For a guy who grew up in the funeral business where I knew most everybody we buried, I have many memories in this head of mine about certain funerals. If you have read my book you know some of the funniest things happen at the most serious times. A funeral, being a serious time, can produce some funny moments. And I wrote a book about that.
But there have been many more moments that had nothing to do with funny. And some of those memories I will take with me to the grave. Emotional moments. Chill bump moments. And one of those emotional, chill bump moments I will always remember was the day we buried Sydney Bryan.
Sydney Bryan was the son of the man who served as the town doctor for many years. While Sydney was the only one of Dr. Bryan’s children who elected to stay in Reynolds, his siblings and their families visited often. Sydney’s brother and sisters obviously had Reynolds roots and many friends in Reynolds but their children were just as well known in Reynolds. Each summer when they came to town they would pick right up where they left off last time. If local kids were having birthday parties or swimming parties or backyard parties they would always be invited. The Bryan’s were known for large family gatherings that took place in a large two story house known as “Big House” that stood across from the First Baptist Church. The gatherings centered around a huge dining room table with enormous amounts of real southern food. There is no doubt that those nieces and nephews have many fond memories of those visits to Reynolds. “Big House” was the epitome of the good life in the South.
The truth is Sydney Bryan was the epitome of the Southern gentleman. There is no telling how much he gave away to his workers in the fields or to others who were struggling or to others just to be nice. I vividly remember many afternoons seeing several bunches of turnip greens or a basket of peaches at my parent’s back door. He was a farmer and made his living on the land. And he never minded sharing the fruits of his labor.
Sydney was also an avid outdoorsman who spent a ton of hours in the woods and in the swamp. He appreciated and understood God’s creation as much as anyone I ever met. He enjoyed teaching others to hunt and fish as much as he enjoyed hunting and fishing himself. If someone called a meeting for everyone Sydney Bryan taught to hunt and fish, I can tell you there would be a large very appreciative crowd gathered for that meeting.
More than anything Sydney was proud to be a Southerner. Contrary to what many believe who do not have Southern roots, Sydney’s southern pride had nothing to do with racism or hatred. It had to do with a wonderful way of life in which he enjoyed to the fullest. I have learned as I have traveled around our great country that there are some who have a stereotypical mindset toward people who live in the South. There are others who have friends in the South or have visited who know better. The South and the life it represents has been feared, revered, hated and loved. For those of us who have southern roots, the revered and loved applies. Sydney Bryan revered the South. He loved his family and he loved his country. And he loved the South.
There was a huge crowd gathered at the First Baptist Church of Reynolds for Sydney Bryan's funeral on that spring day in 1993. The church was packed. We had speakers set up for the overflow crowd who were seated in the packed fellowship hall in the back. Additionally there were as many people standing on the lawn outside as were seated inside. I was thinking that day that this southern gentleman had impacted an awful lot of folks.
Terry McDaniel, who was Reynolds’ female answer to Liberace, was playing the piano that day. And believe me she was “walking all over it” as we say in the South. When the service was over, my team walked down front to dismiss the family and friends and to roll the casket out down the center aisle of the church. As the casket began to roll, Terry began to change the song she was playing on the piano. When I realized what she was playing I stopped in my tracks. The words to the song she was playing were running through my mind. And it was one of those “chill bump” moments I will never forget.
I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away look away look away Dixie Land.
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand
To live and die in Dixie.
Away, away, away down South in Dixie.
Today I live and work with people from all over our country. I have learned that people are the same wherever you go. Some of my closest friends have never lived in the South and that is certainly just fine. But I am proud to be a Southerner. And when someone questions my “southernness” I always remember that chill bump moment at the First Baptist Church of Reynolds.
I was not one of those that Sydney Bryan taught to hunt and fish. But he did teach me in his life and in his death to never back down from being proud of my Southern roots.
I haven't. And I never will.