This is the day, six years back, that my buddy Gordon “Flash” Wofford passed away. He always signed every email: Keep Up the Fire “Flash”.
I can’t hardly wrap my brain around six years gone. Those of you who read MOTHER OF RAIN will note that the book was dedicated to Gordon. Nobody wanted to see that book published more than him, except for me, I guess.
Gordon used to call me everyday and tell me some wild hair story of his. I wish I had written them all down, but to be honest, at the time he was telling them, I was too busy enjoying the stories to write them.
There is a poem in Mother of Rain that Gordon wrote for the deaf child Rain. But really, it’s Gordon’s own story – the story of a soldier.
When Gordon passed away, his wife, Pam, asked me to speak at his service. The following is the eulogy I gave. I hope it brings you a smile. Gordon loved to make others laugh. I haven’t laughed as much since he passed.
One of the things I loved best about Gordon and the thing I already miss most was his stories. Here’s one he sent me shortly after we met:
There’s nothing like being raised in the South. I understand grits, gravy, and the love of our grannies. Not to mention fried green tomatoes, okra, fried squash, fried chicken, case knife pole beans, apple clobber (last night’s menu) – eats are good in the South and it usually shows. I grew up around Chattanooga – home of moon pies. Nothing like a R C Cola or Double Cola and a moon pie on a hot July day. Our home was a half of mile from the Georgia State line. When I was 9-10 years old my father came up with the idea of moving to Georgia. He said he liked the state tax system and they had better roads. He thought he could save money living in Georgia. My mom a Tennessee girl told him in no uncertain terms that she was not living in Georgia, and have all of her friends call her a “Georgia Cracker.” Needless to say they still live in that house a half mile from the Georgia State line
The mark of a gifted storyteller is the ability to craft a story from any event, like flying roaches or snakes in the garage:
The other day Pam was telling me about a snake wrapped around the garage door knob. I wish I could have been there to see her trying to remove it. Just an innocent chicken snake or some other “friendly” snake. She decided to go out a different door and when she returned from the garden it was gone. For some reason she is staying out of the garage.
Gordon could even turn a recipe into a story:
About those fried baloney sandwiches… In Tennessee that is our “hay field sandwiches” except we put a fried egg on it with the yoke broke as we fry the egg. A little mayo and you can’t beat it after a morning of hauling hay. Keep Up the Fire!
And, as anyone born in the south knows, the whole point of a funeral service is to swap tales on the dead. Here’s a story Gordon told at the funeral of his friend Harold Marlow:
Harold was a devoted neighbor. His friendship as a neighbor reminded me of the neighborhood I grew up in as a child during the fifties. Everybody knew their neighbors, and it was like one big family. We shared everything. If you were at a neighbor’s house at meal time, you ate with them. You looked after their homes. You were there for each other in times of need. One time . Pam and I took a week long trip with Hassell and Elizabeth York. We took Elizabeth’s van. In our haste to leave I forgot to lock the front door. A few days later Harold came down for a visitand found the front door open. Both of our cars were in the driveway, but no sign of my wife or me. When I returned from that trip, I had countless number of phone messages. Harold was calling to find out what had happened. He had thought maybe we had been kidnapped or some other type of foul play had taken place. He was truly concerned! In no uncertain terms, Harold instructed me it was my duty as a neighbor to keep him informed of my trips in the future.
Long before I met any of you I knew you as characters in Gordon’s tales:
There was Don Ault who offered to take him to Virginia for treatment – no questions asked. Like they were smuggling dope or something.
There was Jimmy Overhaul. They used to work on cars, even on the Sabbath when they weren’t supposed to.
There was Brenda’s ball playing days and stories of Eddie’s old girlfriends.
There was talk of lunch with Lanny and knife shows with his daddy.
There was Bill Thurman’s trip to the Philippines and Mrs. Campbell’s fried apple turnovers.
Bill Thurman told Gordon I might be the first person he ever met who could outtalk Gordon. So let me wrap this up.
You are here today because Gordon mattered to you. But you are also here today because you mattered to Gordon. You were all characters in the story of his life.
That story is not over. It has only moved to a new and better setting. One where Gordon really does have access to all the goods on us. So be careful of the story you live because God’s not the only one watching now. Gordon is as well.
He’s probably sharing a moon pie and an RC cola and a story about us with Uncle Luke and Doc right now.
Heaven is full of combat veterans. God greets them at the gates himself saying, Welcome Home, boys. Welcome Home.
Charles “Gordon” Wofford is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Next time you are there, stop by and say hello for me, would you?