As I approached the church, I saw the Temple and Sons' dark blue hearse and shiny Cadillacs, funeral flags, snapping and popping in the bright, windy, December morning.
I saw beautiful and familiar brown faces with sad smiles, dressed in their best black and densely packed into the small vestibule; each standing sober and braced against the chill coming through the door each time someone entered to pay their respects.
I glanced at the clock, as I turned off the cellphone, and saw that I arrived, alive, and on time...for the Homegoing Celebration of Mr. LeMon Earl Henderson.
His only daughter and my youngest brother have been in love, and married, for what seems like half of our lifes. We attended high school and graduated with his three sons, and though our families weren't close, we had done business with Mr. Henderson and we have interacted occssionally, as we have lived our lifes loosely in parallel over the years.
The sanctuary wasn't quite at capacity, but thick lines of mourners were still being ushered in. I saw my two young nephews sitting in the back, and slipped into their pew beside them. We hugged and I could see they weren't exactly comfortable with this death stuff.
I looked at the program detailing the order of service, and read the obituary condensing LeMon's remarkable story into a few paragraphs. I was reminded, yet again, just how difficult it is to critique a life, a book or a song until the last period is wrote, and you've sung the last note.
The rituals of death, as celebrated within the African-American community, are profoundly electric. Even a funeral as quiet and dignified as this one, emits a fragrance that innately recalls the distant memories of traditions of the Motherland, carried down through the ages by our ancestors. This laying of bones into the ground. This act of gathering from afar, to honor one who did great things or small things among us. To send off with love and pain, the souls that touch our lives or share our blood. These soul-releasing galas of honor and tears provoke a a point of focus at the favor of God raining on us yet living. We then quickly focus beyond our immediate selfs and direct our energy and love instead, toward a grieving Family, towards the recognition and appreciation of a life lived, even as we are brought to the numbing awareness of own lifescript. We come to thank God for yet another day in this life that we're commanded to forsake.
On a personal level, there has always been something caressing and comforting to me about the old school Black Church aesthetic of flowers, poster board fans with Mahalia Jackson radiant in glory, white gloved ushers, praises with holy hands lifted up, and Hammond organs moaning, squealing and humming softly like a butterly in flight, dancing over honeysuckle. The chocolate baritone of a the pastor quoting psalms as he led the processional of wounded family members and close friends into the sanctuary.
There were scripture readings from the Old and New Testament, a gospel solo sung, like sausage and grits Soul, by LeMon's cousin, Mr. Chris Douglas. My brother gave a heartfelt rendition of "Still" backed by a group of singers carrying the chorus and harmony. Several people in the now crowded sanctuary rose to their feet in emotion, when Elder Hill called on them to .."give God the Praise!"
We laughed and stirred memories as we watched a video presentation of Broadway Ford TV ads from the early nineties, featuring a caravan of cars and pick-ups driving past a tall, vibrant and charming LeMon Henderson making the great deals and closing his every sales pitch with the catchphrase,"..and That's No Bull!"
I was moved most by the gentleman who approached the podium in a moment of reflection, to share the impact and affect Mr. Henderson had upon so many young Black auto-dealers. "LeMon Henderson has done more for Black businessmen all across the country, than anyone I know..." From humble origins and circumstances, his success as an entrpreneur enabled him to provide not only service to thousands of people, but also paid salaries and mortgages, bought food, clothes and sent kids to college. He was a world traveler who loved to work his cattle, a hunter and OU football fan, whose well-known work ethic is perhaps his greatest gift to his children.
The greatest gift LeMon Henderson gave to me, came shortly after I had returned to Oklahoma after years of living away. At the time, I had no real job, no money or any credit rating. As the salesman tried to find me a good car and struggled to make the numbers work, I sat anxious in his office. Mr. Henderson saw me through the glass and stuck his tall frame through the door.He greeted me with a big smile and asked "Hiya doin?". I stood and reached for his shake. His hand engulfed mine in what felt like a Klingon death grip as he loomed above me. I grimaced and smiled as he let go, and the blood began to return to my fingers."This is Kevin's brother.." the salesman began to say, when Mr. Henderson cut him off. "I know who he is!.. You been outta the country haven't cha'?" "yessir." "Well ,what can we do for ya'?' "Well, I'm trying to work a deal here to get a used car." "So what's the problem?" He asked. I laid out my situation to him while he listened for a moment, then turned to the salesman and said firmly, "Put him in a car."
Driving the Ford Tiempo off the lot, that cold wintery day, I was laughing and shouting in euphoria and gratitude for the favor shown me by Mr. Henderson . I continue to reflect on that moment, today, standing at his open casket and viewing his remains. The memory is fresh again. The gratitude lingers.