by Donny Seagraves
Down a shady, tree-lined street, behind a comfortable frame house, inside a modest workshop, there is a silence now more deafening than the sound of the loudest explosion. Power tools stand mute among the wood shavings while wood waits, raw and unformed, for expert hands that will never turn it into comfortable porch swings, whimsical animals and sturdy cabinets.
Inside the vintage house, rooms filled with memories, both happy and sad, await the new widow’s return from a visit with her son’s family. Clothes hang in the closet, food spoils in the refrigerator, and cards of condolence pile up in the mailbox and on the front porch.
How does a widow ever return to such a place? How can she stand to walk among the rooms which still hold so much of her recently departed loved one’s earthly essence – in the cushions and chairs, in the antique trunk and photograph, in the pictures and cupboard drawers?
Cornelius Norris was a good man, a quiet shaper of wood and lives. His friends were legion. His family was blessed by his presence. For many years he faithfully delivered the mail, pipe clenched between his teeth, blue uniform rumpled. This gentle, good-natured, curly-haired man brought bills and checks, good news and bad, to those who were fortunate enough to be on his route.
He was a Scout leader and an active member of his church. He was a father to three boys, now grown men with families of their own, and he was the kind of husband to Mary that most
women wish they could find and many never do.
“Neilly,” as he was called by some, also was a cancer patient during the last few months of his life. This man who retired to work in his shop with his hands was forced to give up one of those hands and the arm that held it. And like the opera singer who loses his voice or the champion runner who must give up a foot, Neilly was devastated and bruised beyond repair by the treatment for his disease. The surgeon’s scalpel cut so much deeper than the flesh.
And so, this fine man, who was very much alive just a few days ago, is gone. His tools are silent, his friends are grieving, and his family is still in shock over his passing.
Sooner or later, we will all face deafening silences and rooms filled with painful memories. Grief and suffering are just as much as part of life as the most breathtakingly beautiful sunrise and the joyful sight of a baby’s first smile.
But just as the smiling baby will someday become the grieving widow or the elderly man, in time, the deafening silences will be broken by happy sounds once again. And pleasant memories will crowd into rooms full of sadness.
And, like all good men, Cornelius Norris will live on. We will think of him while swinging on one of his handcrafted porch swings, or clipping our favorite recipe card in the clothespin mouth of his whimsical wooden mule. And when we walk across his well-built porch floor or open a medicine cabinet fashioned by his hands around a “Dubl Handi” washboard, we will remember Cornelius “Neilly” Norris and his talents and his undying love.
This newspaper column appeared in the Wednesday, May 18, 1988 edition of the Athens Daily News in Athens, Georgia.
For more articles by Donny Bailey Seagraves, head over to the Writing page.