The Burial of Frederick, My Brother

Submitted by R Vincent Park

His daughters, and his close friends, bathed him. He had been sick for several months so, as was the tradition in his community of farmers, dancers, musicians, storytellers, and everyday people that populated the mountains of Western North Carolina, a loving “Frederick” sewing circle joined together, and started quilting. Clothes and fabrics that had passed through his life and his children’s life magically joined together conceiving a quilt of many memories. Spread out on the living room floor of his small mountain cabin home – peacefully hidden on the side of Mount Mitchell, in the heart of the Appalachian Mountain range he so dearly loved – was his organic shroud.

Dressed in his favorite shirt and pants, barefooted, always barefooted, except when he danced, fourteen hands laid him down on the quilt as fourteen others softly tapped out a traditional mountain tune and chanted a refrain that charmed the air, sweetened the mood, and brought peace to me and all present as our brother, parent, teacher, scholar, spiritualist, lover, musician, philosopher, star gazer, dream chaser, contra dance-caller and storyteller’s storyteller was wrapped in a brightly colored handmade quilt.

(Back in our growing up days, I’m talking now of the formative years, when my brother, Frederick and I shared time, space, travel, and adventures, we quickly discovered that we were destined to cross the universe together, joined forever as Irish twins . . . In some way the conventions of clocks and calendars that rule cities had, by the magic of time passing and life changing, morphed into a life of sun and moon, wind and stars, water and asphalt, subways, and interstates . . . our souls, no matter the direction each of us took – me, the ambition junkie, him Earth’s father – we never parted.)

This bright, unusually cool August morning greeted us as we traversed the potholed state highway switch-back road to Frederick’s mountain cabin. What felt like a thousand drives through his forest home metamorphosed into America’s mountain creeks and rivers he had crossed, waters he had swum in, river banks and ridges he had played music on, campfires and front porches where he had held court telling jokes and tall tales. Churches, schools, and Chautauqua halls that he had performed in, suddenly dimmed missing his light. This August morn would be the last time all of us would be together. What was five brothers and sisters was now four. What was a father, and his three daughters was no longer. In its place he had–through his cantankerous ways and steady, unwavering belief and great love of the human spirit–created, almost by accident a magical, spiritual gathering spot for the ages.

People from near and far parked on the salt and peppered road along his beloved Toe River. On the steep hill, they milled about in his front yard amidst blooming flowers, the forest breathing as always, unsure what would happen next. Conversations, greetings of friends not seen since who knows when filled the air. Some stood alone reflecting and taking it all in. Each in their own way, even in their confusion, saluted Frederick’s signature of celebration–the gathering!

The beat-up old farm truck groaned its way up the steep rain-rutted driveway until it was close to his front porch. Two friends who had built a handmade bier walked it to the rear of the truck. Musicians, instruments in hand, paid homage to Frederick’s great love of New Orleans jazz, played as his body was carried off the truck and onto the roughhewed bier. Two nephews, three daughters, and three dear friends lifted Frederick and started the climb up the mountain to a special spot where he used to sit and think. The day before, family and friends had cut a path with gardening tools and chainsaws, cleared a space, and dug a final resting spot about a hundred yards behind his cabin. Now, surrounded by all he held precious, Frederick, assisted by those he had given life to in so many ways, started his long walk.

Gathered in this new mountain “patch,” music and stories were shared, some heart breaking because we were still here and he was not, some joyous because they just were. All were forever secured in the hip pockets of the listeners’ memories.

After a time, a time that had no schedule, a time that just felt right, those gathered came together and lifted Frederick, wrapped in his brightly colored quilt, and passed him hand over hand into the deep earth—his new home. One of the daughters picked up a shovel and delivered the first covering. One by one each of us did the same. The fiddle players played his waltz, the singers sang his hymns, the small grandchildren tossed in his favorite foods, brothers and sisters shoveled and shoveled, friends clapped, some danced, and the hole vanished.

A second daughter pulled a newly purchased bush, his favorite, to the head of the freshly shoveled earth. Others followed with plants and flowers and young trees. Planted in no order, with no plan in mind, the newly dug earth was enchantingly turned into a meditation spot. Six men and four women encircled a large quartz rock with ropes and pulled and pushed it into place at its center. Nothing was finished, everything just beginning. Frederick and his daughters had created a one-and-a-half-acre plot of land in the center of the Smoky Mountains, with a simple small cabin as a gift for peaceful breathing, a meditation sitting garden that views the Toe River flowing forever South, a tiny corner for the world to enjoy. This land that Frederick often said he did not own but was merely shepherding, was to be a place of study for those who, like him, hungered for knowledge of stars and trees, earth, and wind, and the old-fashioned things like fresh air, sunshine, and peaceful contemplation for reflection.

Frederick lived for possibilities that were always just up ahead. He did not die contemplating what might have been lost. Two days before he passed, we talked, as we often did, about everything and nothing. And, as was our ritual, we shared stories. We believed everything is held together with stories. For me, Frederick is a story. He is what’s holding us together, his stories and his compassion. So it is said, so it is written, so it shall be . . .

The Burial of Frederick, My Brother
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