what to do with the box until it was needed.  All I know is I would want it long enough so I wouldn't be cramped, and I would want it well-cushioned.  Perhaps we could put it in the patio, and if it had a good size pillow and a reading lamp, when I needed some privacy or Lucille became unhappy with me, I could retire to my coffin and read a good book or take a short nap. I would want any locks to be on the inside, and I would want it wide enough so if I became horrified with what was going on back home I could "turn over in my grave."  Price will be a factor. Actually, I would like to buy it at low interest and forty years to pay.

I didn't aim to be so morbid when I started this and usually like to stay as far from cemeteries as I can, but while revisiting Ireland some dozen years ago, we visited some of the very old churches, which generally had cemeteries within or adjacent.  Most of the inscriptions had grown imperceptible with the weathering of centuries, some of them O'Brien.  I couldn't help noticing many of the graves had great stone slabs covering the grave.   I wondered, in some cases, if the slabs were placed as insurance against the occupant returning.

While on the subject, I think our local morticians without mentioning them by name, are to be highly commended for doing such a fine job of preparing the bodies of the deceased.  I in company with others, have often marveled at how lifelike the person appears to be, and all too often having seen the individual on a sick bed or in prolonged pain and agony, how much better he or she looks than when last seen alive.  Then again, sometimes as I hear some one proclaim just how lifelike the deceased appears, I feel like saying, "Well, he (or she) looks dead to me."  But I never do, with one exception.  Some few of you will remember Sally Hope Jay, a long-time resident of the Beattie Community. I don't think Sally's best friends and neighbors would resent me describing Sally as somewhat eccentric, and I think everybody who knew her would agree she was a very independent person. Lucille and I, from time to time, as we chanced to be in the area, would visit Sally during her later years when she lived in Gorman, TX. We considered her a friend and admired her independence and spirit, as I think by then in her nineties.  We would often find her in her garden, and as far as we knew, still doing her own housework (and she always had a cup of coffee ready).

I doubt I earned the right, but I was honored to be asked to be one of her pall-bearers. I remember it was a cloudy, rainy day (Sally would probably have thought it a good day for a funeral) and when I went into the parlor to view the body, I thought somebody had made a very serious mistake. The Sally Hope Jay I remembered from not long past was a very ancient, stooped, wrinkled person showing all the evidence of her ninety-plus years. The person in the coffin appeared to be that of a very young girl. I thought, "Wrong room, wrong funeral parlor, wrong person."  I went back and looked at the funeral notice. It was Sally. Someone had imagined how Sally may have looked in her teens, not her nineties. They had given Sally a face-lift. All the wrinkles were gone. The hair was no longer gray and stringy. The face was rouged, the lips painted, and it may have been my imagination, but I thought there was a twinkle in her eye. (maybe both eyes). I had the possibly irreverent thought, if Sally could have visualized how young and pretty they had made her, she would have crawled out (or jumped out) of her coffin and gone dancing. Or perhaps not, after all it was rainy and a good day for a funeral.

But I want to go on record to Pete Butross, Frank Hall, or maybe Larry Nowlin, if these other boys are too busy or won't work on credit, I don't want anybody to try to fix me up to look younger than I am. That was alright for Sally; that may have been her wishes but not me. If I had my druthers, which I doubt I will or even should, I would think it would be nice if I was fixed up with a toupee, and maybe a luxuriant beard, preferably red. I always wondered why, being of Irish descent and having red-headed ancestors (on both mine and Lucille's side),  none of our children had red hair? But I can imagine, if I was fixed up with a luxuriant head of red hair and an equally luxuriant red beard, people walking by would say "there must be some mistake, a gruesome error. This is not O'Brien, this is someone I've never seen before." And, "The O'Brien I knew was bald-headed and had been for years. Also, on the few occasions he wore a beard, it was straggly and gray." And I can further imagine that one of my friends might say: "I know O'Brien, he has reverted to Civil War History when some who wanted to avert military duty was able to hire somebody for a fee to take their place. He has found some BODY that he has hired to take his place, some unknown person and he has followed his often expressed dream of going back to Ireland one more time before he died, and I'll bet that's where he is right now."

Whereupon, I would like to think my ever-loving and forgiving wife, Lucille, who has put up with me better than a half century would hopefully say a few fine words in my defense:
"You are absolutely wrong about that. This is the O'Brien you have known for years; he has not gone back to Ireland.  I know for two reasons, his passport has expired, and I would never let him run off to Ireland by himself. In a strange land driving on the wrong side of the road, he would get himself killed. The reason he doesn't look like himself is he always tries to postpone the inevitable and this is his strange way of doing it. This may seem strange to you but not to me. He has always been just a little bit strange, and the older he got, the stranger he became."
Does this sound too fanciful? Not any more than my thought expressed earlier, that Sally Jay Hope, seeing herself once again as a teenager, might be tempted to crawl out or leap out  of her coffin and go to a dance.


Printed in The MESSENGER magazine, Jan/Feb 1997