Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Soapbox: The Man Called Shea

When I was a little girl, my father was notorious for bringing to what I now lovingly call “the homelands” any particular friend he met along the path of life. It was not uncommon for us to entertain anyone from traveling salesmen to professors, long-lost cousins from some European family tree, to musicians, or who knows whom. He had a knack for befriending strangers and making them a part of the family.

On one such encounter, my father brought to live among us a man that stayed with us and in our native agricultural region for the rest of his life, which would have been about 40 years. As with most of the strangers Daddy brought home for a meal or an extended stay, we really were not quite sure what to think when he told my mother that he had invited a man to live in the brick house down the hillside as long as he wanted to. All we knew before my father left to go back “to town” was that the man would be working on the farm.

In the hour or so after Daddy left our property, a violent storm moved in. Mom remembers being terrified, though I do not recall any of this. She said that the man, who had scarcely been there for more than an hour, was knocking on our door. She could see through the glass that he was dripping wet. She was so frightened, but felt like because Dad had said he was a good man that she was ok to crack the door open.

“Yes?”

“I am sorry ma’am. But can I please use your phone to make sure my family made it safely home.” His family had left him to work with my father and returned to the north.

“Sure,” said Mom, still inwardly afraid.

The man appeared so humble. And humble, we and the entire community, would learn he was as we got to know Shea through the years.

As my brother and I were little kids, carefree and wild enough to roam any stretch of land we could see, Shea’s watchful eyes were like a guardian over us as entrusted by my father. I know now, through my adult eyes, how he must have longed for his children as he invested his skillful hands into the land we called home. With each sunset in a place called beautiful, I cannot imagine the longing inside of him, for he told us about them frequently and visited whenever he could.

Throughout the years, many of the farmers in our region hired Shea as an agricultural specialist to work with them on their farms. It was there that he found community and the familial love for which he longed all of his days.

When he passed away last month, many of the farmers he counted as friends had already gone into eternity before him. Some second generation (since his arrival) farmers and their children were unsure of what to do about his burial. My phone began to buzz, since my father was the one who originally brought him to the community. Though my father had already passed away as well, it seemed that everyone remembered Dad and thought Russell’s family will know what to do. I was able to connect with his now grown children whom I vaguely remembered as babies. The connection we felt grew immediately, due to the intertwined legacy of our fathers.

We secured a quiet country cemetery plot, donated by one of the farm families, and called for all of the agricultural community to gather. The Pastor was aged, but met us on the countryside nonetheless. Shea’s family returned to the place where they had once lived for a short while, and I was able to meet face to face with his daughters for the first time in adulthood. It was a poignant moment for all of us as the farmers ceased their work and came to add to our numbers that day, many of them still in their work clothes.

I understood how Shea’s children felt. Their father’s life had been taken too quickly, as had my own father’s life which slipped away without my permission. It left us all with an empty feeling of wishing there would be that “one more talk.”

Only God knows why Shea and my Dad had path’s that ever crossed, and why he stayed forever, and why they were both gone from this earthly life too soon. But I gathered up the peoples to honor his life and stepped up to say a few words about the man called Shea. It is what my father would have done. He was one of only a few that ever came to the homelands that made such a long-lasting impact, albeit with a quiet and simple goodness that he embodied. Here it is some forty years later, and it seems like yesterday when my father left for town and told my mother…his name is Shea. He is a good man. No words were ever truer.

Brandi Chambless
Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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