From Golden Baptist Church to the Streets of Gold

From this weather graphic on my way to Ben Fine’s Visitation . . .

To this view of a double rainbow from the balcony of my room that same evening.

It was a turbulent weather day on my way to pay my respects to my old friend, Ben Fine, at White Funeral Home in Cassville, Mo. A 12-year-old girl drowned near Neosho, Mo., as did a 34-year-old man who jumped in the water to try and save her after she was swept away.

As I drove back to Springfield, Mo. after the visitation, the City Park in Monett had lots of flooding and my windshield wipers were getting an extreme workout. Later that evening, the rain subsided. As I stood on the balcony of my motel room in Springfield, a beautiful double rainbow appeared in the eastern sky.

The next morning as I drove south on 160 Highway through Nixa and Highlandville toward Golden, Mo., to attend Ben’s funeral, the sky was overcast, but calm. The drive on that peaceful morning took me through familiar territory.

Many of my wife’s ancestors are buried in Flood Cemetery west of Highlandville just off of Route O, behind Pleasant View Baptist Church. My wife and I own a couple of plots near the back of that cemetery. I will be buried under a walnut tree to which someone already tied a wind chime to a lower limb. If I go first, I have instructed my wife to surreptitiously remove the wind chime and dispose of it. Having to listen to that throughout eternity would drive me nuts.

Further down the road I crossed the bridge over Table Rock Lake at Kimberling City. In times gone by, I have fished and waterskiied in that area. Just beyond that is the Mill Creek Recreation Area. In the late 1960’s, Ben Fine, another guy whose name I cannot recall, and I pitched at tent at Mill Creek. We played Indian Ball until it was dark, followed by the card game, Spades, until late. Before we crawled into our sleeping bags we got hungry. We attempted to cook a frozen chicken over a hastily built fire. We did not starve and we did not contract any foodborne illnesses, but I recall the chicken was charred black on the outside but still had some ice crystals near the center. The middle was perfect.

The funeral was at the Golden Baptist Church, in Golden, Mo. Behind a well-maintained sanctuary I drove to a large, metal building with a concrete floor suitable for basketball and large dinners, with plenty of room to stretch out. The building also had a stage. In front of the stage was Ben’s casket.

As I walked in the door, I was greeted by the delicious smell of fried chicken being prepared by caring people for a family dinner after the funeral.

A large crowd was present. Many, I suspect had planned to attend the visitation the day before, but were wisely discouraged by the weather.

After a welcome and a song, the Pastor asked if anyone had any stories they would like to tell about Ben. There were multiple stories about Ben’s goodness and concern for others. And more than a few fishing stories. His son, Brad, also told a “moving” story – as in moving away. After finishing his education, Brad wanted to move to Los Angeles. Ben was supportive. They rented a U-Haul, loaded it with Brad’s possessions and headed west. After numerous breakdowns, the truck finally gave out near Gallup, N.M. When U-haul arrived with a replacement truck, Ben & Brad unloaded the first truck and loaded everything into the new truck in the desert heat. As often happens, L.A. did not work out and Brad and his family now live near Charleston, S.C.

I debated whether to take the microphone.

The next thing I knew I was walking to the front. The Preacher handed me the mic.

“I went to school with Ben. We were both in the Hillcrest High School Class of ’66. Ben and I went fishing a lot at Fellows Lake, north of Springfield, Mo., in our younger years. We would rent an aluminum boat for three bucks a day from the Marina there, and row around the lake. We both loved fishing and we both love spending time on the water” I said. “On my way down yesterday, I decided to visit that old Marina – just for old times sake. When I arrived, I was greatly surprised to find it was being demolished. By today, I imagine it is gone.”

There were disappointed murmurs from those in attendance.

“They plan to build a new Marina on Fellows Lake. Another fifty or sixty years in the future, it will wear out too. Ben Fine’s body wore out. But Ben now has a brand new heavenly body that is never gonna get COPD or wear out!”

I handed the microphone back to the Preacher and hurried back to my seat. As I was seated, the Preacher handed the mic to another guy who had made his way to the front.

“My name is Gary Ellison. I was also in the Hillcrest Class of ’66 with Ben. And it is great to see my old friend, Doug Reece! What’s it been, Doug? Fifty years since we’ve seen each other?”

And with that, though I had lost one old friend, I had just been reunited with TWO OTHER old friends! After the funeral, Gary, his wife, Judy and I exchanged hugs and contact information. I was in their wedding. They had already celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

The funeral procession slowly made its way from Golden Mo., down busy Highway 86, to Roach Cemetery. Along the way, passersby stopped their cars in the roadway to pay their respects. Roach Cemetery is 200 yards of dirt road north of 86 Highway in Eagle Rock, Mo.

Ben’s remains were buried just to the right of the large tree in the background

Rest in peace, Ben. Thanks for making the good times better. Not sure who will be next, but the Class of ’66 seems to be headed your way in ever increasing numbers.

The weather was pretty scary on Day 1, but cool, beautiful and dry on Day 2. As I drove home, I felt I had accomplished two goals:

  1. I had paid my respects to an old friend and his family; and
  2. I had followed the advice of Yogi Berra, who observed “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours!”