Thursday, January 1, 2009

Mr. Mt. Juliet

By Beth Terrell

The slide show at John's funeral has a clipping from a newspaper report of a high school football game. In the newspaper photo, John is looking over his shoulder, football tucked in the crook of his arm. The camera captured him in mid-stride, forever suspended in mid-air. He was our quarterback all through junior high, our receiver in high school, our baseball pitcher, and a lifelong supporter of Mt. Juliet athletics. The next slide shows him in his late teens. He is smiling, thick curls tousled, a beautiful young man wearing a patterned shirt from the '70s. Our senior year, he was the prom king. We voted him "Mr. Mt. Juliet," completely without sarcasm.

In a Hollywood movie, a guy like that--handsome, athletic, popular--would also be the jerk who dunked the geeky hero's head in the toilet. In real life, he was sweet, a little shy, a good-hearted partier who sometimes partied a little too hard. He would struggle with that all of his life, but, as the presiding ministers said, "He always strived to be a good man--and he was."

On Monday, he died of a massive heart attack. He hadn't been sick. He hadn't seemed frail. He'd gone to work that morning; he'd played golf with three of his best friends on Sunday; we'd seen him at the reunion in September, hale and whole and fine. And now, suddenly, just...gone.

His family buried him today. Even with the service held in the funeral home's largest chapel, the funeral home owners had to bring in extra rows of folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. One classmate flew in from California for the service. Some who had not been back to Mt. Juliet in thirty years came to pay their respects. We were shell-shocked. We'd lost classmates before--some to accidents, some to illness, but never like this, never so suddenly. We had always known we weren't immortal, but we'd never before felt old.

A week ago, we still felt young and full of potential. Today, we had to face the fact that the clock is ticking. We no longer have a lifetime to reach our dreams. Seeing the chapel full of grieving people, we took stock of what it meant to be successful. John never played in the NFL. He never starred in a movie. He never made a million dollars. But if love is the only thing we can take with us when we go, he was a rich man. To us, he will always be Mr. Mt. Juliet.


Jean Henry Mead said...

How sad, Beth. But how fortunate that he will be remembered with such fondness and respect.

BTW, I'll trade you a copy of Maverick Writers for a copy of your book.

Beth Terrell said...

It's a deal. Any chance we might be going to any of the same conferences? I'll be at Killer Nashville, of course (wish you'd come!), but I'm also going to try to make it to Murder in the Magic City.