Thursday, June 19, 2014

Role Call

John Brock
I'm proud to say that three of my very favorite writers are (or were) friends of mine:
Charles Kuralt, Jan Karon, and John Brock.

John is not as famous nationally as Charles and Jan, but his book Southern Breezes Whistle Dixie flat hit the spot with this 79 year old son of Charlotte, North Carolina.

John was in the Class of '51 at Central and was the son of the owner of Brock's Barber shop, on Caswell Ave behind Stanleys Drug store. Mr. Brock gave me my first haircut and just about every one after that until I moved to Washington.

John was kind enough to pass along a lot of the old photographs of Charlotte that I used a number of years ago in the slide show that I did for our class 5 years ago.  He was one of the original producers of the great slide show for his class, which frankly was the inspiration for the one I did for our class.

He also graciously allowed me to publish several of his stories on this website.

It was with great sadness that I received this email today:

You haven’t heard much from me lately but life can change directions in a big hurry and I need to explain a couple things. I recently started having some physical problems. Just as Barbara was getting over the worst of her health problems, I suddenly developed stage 4 cancers necessitating some significant life changes. I went into the hospital a week ago and yesterday transferred to a skilled nursing facility in Pawleys Island. Barbara will move tomorrow into an adjoining assisted living facility. Unfortunately, they say I only have a few months to get things in order.
Our sons and daughters-in-law have jumped right in to help with everything. Neighbors, friends, kin folk, church members and staff and others have joined in to help make things possible. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to convey this news personally so I’ve asked our son John, Jr. to contact you folks with this explanation of what’s going on.
We will try to keep you informed. For a while we’ll keep the same phone number and address. My love to each and every one of you.   

-John Brock Jr for my Dad

For years he wrote a weekly column for several Southern newspapers. This is one he wrote in May of 2007:

When the roll is called up yonder: my Mom will be there!

All indications are my Mother, age 92, is experiencing her final days on this earth. By the time you read this, she may be gone.
We knew the day was not too far distant three years ago when she moved to a nearby nursing facility. But, I was just thankful that for the first time in many, many years we were once again in the same town. Sadly, this seems to be coming to an end. But only God knows. She is a resilient woman and has survived cancer, a mastectomy and a broken hip in the last five years.

There’s nothing I can do. The professionals are doing everything they can to give her loving care and to make her as comfortable as possible. All I can do now is just go by daily and hold her hand. The time comes to us all, if we live long enough, when there is little left in this life. But in my Mother’s case, it’s not the end. There is a more joyous life at the end of this earthly tunnel. She has always believed this — and so do I.

In the meantime, I am unable to converse with her beyond a gentle greeting on my part and a slight recognition or an occasional smile from her. Her words are all used up, but, I can, upon occasion, garner a slight sense of recognition. Two-way conversation is a thing of the past.
Today, I found another means of communication. The door to her room was closed and I impulsively broke into song. Not just any song but her favorite old-time hymns.
Those who have ever sat beside me in church know full well that I cannot sing. I often feel the need to apologize to those around me when I try. But, today, I just felt it was the proper thing to do.
I was not wrong.

For a half-hour, as I fumbled through almost every hymn I knew by heart, her spirits rose and for a short while we were communicating. A broad smile crept across her face during the first notes of “Lilly of the Valley,” and broke even wider as we segued into other hymns from her childhood and mine. Her hand, help closely in mine, grasped tighter each time I came to one of her most favorites. The old hymns were speaking to her subconscious soul.

By the time the medical personnel came in, I thought Mom was about to join with me. A false hope, I’m sure, but nevertheless, it was a glorious time for us both. Now that I have found this method of communion, I will hold her hand and sing every day just as long as life prevails. Although her voice was not added to my meager offering of song, her soul sang right along beside me. It was marvelous.
As I sang, my mind wandered into the distant past as I recalled my Mom singing these same hymns to my youthful soul. Our roles, as often happens if we live long enough, have reversed.

Mother was always able to conjure a smile even in the face of despair. And prayer was the answer to all the trials of life. She came by it honestly. Her father was a deeply religious man and Baptist to the core. Although seminary trained before his health prevented further study, he was never a preacher but he “preached” daily by his example to his family and those around him. I was one who benefited from living near him early in my life. Mom has sustained his spiritual devotion through the years. Hopefully, I enjoy some benefit as well.

Another thought came to me today as I witnessed the joy in Mom’s eyes. I was reminded that every time I go into a church today, I see a sea of gray heads – other older folks harvesting the last years of life. I understand that churches want to seek younger members into the fold, but in the process, we should not miss the opportunity to speak to the souls of older members. In my view, no church service is complete without the inclusion of at least one or two of the old hymns: Old Rugged Cross, Amazing Grace, What a Friend, Living for Jesus, Rock of Ages, Bringing in the Sheaves and others of that genre. An occasional old-time gospel song wouldn’t hurt either.

The sermon tops off a perfect service where aged and youthful souls are both nourished.
I don’t fully fathom the spiritual side of death and dying but I do know one thing for certain:
“When the Roll is Called up Yonder,” — Mom, you’ll be there!

John Brock lives in Georgetown County and is a retired college professor/administrator and newspaper editor/publisher. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper or via Email: His website is: