But not to where I cannot see
You walkin’ on the back roads…
Mom left the year Sam and I were born. Dad always started the story the same way – She walked out that front door and never came back… Then he’d take a monogrammed handkerchief from his back pocket and wipe his eyes, left one first then right. Sometimes he could continue, other times not.
The rest of the story is that Annie Merritt left the house to walk the back roads like she did most every Sunday morning. The Baptist minister crested the big hill on Sawmill road, out by the cemetery. No one ever really knew what happened in that moment, only what remained. The preacher, a Reverend Styles, was said to never drive again. He stayed at the church about six months, apparently trying to work through his grief. But how do you work through killing a lady on a Sunday morning?
Les Merritt was suddenly a widower with two six-month old boys.
The times Dad could continue the story he always mentioned the preacher claimed I swear to God I didn’t see her…I swear to God. Dad would wince when he said that, like it pained him to hear a minister talk like that, swearing to God. He didn’t have much use for church from then on, so neither did we. Sam and I were raised in the church of Dad. We sang his songs and lived by his rules.
My mother’s remembrance always ended the same way - Your mother was the most gentle woman I ever knew... Dad took her picture with us when they brought us home from the hospital. She’s standing in the backyard, by the dogwood tree, grinning. I didn't believe in angels, but I believed in Annie Merritt.
By the rivers of my memory,
Ever smilin’, ever gentle on my mind.
Dad had that photo enlarged - 8 x 11, gold frame. Sam and I would set that picture beside us when we played checkers in the evenings. We’d say things like watch this jump, Mom. I wish she’d been there for us in the years that tracked on. I swear to God I do.