Friends Forever: Remembering Jody Marie Sanford

24 years ago tomorrow, you saw the world for the first time. Exactly two months to the day later, I was born into the world. Even though it’s almost been eight years since I said “See you on the other side,” It feels like it’s been a lot longer.

A lot has changed in the last seven and a half years, but the one thing that will never change is the love that I have for you. I can only imagine what you will experience tomorrow in God’s kingdom.

A lot has changed since you took the first step on your heavenly journey, and I can’t help but think of how proud you would be of me.

I was so blessed to have you here with me on Earth for 16 years. It may have only been 16 years, but those 16 years hold a lifetime worth of memory. Thank you for everything Jody Marie. Thousands of memories in such a short amount of time.

Memories that I will cherish forever until I see you again. I know you’re looking down on me giving me that stare that only you could give, telling me to “dry it up, you’ll be fine.”

But the truth is, there will never be another person quite like you. Your heart was so pure, your personality was incredible, your smile lit up a room and if only you knew how loved and missed you are by hundreds of people, you would understand. What they say is true, “True friendship goes far beyond the grave.” I’ll love you forever and always.

Happy Birthday, beautiful. Until we meet again, you’re safe with me.

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.

Folsom Prison Breakout: The Dog Named After The Man in Black

Monday was shaping up to be a normal day in my life, I got home Monday afternoon and sat down on the couch and was gearing up to listen to the Braves as they were set to take on National League East Division rival, New York Mets.

I noticed dad wasn’t home, but I didn’t think much of it, I assumed he had simply gone to the store or somewhere like that.

About 45 minutes passed and in comes dad holding a leash, I could hear what sounded like a dog walking. So, I got up from the couch and saw a beautiful black dog in tow with dad.

I asked if the dog had a name, and dad said “No, I don’t think so.” Immediately following that statement, I began to think of a name for my new four-legged friend.

I thought about it all night and all day for the next day and a half, and finally on Wednesday afternoon, as I was looking at my new friend’s shiny black coat.

I’ve always been one that enjoys music, particularly old school country, such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, etc.

As I glanced at his coat, it reminded me of Johnny Cash’s trademark black attire. I immediately sent dad a text and said “I believe I have a name for him, ‘Cash.’”

Dad then proceeded to walk through the door after returning from the store, and I mentioned it to him again, because I knew that he hadn’t checked his phone yet.

He said “Ask your brother,” so I went to my brother’s room and proposed the name to him and he responded “Sure.”

So, I reported back to dad and he said “We’ll then, his name is Cash.”

As soon as I figured his name out, I turned to Cash and said “Welcome home, you old ‘Man in Black.’”

Ever since then, Cash has stuck by my side, only leaving my side when I go to work. He seems to be warming up at a rapid pace, playing with toys, licking my face, ignoring the pesky Jack Russell we have that doesn’t particularly know what to think of her new “roommate”.

Because Cash knows that she’s harmless, I’ve tried to tell our Jack Russell that Cash is also harmless, but she doesn’t seem to think so.

They say everything new takes time to get used to, but I’d say Cash is getting used to things easily.

He also seems to be glad to finally be free of “Folsom Prison.”

Everywhere I go, I have a little black four-legged shadow now. So, if you see me and you see a black shadow, just know that’s the Dog in Black.

An Open Letter to My Best Friend Who Left This World Way too Soone

We all have that one friend that we do everything with, but few people can say they have a friend that was there with them through the good, bad and indifferent times.

For me, that friend was Jody Sanford, we grew up in diapers together some 22 years ago.

We had a bond that was somewhat similar to Bonnie and Clyde, except we didn’t kill anybody, even though I know that went through our heads on multiple occasions with siblings that drove us crazy, but we never killed anybody.

We stuck by each other’s sides through hell and back. When one of us needed something, we knew that we could just pick up the phone and dial the other’s number and either one of us would be there in a matter of minutes.

I’m almost positive she’s the only reason I did my school work and graduated high school.

Jody was more than my best friend, or my partner-in-crime, she was the sister I never had.

When I was too busy talking in class to do my work, she’d turn around and say “You’d better get busy before I tell Mrs. Ellen.”

She said that quite often, in fact. Most of the time, I would just roll my eyes at her and get busy doing my work and she’d laugh and say “That’s what I thought.”

Through the years, we shared countless memories, like Mobile Mardi Gras, where we saw ‘M&M man’ a man that was dressed in a yellow M&M jacket waiting to catch beads and whatever else they threw his way.

We shared many laughs like the baby monitor incident at Mardi Gras one year, I won’t go into detail, because words just wouldn’t do that baby monitor justice.

We shared serious times too; believe it or not.

I don’t know how she managed to keep me in line as often as she did, I can barely keep myself in line.

But sadly, on February 2, 2014, my best friend, partner-in-crime, the sister that I never had, gained her wings.

I remember that day vividly, perhaps too vividly.

My mom was in the kitchen cooking on the stove and literally dropped everything she was doing ran to the back, where I was on the computer, and grabbed her shoes.

When I asked what she was doing, all she could say “Jody! It’s Jody!” At the time, I didn’t understand why she was running, because the last time I saw Jody, the day before at the ball field, she was fine.

Then, an hour or so later, my brother came and took my cellphone because my parents told him to.

I didn’t understand that either, I wasn’t grounded, I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Then another hour passed, still nothing, about 30 minutes passed and the house phone rang, I picked it up and answered it.

Everybody in the room on the other side of the phone was silently crying.

Mom answered and said “Jody’s gone,” I was speechless. But when I finally processed what had just been said I responded “WHAT?!?” Then mom said “I can’t talk right now, I’ll tell you when I get home.”

When mom returned, she explained to me that God had called Jody home to be with Him.

All I could do was sit in my room and cry for the rest of the night.

Later that week, I was called to the counselor’s office at school, I didn’t understand this either, I didn’t need counseling.

But I didn’t ask questions, I just went to the counselor’s office. I was unaware of what was happening, all I knew was that I had just lost my best friend.

When I entered the office and sat down, her brother, Jeremy was sitting there also. He hadn’t been at school all week, and understandably so.

But I was still confused. Before I knew it, there were six of us sitting in the office with Jeremy and after a while, after shedding several tears, he asked us one by one to serve as pallbearers at her funeral.

He asked me first, because I was the first one on the list. I broke down, unsure of how to feel. After a while all of us went to the baseball locker room. I talked to Jeremy and the head baseball coach about it.

I wasn’t sure I could carry my best friend’s body to its final resting place, but then I realized, I’m not going to be alone.

I didn’t need to do this for myself, I needed to do this for Jody, because she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

So I accepted the offer, hugged him and fell apart. Jeremy then said “Hold your head up brother, she’s not hurting anymore, she’s happy again.”

That night, we went to her visitation, now, keep in mind that I’m not big on visitations or funerals because that’s not the way I want to remember them.

Jody’s mom and dad met me inside the church and escorted me to the chapel, where her body was, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it alone.

When I reached the chapel, I looked up and saw her colorless body lying there, arms crossed and eyes shut.

I began to cry again, I didn’t understand why this had to happen to her so soon.

The next day was the funeral, we arrived at the church at about 8:30 that morning because my brother and I served as two of the six pallbearers.

We entered the chapel and were met with what seemed like a thousand hugs.

It was 8:30am and the funeral didn’t start until about 11am. But this gave me time to realize that it wasn’t a dream.

Around 10:30, close to 1,000 people came into the chapel, heads hung, tears falling and hugging each other.

Then before I knew it, the funeral director motioned for us to stand, approach the casket and carry the body to the hearse.

When I reached the hearse with the body, and loaded her onto the loading rack in the back, I fell apart again.

I was met with several hugs, the one I remember the most came from somebody that had known both of us ever since middle school when I served as mascot and Jody, a cheerleader.

I tightly gripped her and pulled her in, she laid her head on my chest, looked up at me and said “You are one of the strongest people I know.”

When we reached the cemetery, all six of us, grabbed the casket and placed it on a table and then stood around the casket and table for prayer.

When the prayer concluded, I fell apart and I was once again met by the person that met me in the church parking lot after I loaded the casket into the hearse.

She dried my tears and said “Look at me, she’s happy now,” and hugged me tight and then wiped her tears on my blue blazer.

Dear Jody, thank you for always keeping me in line, laughing with and at me, loving me unconditionally, being my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, my partner-in-crime.

Thank you for forcing me to do my school work, the disagreements, the memories, but most of all, thank you for being the sister that I never had and having my back no matter what.

I promise I will continue to stand up for you as long as I live.

You’re safe with me.

See you on the other side beautiful, I love you.

Your best friend,

Braxton Parmer.

To the Selfless Individuals that Fight for Our Freedom Daily

I know lately, I haven’t been writing about sports, but this is something that needs to be written.

Often times, we find ourselves too wrapped up in our busy lives to really sit back and think about why we get to live our lives freely.

It’s because of every single selfless individual that has the courage to fight for us and our freedom.

Because of their sacrifices, we are allowed to live each day knowing that we woke up as free Americans and we will go to bed as free Americans.

We are free because of the many hours, days, and years that our veterans have spent away from their loved ones, unsure of what the outcome may be.

But even with that uncertainty, they constantly serve this country with no regrets.

Truth is, they don’t do this for themselves, they do this because they have to. They serve this great country because they love this country that much.

President Donald Trump says “Make America Great Again” but in my eyes, this beautiful country has always been great because of the outstanding, selfless men and women that risk their lives daily just to keep their homeland’s freedom.

Over my 21 years of life, I have had the honor of knowing and working with numerous veterans of all branches and I make sure each of them knows how thankful I am for their service.

If you have a veteran in your family, are friends with one or run across one in public today, be sure to thank them for their service.

Because without them, where would we be?