There’s a land that is fairer than day…
I come from an honest people too good to ever claim kin to the likes of me. Some of my life, and past, has brought shame on these folks and I deeply regret it. I hope some of what I have done can be seen as a testament to the fact I was taught better; I certainly knew better.
There is a town, a paradise in my mind, equidistant between the 26-mile expanse of road between Parsons and Lexington, in Tennessee. Owing largely to its location, it has come to be known as “Middleburg.” It was once known as “Longton,” but way before I ever knew it.
Most of the people living there are kin to me, either by blood or marriage. Most of the people buried there are too.
I went to Middleburg about a week ago. I went to say good-bye. I went to lay to rest a cousin who was sort of an uncle to me owing to his being “like” my dad’s big brother more so than his first cousin. What is a first cousin anyway; if not a sibling once removed?
To me, Andrew Jefferson Long was a perfect symbol of Middleburg, a place where people live simply and lead God-fearing lives while rearing simple, honest, God-fearing people. “Bill” embodied every good thing about the place. Like his grandfather, Mr. Johnny, before him; Bill Long WAS the place.
Bill was named for his two grandfathers, Andrew for John Andrew Long and Jefferson for Jeffy Grimsley, his grandfather on his mother’s side. When a baby; his sister, Geraldine, thought he should be called “Bill;” and so he was.
I never knew him as anything but “Bill Long.” I was full grown before I knew Bill wasn’t his proper, given name.
Bill Long grew up turning dirt all over Middleburg, a small farming community in west Tennessee’s Henderson County. He would come to be an “unofficial” surveyor. Oftentimes, property line disputes, between both kin and neighbors, were settled simply by, “Let’s go ask Bill.”
I had a good natured property line dispute with a neighbor in Middleburg once. It was his idea to get Bill Long to resolve it, even though Bill was my kin. Turns out, he was this fellow’s kin too.
Bill pointed out a tree between the two “thought to be” property lines and said, “Fletcher, your line goes to that tree, right thar!”
The other disputant said, “Well now Bill, I ain’t too sure of that.” Bill responded, “I’ve plowed it.”
Turns out, in communities like Middleburg, that is the definitive test. “I’ve plowed it,” settled the matter to the both of our satisfactions.
When Bill was in high school, he was supposed to attend Lexington High. Bill didn’t much want to go there and neither did his best friend and cousin, Bill Todd.
My grandfather, Fred Long, was hired on as the Principal and Head Football Coach at Parsons High and took Bill Long and Bill Todd to and from school every day. Both boys would play for a grandfather I simply referred to as, “Daddy.”
Bill Long was a star guard on those football teams. Bill Todd was an end. The team posted a spectacular record over those years to include a win over rival, Lexington High.
Bill Long remained fiercely proud of this; all of his life. He talked of whipping Lexington in that high school football game often. His eyes would animate and enliven when he discussed it.
Bill was an humble man. Bill possessed the innocence of a child.
One of the more cliché things to say about someone who has passed is, “I never heard him say a harsh or unflattering word about anyone.” It is so oft said it has lost all meaning to most who hear it.
Sometimes, the person being so described is a scoundrel and very rarely had anything, at all, nice to say about a single solitary soul. However, undoubtedly, the sentiment though worn out; happened to be true, at least when said about Bill.
I would never say my grandfather didn’t say anything untoward about another living being. He got taken by a relative in a land deal once and had a lot to say about both that and the guy who got over on him, none of which was nice.
Those words, “that he never spoke an unkind word about anyone,” would be entirely inappropriate if said about my father, would be equally inappropriate if said about either my sister, brother, or me. We have sat about and cut people to shreds, both behind their backs and sometimes right to their faces, and at great personal and potential peril.
I am here to bear testament to one fact. You can believe this or not, it matters not to me.
If Bill Long ever disparaged another living, human being; I never heard it. If he ever traduced anyone who ever drew a breath and walked this earth, I missed it.
About the only negative thing I can say about Bill Long is he used to smoke cigarettes. He laid down that habit so as not to subject his grandchild, living with him at the time, to second hand smoke.
He laid those cigarettes down and never again took up the habit. Bill quit a lifelong vice; making it appear as easy as snapping his fingers.
Up above, I have linked you to a beautiful testament. Bill is singing, at the Oak Grove UMC in Middleburg, with his son (Jeff) and daughter (Lisa). They are singing, In the Great By and By.
Jeff and Lisa are professionals, as you will hear, so getting up in front of the church and performing that hym was no big deal for either of them. If it looked difficult for Bill, let me assure you it was. Bill was a humble man.
In the hym, the lyricist wrote, “In the sweet by and by we shall meet on that beautiful shore…And our spirit shall sorrow no more…” I went to Middleburg to see Bill off, to see him pass along to the sweet by and by; to admit him, finally and eternally, to the blessed company of his wife, Shirley; his daddy, Elvis; his mother, Viola; and his grandparents on both the Long and Grimsley side.
I am comforted by the fact Bill Long was ready to go. I am confident about where Bill Long is going. I am grateful Bill’s spirit shall sorrow no more.
You see, Jesus said in Matthew, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Bill Long lived every day of his life an humble man who both seemed to be and truly was as unassuming as a child. In the end, that may be the most accurate thing, about my cousin Bill Long, I can say. In the end, it may be all which needs to be said.
Bill Long was much more than a cousin. Bill Long was my friend.
I will see you again, Bill. In the sweet by and by we shall meet on that beautiful shore…
May God bless and keep you and make His light perpetual shine upon you. Your devoted cousin,