While the rest of the country obsesses over what kind of hat a European duchess wears, we bury far more interesting people in the Delta. It happened this week. His name was Clifton Cole. You never heard of him, but what a fellow.
Born into life of farming, he became one of thousands of American men caught up in the Korean War. It probably cost him his first marriage. Back on the farm, he settled into farming and into a 59 year marriage with his second wife, Clair.
After a daughter by his first marriage, he became a father of three boys in his second. It was to be a typical story of farm life in the Delta until the cruelest tragedy invaded their lives.
A hereditary strain of an incurable disease caused his sons, one by one, to die after a lingering illness that lasted years in some cases. Quietly, he and Clair buried them and turned their attention to the grandchildren. Tragedy followed them like a curse.
A beautiful and devoted granddaughter was found murdered by a boyfriend. Throughout it all, he maintained a smile when he saw you, and never refused a favor asked.
Somewhere along the line, he decided that farming wasn’t “his cup of tea” so he became what one might describe as a “rural entrepreneur.” He sold cars, become a bail bondsman, developed land, and fished. In the process, he became rich, and generous.
As someone remarked this week, “He was the nicest man on earth, unless you crossed him.” Even as his health failed, he never quite gave up smoking. It’s as if he decided years ago, maybe in foxhole in Korea, that he would live life on his own terms. He did.
His life is worth mentioning because he represents a disappearing type in the rural south. The old-time men had their ways, but they were loyal to their families and friends. One of his pallbearers was an elderly African-American man, a fishing buddy. That would have seemed preposterous back in the day. We move on, one hopes.
Clifton was the one I always talked to at funerals and reunions, which are often the same thing around here. At this one, there was a surely a hole in the world where he should have been. His peers have all but disappeared and those that remain are feeble. A good crowd assembled, though, and everyone could remember some kindness or humorous story. All in all, as someone observed, he would had gotten a kick out of it.
I used to smoke two packs a day and I just hate being a nonsmoker... but I will never consider myself a nonsmoker because I always find smokers the most interesting people at the table. - Michelle Pfeiffer