DeadlyBlondeArcher (Aug 23, 2007)Dean Kelsey Wylie
April 1, 1912 - August 14, 2007
I attended the funeral of my Great Uncle Dean last week, who passed away at the age of 95. He was one of the last remaining true cowboys. He worked and managed a ranch until he retired. Anybody that had any kind of ranching question for miles around would call on Uncle Dean, he always had the answer.
It was a “graveside only” service in a very small, very old cemetery - the kind that if you happen to pass by on a dirt road way out in the country, you might think it were a forgotten place, with the old, tiny deserted white church at the top of the hill and the randomly scattered tombstones below, some of which are merely natural rocks with no inscription on them. Most of the people buried there are my family.
When I was choosing what to wear for the funeral, I picked out a pair of black pants, a black shirt, pearls and conservative black heels… I haven’t ever worn pants to a funeral, but I somehow felt it was the right thing to wear this time. When I arrived, the lane and the area by the old church at the top of the hill was lined with almost nothing but dusty trucks, and when I looked down into the cemetery, I saw a group of people, almost all of whom I am related to…. Many cowboy hats, all of the men in their jeans and boots, and most of the women were wearing black pants, with the exception of a few very elderly women in dresses. There were a number of little girls, my nieces included, wearing pretty pastel dresses and running and playing under the oak trees. One of my Uncle Dean’s great granddaughters was wearing a pretty yellow dress and was squatting on the ground, looking at something, her sun -streaked brown hair glistened while her skirt fanned out perfectly around her, and from where I stood I thought how she looked like a big sunflower, and with my nieces flitting around her in pink and blue, they looked like little butterflies.
When I reached the bottom of the hill, my little brother turned around and grinned, and said “Hi, Big Sister”, we hugged, and then after being squeezed around the legs by my nieces and hugging my nephew, I endured the dragging around by my mother and being re-introduced to all of my cousins, old and young, for the umpteenth jillionth time… and the “You remember when you were three and you two did this and that….” and of course we smiled, nodded, and pretended to remember.
This was my Mammy’s older brother, he was exactly ten years her senior, and she thought he hung the moon. I made my way to her, and we held each other for a while, and she told me a story about them feeding the horses when he was 15 and she was 5 and she got mad at him and hit him with the feed bucket and he good -naturedly said, “Now, Olie, stop being ugly and mean, and come ride my horse with me”, and he put her on the horse and took her riding. She tells many stories of how good natured and what a good brother he was. I only knew him as an older man, but I never saw him when he wasn’t laughing, joking, or telling a funny cowboy story.
The service began with everyone removing their hats, and it was short and sweet. Some storm clouds rolled over and threatened rain, it was dark for a short time, but they rolled right along, gave way to the sun and not a drop spilled from the sky. Some of the older women opened their colorful umbrellas and used them as parasols to block the sun. The preacher told about how Dean and his wife, Beth, were in the same nursing home for a short time (they were in the same room), shortly before Beth passed away she said to Dean “I’m getting really tired, I don’t think I can do this much longer.” He said, “You go right along, honey, I’ll be right behind you.“ She "went right along" not much after that, and he passed away exactly five months later.
The preacher read some of Dean's favorite passages from the Bible, told how he enjoyed leading the singing at church, and then we sang his two favorite songs, "Trust and Obey", and "Just Over in the Glory Land". He then read what Beth had written about her husband before she died. She wrote “Dean loved his children and his grandchildren, he loved playing dominoes with them. He loved his horses and his dogs, and he loved coconut banana cake, and he really loved his chewing tobacco."
The preacher then closed his Bible, looked up from it at us, grinned and said “So, the moral of this story is, if you chew tobacco, you might live to be 95, too. Let us pray.” We all laughed and bowed our heads, and after “Amen”, all the hats went up in perfect timing and found their respective places as if it were choreographed that way, the children immediately broke free and began to play again. The casket was opened and I was happy to see he was going with his hat in his hand.
As we made our way back up the hill and to our trucks to go to the church to see who would be first to get to the fried chicken…. I looked back down the hill at the straggling children who were being called to come along by their mothers, and the little girl in the yellow dress was spinning around happily and laughing, her skirt flying out around her…and I thought…. All great cowboys should be sent to heaven with laughing, twirling sunflowers.
It was the first funeral I ever attended where I didn’t shed a tear. And then I laughed because at the church my Daddy was serving as one of the “tea ladies”, and after I asked which was the sweet tea and he just grinned and pointed, I said “Daddy, you make a good “tea lady”.
Until we meet again, Uncle Dean. :)
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