The following was copied from “Remember Me”, John Brewer Gibson (1907-1983), Book #453, located at the Richland County, Illinois Genealogical Society Library, Olney, Illinois
John B. Gibson
February 26, 1973
THE LAST GOOD-BYE
Our youngest son, a powerful, quiet, twenty-four-year old, and his pretty, pleasingly plump little wife smiled up at me as, in the gloaming, I rolled my tractor and ponderous wagon carefully through their barnyard gate. “See you tomorrow afternoon,” I called above the tractor’s roar. “Good-bye, now!” Jan, still smiling, fluttered one soft, white hand in a little-girl wave. But Frank, suddenly sober, bowed his head a bit and slowly extended his right arm in a wide gesture of farewell.
In the deepening September dusk, I shifted the rig into road gear and headed home. This has been a very happy evening, I thought. And better still, it is only the first one of many to come.
Just the night before, this son and I had agreed to work together in the wood for winter fuel. I already had a huge pile of slabs at home. Today I had hauled the first load for Frank. We had relaxed in Jan’s kitchen drinking ice tea while Frank Iolly recalled the lighter moments of his day on the job as a construction worker. Then we went out and unloaded the wagon; one of us handing down the slabs while the other built the pile and Jan prattled incessantly. Yes, I thought, as I pulled into my own drive-way, this has been a happy evening.
The next afternoon, about three-thirty, I drove into Frank’s barnyard alongside his incipient pile of slabs. As I killed the tractor, Jan hurried out of the house and burbled about ice tea. “No,” I said, “I’ll be unloading till Frank comes, then we’ll drink the tea.” “No,” she said in return, “I’ll make the tea now and bring you out some. Frank will be home soon, and the tea will still be fresh.” With that, I could see nothing wrong. “O.K.,” I agreed, and Jan returned to the house.
In the shimmering September heat, quiet air redolent of early Spanish needle and late clover bloom, I began to unload the slabs, placing them one at a time upon the pile. In a minute or so, Jan burst from the house in tears. “Frank’s been h-hurt,” she wept. “They just called and said that Frank’s been hurt on the j-job.” “Get a grip on yourself, old boy,” I muttered, as I climbed down from the wagon. “This could be bad.”
Jan and I went back into the kitchen. She called my wife, who then sent Elaine, another daughter-in-law, to come and take Jan and me to the hospital. But Eva, my good wife, stayed at home to meet the school bus and to care for Elaine’s three children.
As Elaine and Jan and I sped the nine or ten intervening miles, my mind went back to that April evening fifteen years earlier when John, our oldest son, stood in our living room and hesitantly told Eva and me that Joe and Bert, our third and fourth sons, had drowned together in the floodwaters of the Little Wabash.
There could be no possible mistake – John had seen his brothers’ bodies lying on a low wooden bridge after they had been raised from their watery grave. There is a futility, a finality about such news, and a dead, cold, millstone feeling in your very soul when it comes. Elaine drove up to the emergency room door and Jan bailed out of the front seat and flew through the wide door. I clambered from the rear seat and hurried inside.
In the corridor I met Ruth, our only daughter, an R.N. She laid a hand on my shoulder. “Frank is dead, Pap,” she said in flat tones. “Wh-what?” I said, stunned. “Frank is dead,” Ruth repeated. My heartbeat drummed alarmingly in my ears, but above it I heard an awful, far-off screaming. It was strong, unearthly, bone-chilling, as might be the shrieks of a powerful man dying in agony. And in my condition, I somehow attributed the screams to Frank. Fatally injured, I thought, but not done dying, and I stood stiffly back against the wall, arms rigid, hands clenched, chest heaving.
“Won’t you please sit down, Mr. Gibson?” a little nurse pleaded, holding a wheel-chair at-the-ready beside me. “I’ll take ‘er standin’ up,” I grated, my mind on my son screaming his life away in a farther room. Our daughter piloted me to a chair at the nurses’ station. Still that shrieking went on and I could not sit down. But if Frank is dead, I thought, how – – – My confusion must have become evident in my eyes. “Frank is in that room,” Ruth said calmly and indicated a clogged room across the hall from the room of the screams.
“Well, wh- what’s that, then?” I asked. “That,” Ruth murmured, “that – is Jan.” “Oh,” I said In sudden, inexplicable relief, and sank into the chair beside the desk. Ruth’s pastor stepped up and laid an arm across my bowed back, speaking words that did not register. “The Lord has given,” I said just above a whisper, “and the Lord has taken away.” I thought then – Joe – Bert – and now Frank. Three times around. “Blessed be —” my voice broke on a low sob.
The examining physician gave it as his considered opinion that Frank had been instantly unconscious, had never known what; hit him. And I was grateful for that.
Soon Jan’s wails stirred me to action. Frank was dead, beyond our help, beyond our recall. But Jan was dying tragically, dying horribly, dying by littles in that other closed room. I got to my feet and Ruth and I went in to her. Under powerful sedation, Jan still cried out piteously, with great strength, though she did not respond to the touch of my hands nor to the sound of my voice. But she would gradually surrender to the strength of the sedation, a nurse in attendance assured me. And I, feeling helpless, unable to reach Jan, returned to the nurse’s station.
With practiced eye, another nurse quickly observed me. “Would you wish to see the body?” she queried gently, and after a moment’s hesitation I said, “Well, yes; why not?” and then, “Yes, I would.” We crossed the hall; the nurse opened and held the door while a second nurse and I entered, closely followed by the first one.
At the foot of Frank’s body, I turned and stood beside him, near his knees, and looked long and sorrowfully at all that remained of our youngest son, of our seventh son. “Well, there are things worse than sudden death”, at last I consoled myself. Dying as I at first had envisioned Frank dying, for one. Not without a little pardonable pride, I assessed the form before me. He who in life had been so quiet, so droll, so generally self-effacing, on the stretcher now arched that massive chest, squared those broad shoulders; his features ashen, impassive in the timeless dignity of death.
“God be good to him” I said under my breath. And I thought of a stanza from a beautiful, poignant old song, All Through The Night, which seemed to suit this situation precisely.
Earthly dust from off thee shaken,
Soul immortal thou shalt waken,
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night.
Reaching forth my left hand, for several moments I caressed Frank’s crisp, coppery, wavy hair. Slowly, then, I withdrew my hand. “He was a good boy,” I said huskily. “A good boy, I repeated, and without a backward glance, moved slowly, reverently, from the room.