Paying Tribute: A Visit with Hank and Audrey Williams

Paying tribute. It’s something I’ve always liked to do. Whether it’s having one of the person’s favorites, whether it be candy or food. To physically visiting their grave and having a chat with them for a bit.

Yes, I know that the actual person isn’t lying beneath that cold hard stone, only their Earthly body, but their soul, the part of a person that actually makes a human who they are, resides in Heaven.

Last Sunday, my girlfriend and I exchanged gifts at my house a day after Christmas because we were both busy with family on Christmas Day, which is completely and totally understandable.

After we exchanged gifts, we went to eat sushi at Rock N Roll Sushi in Montgomery, because it’d been a while since we had both had sushi and we like it, so why not?

Soon, after we had finished eating sushi, we headed to Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery to visit with believe it or not, not just one but two country music legends.

One who is considered by many to be the Father of Country Music, Hank Williams Sr., and his wife, Mrs. Audrey Mae Sheppard Guy Williams.

Not many people know this, but Hank and Mrs. Audrey met in Andalusia late summer of 1943, but didn’t marry until December 1944. It’s also believed that by the time they both passed away, Hank of course long before Audrey, the couple was actually divorced.

Of course, Hank Williams is best known as the father of Hank Williams Jr., but he also had an adopted daughter named Lycrecia.

Lycrecia is the daughter of Audrey Mae Sheppard Guy Williams and James Erskine Guy, her full name is Lycrecia Ann Guy Williams.

She was born August 13, 1941, but not long thereafter, Mrs. Audrey and Erskine divorced that same year and Hank adopted Lycrecia some time between 1943 and 1953, so she refers to old drifter as “daddy”.

As my girlfriend arrived at the final resting place of the two legends, I felt the wind die down and I approached the graves.

Now, these aren’t your usual small, intimate graves. These graves feature large headstones and raised concrete slabs.

I sat down on a bench next to Hank’s resting place and listened to his hit song “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” after the song ended I heard a train whistle off in the distance. It was as if Hank could hear his music being played.

Nearly 68 years after his untimely death, the spirit of old Hiram King “Hank” Williams is still searching for a way to get to that New Year’s Day 1953 show that he never made it to.

Rest In Peace, Hank and Mrs. Audrey Mae Sheppard Guy Williams, we miss you both.

Virtual Grave Tour to return New Year’s Day

I’ve always had a love for cemetery. There’s just something peaceful about them. Most people see them as a place where one only goes when they die.

They see cemeteries as cold, dark, gloomy places of mourning and sadness. But to me, cemeteries aren’t all cold, dark, gloomy places of mourning and sadness. They aren’t places where one should only go when they die.

In fact, you can learn a lot just by going and walking through a cemetery and looking at the dates on the headstones, thinking about what all the people lived through and what they saw during their time here on Earth.

I’ve lived across the road from a cemetery all of my life. The graves in that cemetery range from 1863 up until 2010.

When I was a young boy, about 9 or 10, my brother and I, along with our friends would go up to the cemetery at night and play hide and seek with flashlights so that we could see and avoid disrespecting those that were peacefully sleeping at our feet.

So, I’ve always loved the history that cemeteries hold and the stories that are told by the dates on the headstone.

Stories of heart-ache, heartbreak, loneliness, illness, wellness, happiness and sadness. But above all, stories that in a way, make you feel a certain connection to the people that have walked the land before your time. The rich and poor, the old and the young, the famous and the ordinary, their stories all differ, but they’re all the same in a way. They’re all human just like you and I.

I say all of that to say this on January 1, 2022, the Virtual Grave Tour will return to a cemetery near you, wherever you may be, the Virtual Grave Tour travels all over this great land, from California to Florida and anywhere in between.

Come along won’t you? Relive and remember history one grave at a time.

Five Minutes: The Call that Changed My Life Forever

We’ve all got a best friend, or a lifelong friend who has been or was with us through it all. For me, Jody Sanford was that friend.

For 16 years, we were and still are thick as thieves, constantly getting on our siblings last nerve. In fact, we knew just when to ease up on them.

I like to think of our relationship with each other as sort of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde-type relationship, no we never killed anybody, nor did we ever run from the law, but we always had each other’s backs no matter the circumstances.

We never hurt anybody, but you knew where we stood. If you saw one of us, more than likely you saw both of us, because the other wasn’t far behind.

I’ve had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years, happy moments when I seemed to escape everything and then I’ve had moments where I’ve cried myself to sleep.

To know Jody was to love her, I can’t think of a single person who didn’t love Jody. When she loved she loved hard, but Lord help you if you got on her bad side.

She was never one to sugarcoat anything just to make somebody feel better about themselves. She would tell anybody exactly how she felt about them and it could be anywhere.

I know I got on her nerves more than once and I’m not going to lie, she got on mine too. But we never let that create a void in our friendship.

I clearly remember the day God called her home, I was sitting in the back of the house on the computer, mom was in the kitchen cooking green beans, and my brother was in his room.

It was about 4:30 at this point, and mom came running to the back and said “Jody, Jody!” I was wondering ‘What trouble has she gotten into now?’ Because the two of us were notorious for constantly being in trouble and never getting out of it.

I didn’t think much more of it, because I had just seen her the day before at Bazemore Field, I figured she had just gone off on somebody and everything was going like it normally did.

But then, before I knew it, my brother came into the room and took my phone, which made me mad because nobody really told me what was going on.

At about 6:30 p.m., the house phone rang, I picked it up, it was mom I couldn’t even get the word ‘hello’ out of my mouth good before she said “Jody’s gone,” my world felt like it was closing in on me.

Mom said “I can’t talk right now, I’ll call you back in five minutes.” At 6:35 p.m., the phone rang again, and that’s when she explained what happened and then I fell apart because I had just lost not only my best friend, but my very first friend.

The friend that went off on me constantly, who took me home from school on multiple occasions, the one who literally made me do my school work by saying “Don’t make me tell Mrs. Ellen.” I knew she would do it in a heartbeat, so I just rolled my eyes and did my work.

The one who I played with when we were both in diapers, I spent many nights at her house during the summers, had multiple inside jokes with her, etc. I could go on and on for hours about what she meant to me.

A few days passed by, and I was at lunch and they called me to the counselor’s office, I was confused why was I being called to the counselor’s office? I didn’t need a counselor.

When I entered the office, I headed to the back into a meeting room where several more of my friends, including my brother were sitting.

It wasn’t long until her brother walked in and asked us to be pallbearers at her funeral. I wasn’t sure I was mentally capable of doing it, but I knew it’s what she would’ve wanted. So, I hugged her brother and fell apart, he said “Don’t cry, she’s in a better place, she’s with God at His right hand waiting on you.”

The night of the visitation, I entered the church, which is just about a mile from my house and was met by her entire immediate family.

There, her dad, with a frame that stands well above six feet, hugged me tightly as he fought back tears and said “That girl was crazy over you buddy.” He and her mom escorted me into the sanctuary, where Jody’s body was, I broke down when I reached the casket.

I couldn’t believe this was actually happening, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had talked about going to college together but that wasn’t going to happen.

The next day at her funeral, I was sitting in the front left pew with all of the pallbearers, when it was time to carry the casket to the hearse, I stood up, took a deep breath and grabbed the handle of the casket with my right hand.

I walked down the steps of the church toward the hearse and loaded the casket into the hearse, I was wearing sunglasses and I lifted them up as soon as I loaded her in the back of the hearse and patted the casket.

I was met with multiple hugs and then headed to the cemetery, when we arrived at the cemetery behind the hearse, I felt my throat get a lump in it. I approached the hearse and loaded the casket onto the lowering table. Then was met with more hugs.

Jody, thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for the memories, thank you for the arguments, the random times we rode around town together, the ice cream dates, and so much more.

I’ll never forget you, you’re safe with me.

Love,

Your best friend, Braxton Parmer.