On this day in 1984, my maternal grandfather was killed by a drunk driver. His name was Burgess Wogan. I was very small and have only the vaguest memories of him but I grew up hearing stories about what a wonderful person he was. He was a minister and, as far as I can tell, his death was a terrible loss to the world.
Several years ago I wrote something, fiction based on fact, I suppose. It has a number of flaws but my mother likes it and it seems like a good time to share.
My grandmother lived with my parents during her final days. They still have some of her things, including her Bible next to this portrait on her dresser.
The preacher’s hands were weathered but gentle. In them he carried a Bible, an aging book whose leather binding was worn from use.
His flock revered him. His family adored him. His colleagues respected him. He was reputed to always do the right thing, to listen with an attentive ear and to reply with an understanding kindness.
He walked tall and proud, his preacher’s suits hanging neatly from his tall frame. People looked forward to his visits and to his sermons. He was said to have a way about him, unlike most preachers of his day. When he spoke, people wanted to listen and craved his approval.
In fact, it seems the whole world was a better place whenever the country preacher with the quiet smile was in the room.
He loved to watch westerns on tv but didn’t own a television set. He said he would never get anything done if he had his own. The preacher instilled in his family a love of music and singing, playing a pump organ with a zeal that more than compensated for any deficiencies in skill. He drove a wood sided station wagon that was part automobile and part freight train. It was in this vehicle that the preacher drew his last breath.
He had worked in a number of professions, running a hardware store for a while and even working as a school bus mechanic. He simply did what he could do to support his wife and ten children. There were bumps along the way, moving to many new churches in his career and working to compensate for the dilemma that there was never enough money to go around. But he was a good provider and he was proud of all his children and grandchildren who seemed to grow in the blink of an eye.
He left his book lined study, kissed his wife goodbye and patted their little dog on the head that day, venturing out into the July heat in his preacher’s suit. They were not accompanying him on this journey, a two hour drive to a little church where he would fill in for a pastor friend for just one night. Little did he know that the scrappy little dog that loved ice cream and sugar cookies would be euthanized just two weeks later because no one but the preacher could manage her.
Later that night, after a powerful service in the little church, he placed his Bible on the seat beside him and set out on his journey. No one knew why he chose the road he took. There were two to choose from and the one he selected, while more direct to his destination, was curvy and challenging to drive.
Navigating his freight train like car through the summer night, he topped an embankment and in a split second saw a flash of light and then darkness.
He had no time to understand the flash of headlights, the bright lights of a sports car that crossed the center line when its driver, too intoxicated to drive, lost control of his vehicle.
He did not know that the boys in the car were coming from a much different place in life than he had left. When he departed the little country church filled with the music of angels and the words of God, the boys in that car were leaving a rock concert where the temptations of drugs and beer were too great to resist.
His last breath came long before other motorists arrived. He did not see the first responders extinguish the flames in his engine or attempt to find a rhythm in his lifeless heart, a heart that once had beat strong and steady to match his love for life, family and God.
But the first responders missed something too. They missed the preacher as he reached to his right to pick up that old Bible. They missed the way he rose from the brown leather bench seat of the station wagon and walked down the highway, brushing off his suit and straightening his tie as he went.
In their frenzy to save the lives of the young men who had stolen years from the aging but vibrant preacher, the rescue workers did not notice how a bright sun cut through the otherwise dark night, beckoning the preacher to his new destination.
This new road was much more beautiful than any the preacher had traveled in all his life’s journeys and there were no more bumps along the way.