By F.J. Wilson
The little parsonage stood proud and friendly on an old country acre in a small town in North East Mississippi. The little family nestled safely in the energy of all the Methodist Ministers that’d gone before. I was a welcomed visitor and made comfortable by the hospitality of the family and the little house itself. Temporarily out of work and going through a hard time in my life having just evacuated from New Orleans and the horrors of Katrina, I was in need of this haven. Finding myself middle-aged, alone and trying to find work in a film career crippled by the great storm and inhabited by fast paced young people, I was feeling very sorry for myself. I’d lost confidence and thought this little out of the way place with my extended family was the best place to be for a visit and recuperation.
The yard was mostly crab grass, gravel and weeds, mowed weekly by the young Minister and his son. The beauty of the place didn’t rely on well-groomed lawns and landscaped shrubbery, but in the yard’s well worn years of childhood’s play. The property bordered dense Pinewoods; the big trees almost virginal in their beauty and size. The woods had so much undergrowth and tangled vines, exploring them should have been out of the question - but I felt the call - the pressure; the sudden undeniable urge to investigate this quiet place of such verdant life. I was struck by an intense desire to risk the vines and brambles and see what treasures were hidden in this dark world that wasn’t mine. So in spite of my better judgment, I made it over the broken fence of barbed wire and rotting posts. Had this fence been put up years ago to keep something in, or something out? The dense brier and nettle bushes caused stinging scratches to be dealt with later, and most assuredly ticks and redbugs, but I’d started and couldn’t go back. The ancient layers of pine straw under my feet held decayed bits of forest life and probably snakes and crawly things I didn’t want to encounter. Moving quickly and hoping to out step any snake ready to strike, I came to an opening and stopped short. A small clearing in the trees created a small chamber so soft and lovely it could’ve been home to wood nymphs and fairies. “A clearing in the thicket” was a phrase that came to mind and I felt the souls of all the deer and animals that used this place as a safe haven for sleeping and birthing. The sense of peace was spiritual in its comfort and I saw the reason I was summoned. Across the clearing and half falling onto the ground in a natural desire to become compost was a wooden grave marker. Carved out of Oak and rounded in the shape of common tombstones it called out to life passing by; begging not to be forgotten.
Our Dog and FriendJAZZ
1936 – 1950.
There are times in your life when you know something, half tangible, half spiritual. I knew Jazz was there, smiling and wagging his tale and glad to be noticed once again, after so many years of not being. I sat on the ground next to the old marker and asked the questions anyone would ask about his family, his life, his death; there were no answers but I knew he was lying next to me. I felt my own self-inflicted misery lifting as one does when visiting an old friend, and I wanted to put my hand on his grateful old head, lying over crossed paws, happy to be in the company of a familiar being. I stayed for about an hour and then it was time for me to go back to the little parsonage, back through the brambles and briers, back past snakes and crawly things and suddenly I didn’t want to make the trip back. But just as sure as I was summoned into the woods in the first place, I felt Jazz lead the way farther into the woods and I followed. There were no brambles only pine straw and tall trees and after a short while I walked out of the woods onto an old paved road that led back to the church and the little parsonage from a different angle. I didn’t feel Jazz with me any longer and I realized he had boundaries in whatever world he lives and had come as far as he dared and returned to his lonely existence.
I told the young minister about Jazz and asked if he’d go visit on occasion. Thinking this would be a wonderful lesson for his small children I offered to show him the way. He was kind as he explained that one didn’t ‘go visit’ Jazz, but when Jazz wanted your company he summoned you. I hadn’t discovered anything new to this little community, they were aware of the miracle of Jazz and his love, long before I came to visit.
There are times in your life when you know you shouldn’t, but you find yourself envying people. I envied the people living in this little spot of nowhere Mississippi and their knowledge and appreciation of a wonderful dog that had lived and died but still stayed among them.
The young minister and his little family will move to other country churches. They’ll leave their energy in the little parsonage along with the families before them and Jazz will always be there to welcome the new and comfort all who visit.