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Cofield On Oxford — Father & Son

Dad’s friend Jim came to the living room door and nodded back down the hall. In a low whisper he said my mother needed me. And by the man-to-man look and vibe that hung in the air, I knew this was it. It for Dad, it for me, it for everything. I went to his side and took his hand. I looked back and forth from mother’s face to his. She was looking straight at him. Then he closed his eyes and I felt his wrist; three strong, one weak, another weak, then nothing. It was over.
They are the most personal minutes of a child’s life. Unfolding once again in the most universal of all moments. Since the dawn of time, the scene has been played out. Co-stars, both leads and understudies for the same roles in previous and future dramas, for a diminishing audience of two, then one. And the anguish of the heart that cries out in all languages, but speaks as one in the child’s heartbroken mind, “Aw Daddy, no.”
Yocona native and noted author, Larry Brown’s roots run deep in Lafayette County. He and his grandparents rest there, his grandchildren play there. And his youngest son Shane, has penned his part on that sad worldwide stage set there. Once the understudy, like all of us, now thrust into the lead. And here his pen will lead you through the county to a place that needs no commonality to discern. — John Cofield

Larry Brown on the Square Books balcony in Oxford. / Photo by Jack Cofield (c) Mrs. Larry Brown
Larry Brown on the Square Books balcony in Oxford. / Photo by Jack Cofield (c) Mrs. Larry Brown

November’s Missing
Dad has been gone 10 years today, and it’s been a long 10. Things are so different, and can be hard when he isn’t around. I don’t know why his life and his death have such a powerful hold over me, but they do, they just do. Mostly everything I do, I think of Dad being a part of it.
Maybe I think, at times, I didn’t get enough of his attention, but I got just as much as Leanne did and Billy Ray did. He showed us attention, and gave us his love, but I don’t think a child can ever get enough of it. And it’s in the missing him that he makes me a better Daddy. It makes me throw that extra baseball to my son when darkness is taking over daylight. It makes me smile and lift myself off the couch when I hear my little girl yell from the bathroom to help wash her hair. I love their touch and smell, and I miss his touch and his smell. I miss his voice and his hackling laugh. But I don’t miss this day; I don’t miss November 24th.
Shane and Larry Brown at Double Decker Festival in Oxford, 1994. / Photo by Tom Rankin
Shane and Larry Brown at Double Decker Festival in Oxford, 1994. / Photo by Tom Rankin

I had been out real late the night before with a girlfriend. So late that I stayed in and slept at her parent’s house while she went to work. I woke to her Mom coming in the bedroom crying. She had a phone in her hand and her other hand was covering her mouth. She was mumbling words that I tried to ignore. She was telling me that my father was dead. I took the phone she was holding and said “Hello.” It was Billy Ray’s Paula who was given the horrific order to call everyone. “Shane, this is Paula. You need to come home.”
“Paula, what is going on? Is he dead?” At this point I was telling myself that it was a lie and I was dreaming. She would never tell me if he was or not. She just told me Mama needed me to come home. I told her I was on my way and I threw the covers off. I grabbed my pants and pulled them up my legs. My girlfriend’s mom was still crying and she was telling me she was sorry. I didn’t know what she was sorry for; Dad wasn’t dead!
I couldn’t get home fast enough. Mom and Dad bought me a Z71 pick-up my senior year at Mississippi State and I drove that truck faster than I’d ever driven any vehicle. I was running through the back roads of Yalobusha County, moving into Lafayette County. The way that gets me to Yocona is winding and twisting. It’s a road we rode drinking beer and listening to music. It’s a familiar way; one that I could drive blindfolded. My truck had a speed governor on it that would cut the motor off when you reached 98 mph and I was reaching its limit every straight stretch of the small yellow lined road I came to. My mind was foggy, in disbelief, my heart was tempting to break but I wasn’t giving up yet. He wasn’t gone from us!
Larry's grandson, Harris Brown, on the banks of the Yocona River. / Photo (c) Shane Brown
Larry’s grandson, Harris Brown, on the banks of the Yocona River. / Photo (c) Shane Brown

From my home in Yocona, it’s a magnificent view. The two houses sit on a hill that overlooks seventy acres of cattle grazing Lafayette County’s rich soiled grounds. Mama was born and raised there, where she worked, and sweated, and cried as a farmer’s daughter. It’s the place she and Dad chose to raise us. Now my brother is raising his kids there; it’s his farm now. Some memories are gone and some memories are being made over. They flood my mind every time I pull into the drive. It’s maybe the finest place I’ve ever known, and I’ve been to a lot of places. I call Oxford my hometown but I am Yocona rooted.
Cars are everywhere and I slam my truck in park and jump out and run to the house. I start to think Dad must be really sick. People are staring at me. I see a look in their eyes that I don’t want to see. Their eyes are telling me the truth. I don’t remember the first person who grabs me. I go into the house and walk straight down the hallway to Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I look in the room at their bed and there Dad lies; dead. My breath, my mind, my everything completely goes out of my body and I stare.
I never knew until the other night that Mom watched me from my bedroom and it’s a vision that haunts her. I went down to the ground, but never hit the floor; I caught myself before I hit surface. I don’t remember this. I remember my good friend, Glenn Coleman, working coroner shift this dreadful day, and he’s with a deputy sheriff, standing over the body. They see me staring from the hallway and kindly step away and gesture.
Larry Brown at Tula. / Photo by Tom Rankin
Larry Brown at Tula. / Photo by Tom Rankin

I walk to his side of the bed and then hit the floor on my knees. I sob and grab his hand. I get up and put my face into the pillow his head is resting on. He smells like “Dad.” He is just sleeping, right? I cry more and just lay there beside his still motionless body. When was the last time I told him I loved him? When was the last time we talked? Dad, wake up!
I hear Mama, “Shane,” and I stand up and look behind me. Her face is shattered and she holds out both arms. I grab her and hug her and we cry together. She is lost in everything she says and does for the next few days, next few weeks, years; now. Mama loved Larry Brown more than anything in this world. I sit down on the bed beside him and just look at him. Time is not making sense at the moment.I remember LeAnne crying a lot and looking like someone needed to hold her. Billy Ray was calm and quiet. I saw years going through his eyes. I saw responsibility packing on his shoulders. I heard Memaw sobbing, “You are not supposed to have to bury your children!” Her cry was haunting from the bedroom. This came out of nowhere. He wasn’t supposed to leave us this early. He had grand kids to spoil, more books to write, more fish to catch, more barrels of dirt to move at Tula, more guitars to play…. I sit there as long as I can until Glenn has a job to do.
A coupla weeks ago I took Dad’s “Joe” from Tula to my house. I saw it lying on a shelf while hanging out in there and decided I needed to reread it. I opened it to discovered it was Memaw’s signed copy from Dad. It reads: ​ “For Mama, the most important one. I hope you like this new one. It was a long time coming but the world sees it now. I know some laughed at my dream but you never did. Thank you for my life.” Your loving son, ​​Larry
Dad you’ve been gone 10 years today, and it’s been a long 10. I hope you like this story. I never saw writing as something I wanted to do. The questions I have for you are more now then when I had you. I know you are with me and not a day goes by. Thank you for my life.
Your loving son, Shane

Courtesy of John Cofield, a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, “Col.” J. R. Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was Ole Miss yearbook photographer. John also attended Ole Miss. Contact John at johnbcofield@gmail.com.

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