Resting Respect: Paying Visits to Some of the South’s Most Influential Figures

Perhaps you were watching my travels throughout this great State of Alabama this weekend on Facebook.

You may wonder what I was doing, you may also wonder what made me pay visits to the many statues and gravesites in multiple cities.

Well, since sports have been basically nonexistent since mid-March, I have come across a newfangled hobby, touring cemeteries; both virtually and physically to pay respects to those that are no longer here in bodily form, but rather in the presence of God.

On Saturday, I visited a statue dedicated to the memory of Booker T. Washington, a mid-19th-century and early-20th-century social reformer, who believed in hard work, and self-education.

On Sunday, Dad and I took a family friend with us to Mobile, Alabama, to visit multiple cemeteries with several early-Mobile notable figures.

Our first visit Sunday, was to the notoriously haunted, Church Street Graveyard, where the man who created a Mardi Gras Revival in 1866 and 1867, is buried.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him, Joseph Stillwell “Joe” Cain Jr. while in Church Street Graveyard, we saw the famous Boyington Oak that stands just outside the Northwest corner of the 19th-century New England churchyard-style cemetery atop the grave of Charles Robert Stuart Boyington, a mid-17th-century printer and gambler, whom moved to Mobile in search of a better life than the one he had experienced in his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut.

Mr. Boyington, allegedly had become friends with Nathaniel Frost, whom owed him money from one of their poker games but refused to give Boyington the money.

As a result, Mr. Frost would be stabbed, robbed, and left for dead inside of the Church Street Graveyard.

Mr. Boyington would be framed as the suspect, taken into custody, and hanged in 1835. According to legend, his last words, as his feet dangled from a tree at Oakleigh, which is now historic landmark, were “A tree will grow from my heart to prove my innocence.”

After our stop to visit Alabama’s third-most haunted burial ground, the three of us made our way to the 120-acre Magnolia Cemetery just down the road, to pay respects to Confederate States Army General Braxton Bragg, whom I claim is my namesake. We also saw numerous graves of confederate soldiers.

Next, we travelled to the 19th-century, Saluda Hill Cemetery, in Spanish Fort, Alabama, to visit the grave of Zachariah Godbold, the only known Revolutionary War veteran buried in Baldwin County, Alabama.

Moral of the story, pay respects to those that came before anyway you can, you never know what you’ll run across in the process.

Church Street Graveyard sign.
Joe Cain grave, Church Street Graveyard.
Joe Cain and I in Church Street Graveyard.
The haunted Boyington Oak, Church Street Graveyard.
Confederate Monument, Magnolia Cemetery.
General Braxton Bragg and I.
Our Confederate Dead, Magnolia Cemetery
Zachariah Godbold, Revolutionary War veteran, Saluda Hill Cemetery, Spanish Fort, Alabama.
Booker T. Washington statue, Tuskegee University.

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.