Johnny Hathcock


A Tale of Three Funerals
Debra G. Dudley
Amarillo, Texas

Debra G. Dudley is an editorial assistant/copyeditor at the Amarillo Globe-News. She was born and raised in Amarillo, Texas.

Between 1993 and 2001, death claimed much of my immediate family: my only child, my brother, my brother-in-law, my father, and my recently widowed sister’s thirty-five-year-old son. That’s a lot of dead folks—nontheists and skeptics all—for whom to make the ultimate arrangements in a place that’s none too skeptic-friendly.

Perched atop a two-hundred-mile stretch of Texas hardpan called the Caprock Escarpment, Amarillo is best known for its cattle industry, frequent high winds, and a ubiquity of places of Protestant worship. Expectations that every burial will be Christian engulf the nonbelieving bereaved with a tender ferocity that ensures that many freethinking decedents fail to be escorted from this mortal coil in the manner they would prefer.

This is a tale of three funerals: one a showcase of insensitivity to secularity; the others tributes untainted by the untenable. My sister’s husband, Jim, was the black sheep of a large fundamentalist family. Evidently endowed with inherent knowledge that his family’s Primitive Baptist beliefs were preposterous, he resisted all indoctrination. After years of trying to force Jim into the cloying embrace of the everlasting arms, his family at last relented.

Knowing that my sister was similarly unaffiliated, when Jim died, his righteous relations kept a considerate silence and did not interfere with the funeral plans.

Except, she wasn’t making any.

It soon became clear that, after the indescribable ordeal of seeing her husband’s mind twisted and consumed by the veiled monstrosity of a neuroblastoma, my sister’s resiliency was played out. She became inert. Primitive Baptists abhor a vacuum; the in-laws ended their polite noninvolvement and moved dutifully into action. In her condition, I’m sure my sister appreciated their help.

It may seem otherwise, but I’m fond of Jim’s relatives. Setting aside their religious pathology, they are emotionally generous bear-huggers who talk and laugh loudly—and a lot. But it gripes me, darn it, that in full awareness of my brother-in-law’s vehement dislike of such beliefs, they constructed the most grossly Christian funeral endured by any of my serially expiring relations. Perhaps they saw it as an opportunity to sweep their misbegotten prodigal back onto the path of salvation—literally over his dead body. Or maybe it was the only way they knew how to do it.

The service had a couple of positive aspects. Jim was a skilled craftsman; samples of his magnificent quilting and other artifacts were artfully arranged at the front of the funeral-home chapel. He had gone through a “tie-paint” T-shirt period, and a number of people paid their respects by wearing his masterpieces to the service.

“Stairway to Heaven” or “Bohemian Rhapsody” might have been appropriate musical accompaniment for such a gathering; instead, the assemblage was treated to someone’s dreary baritone droning out centuries-old hymns sans the instrumental accompaniment that this breed of Baptists forbids. One of Jim’s nephews related a couple of anecdotes about his late uncle that slid insipidly to the floor, too rehearsed to reach the heart.

The church deacon presided over the funeral, and it was his time at the podium that truly tried my soul. Aside from regular Sunday services, clergy folk can’t be trusted in front of a group of people. Particularly at funerals, they get a little out of hand—their ritual of remembering the deceased and consoling the bereaved transmogrifies into a full-blown sermon.

That day, the deacon’s beaming, biblical bombast turned hard-core. Even some of the faithful were offended when he invited us to file down front and accept Jesus as our savior. But while they would likely have been content to lob a few mushy, spoiled tomatoes the deacon’s way, I longed to unleash a line drive toward his psalm-singing skull with a rock-hard Red Delicious.

Everyone at a funeral is bound by invisible chains of should and shouldn’t, and so, bleeding internally, I held back my smoldering fury. After the service, I milled my way over to the deacon and said, “Hey—why didn’t you just take Jim’s ashes and flush them down the toilet?” Well . . . I wish I had said that. In reality, I shook his hand and said, “Nice service, Deacon.” Invisible chains, remember. I guess Jim’s relatives “meant well,” and, after all, “funerals are for the living,” but, for the love of God, shouldn’t the final milestone of a person’s life resemble how he defined that life and reflect the reality of who he was?

My mother thought it should, and, when my dad’s time came, she made sure it did.

To serve as master of ceremonies, she enlisted the help of a musician who, though gushingly religious in his dotage, had been Dad’s friend and occasional songwriting partner for forty years. Mom let him know right off there would be no praying or preaching; even so, he posed the eleventh-hour question: “Don’t you want just one prayer?” My mother responded with a pleasant, unhesitant “NO.”

And, of praying, there was indeed none. Between the MC and another colorful musician who had known Dad for about as long, oh, the stories they did tell. The editorial-page editor of the local paper, who had published many of Dad’s caustic, often hilarious, often unpopular opinions, was invited to speak. Instrumental versions of popular and appropriate songs—including two that Dad either wrote or cowrote—comprised the music. A literary friend took the podium and read a few of my father’s poems, the last of which couldn’t have been more fitting:

I do not think my song will end
While flowers, grass and trees
Abound with birds and butterflies
For I am one with these.

And I believe my voice will sound
Upon the whispering wind
So long as even one remains
Among those I call “friend.”

I shall remain in hearts and minds
Of loved ones that I knew,
And in the rocks and hills and streams
Because I love those, too.

So long as love and hope and dreams
Abide in earth and sky,
Weep not for me, though I be gone.
I shall not really die.

“Optimistic Epitaph,” from Sweet and Sour: Assorted Poems by Johnny Hathcock, Arcadia Press, © 1999.

As the service ended, I realized I had just experienced my first secular funeral. The religious element was neither needed nor missed. A friend of mine described it as the most “real” funeral he’d ever attended. My mother was left with the peace of mind of knowing that Dad would have approved. And, now, I enjoy that same peace, because I was able to do the same for Mom after she suddenly died at her home in September 2006.

I discovered that making secular funeral arrangements is not as difficult as it was fourteen years ago. In 1993, when I told the pale, positively grim undertaker I wasn’t sure I wanted a preacher at my daughter’s funeral, he intoned flatly, “There will be a preacher.” And there was. When Mom died in 2006, I dealt with a different funeral home. To my relief, my wary request for a nonreligious service was a no-problem routine for this burial broker. I quickly located a nontheistic pictorial motif among the designs he offered for the “funeral package.” Among the available program verses, I found a poem that was well-written, meaningful, and blessedly god-free.

Best of all, I was referred to Bob, a pastoral counselor, who, remarkably, turned out to be an old friend from college I had not seen in some twenty years. He was still the enthusiastic, jocular guy I remembered from business law class, but, sometime during the previous two decades, he had become an immovably committed Christian fundamentalist. Thankfully, Bob’s enthusiasm—which could’ve taken a wrong turn—was tempered by an easy-going, sincere desire to help us. As he got to know Mom through my sister and me, we were assured that the way we, and our mother, wanted things to be was the way they would be.

And they were. Bob’s presentation, punctuated by some of my mother’s favorite songs and supplemented by extemporaneous comments from friends in attendance, was natural and intimate. He concluded by drawing on Mom’s own philosophy, telling us she would live on through us—her children, grandchildren, and beyond.

It’s funny, though. Before the service had begun, as I was ascending the steps of the mausoleum, Bob stopped me and murmured, “Did you say there was a prayer that you—”

Mom and I shared a secret smile as I interrupted him with a firm, friendly “No” and joined my family inside.

Uncle Johnny, also known as "AJ" within the family, died in 2000, and here's a gleaned obituary:

Web posted Thursday, December 28, 2000 5:29 a.m. Hathcock, writer, dies at 81 Author and songwriter Johnny Hathcock died Tuesday. He was 81.Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at N.S. Griggs & Sons Funeral Chapel, 2615 Paramount, with Weldon Allard giving the eulogy. Mr. Hathcock's ashes will be interred in a mausoleum at Llano Cemetery.He wrote more than 400 songs during his lifetime. About 150 songs were recorded. Hathcock was best known for writing two No. 1 country singles, "Wake Up Irene" in 1954, and "Welcome to My World" in 1964.In a 1982 interview, Hathcock said he wrote "Wake Up Irene" in about 10 minutes. Hank Thompson recorded the song on Capitol Records."The song was intended as a joke - a parody of the song, `Good Night, Irene.' I was spoiled (then). I thought it was about the easiest thing I had ever done.""Welcome to My World" became the theme song for country entertainer Eddy Arnold. More than 60 other artists recorded the song including Dean Martin and Andy Williams. The song continued to gain popularity when Elvis Presley recorded it on what was his last album before his death.Hathcock was born June 24, 1919 in rural East Texas. He graduated in 1938 from Alvarado High School in Alvarado.During World War II he served three years in the Army Air Corps including one year in Italy. He married Pat Dodson in 1943 at Tucumcari, N.M.In 1946 he went to work for radio station KTNM in Tucumcari. He moved to Amarillo in 1947 as continuity director for radio station KAMQ.In 1960 he became manager of Eastridge Bowling Palace for a year. He published a bowling magazine, "Panhandle Bowling Billboard." He worked in advertising for a number of years, then joined radio station KZIP as a writer and later as manager.In 1977 he became a partner in a typesetting and graphic arts business, Graphics 3, and retired in 1990.He was a life member, past president and hall-of-famer in the Amarillo Bowling Association. He was a member of Panhandle Professional Writers Group, a member and past president of High Plains Chapter of the Poetry Society of Texas and a member of the Southwest Cowboy Poets Association.In 1999 he published his first poetry collection, "Sweet & Sour." He was an editorial writer and poet for The Record Stockman, a syndicated livestock publication, and a former Point-Counterpoint columnist for the Amarillo Globe-News.He was a member of and a Hall of Fame inductee in the Panhandle Broadcasters Association. He was a member of Broadcast Music Inc.He was preceded in death by his son, John A. Hathcock, who died in 1997; and by a granddaughter, Erica Diane Dudley, who died in 1993.He is survived by his wife and two daughters, Jean Ann Mariner and Debra Gail Dudley, all of Amarillo; a sister, Mary Lou Bradley of Albuquerque, N.M.; three brothers, Allen Hathcock of Springtown and Billy J. Hathcock and Joe P. Hathcock of Fort Worth. He had three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to the American Heart Association or a favorite charity

(This used to have a photo but it was lost when the computer was switched.)

A reference to Uncle Johnny here:
Column - William H. Seewald: Thanks to readers and a newspaper that still values their varied opinions Opinion Column William H. Seewald

No run lasts forever.

Dear readers, this will be the last regular column I do for the Amarillo Globe-News - certainly for the foreseeable future. This reasonably regular apparition has now lasted something like 14 years, in slightly varying formats.

I'm sincerely grateful that you and the newspaper have indulged me this long.

Predecessors on these pages have kept me ever mindful of and humbled by the opportunity and the responsibility of writing here: Buck Ramsey; Johnny Hathcock; the now legendary Gene Howe, publisher of one of this paper's predecessors; as well as the beloved columnist known as "Old Tack"; the indelibly etched voice of longtime editor Wes Izzard; or Tommy Thompson, under whose tenure this newspaper garnered a Pulitzer Prize.

These men represent a long line of unwavering commitment to the welfare of this community.

Another mention:
In 1961 John Hathcock and I wrote Welcome To My World and we had another demo (of Welcome To My World), I don't know who did it, he only sang the words and play the chords real rough.

http://www.jimreevesfanclub.com/winklertribute.htm

In September 2012 I started to look for my cousin, Debbie, again. I had a computer failure a few months after I found her last time, and that took the phone number and address I had stored. A google search turned up her name, but in an obituary for her sister, Jeanie's death in May 2012.

Jean Anne Mariner, 65, of Amarillo died Monday, May 21, 2012.

Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday in Griggs-Schooler-Gordon Pioneer Chapel with the Rev. Jerry Davey officiating. Arrangements are by Griggs-Schooler-Gordon Funeral Directors, 5400 S. Bell St.

Mrs. Mariner was born Sept. 19, 1946, in Tucumcari, N.M., to Alfred and Patty Hathcock. She married James Mariner on July 9, 1964, in Wellington. Jean Anne attended Tascosa High School. She was an artist and landscaper, who loved reading, especially liked trivia games, crossword puzzles, music and writing poetry.

She was preceded in death by her husband, James Mariner; two sons, Michael Sean Mariner and Andrew Wade Mariner; a brother, Johnny Hathcock; her parents, Patty and Alfred Hathcock; and a niece, Erica Dudley.

Survivors include two daughters, Lora Davidson and husband Danny and Adrienne Wade and husband Wes, all of Amarillo; a sister, Debra Dudley and husband Steve of Amarillo; seven grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

The family suggests memorials be to American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 50433, Amarillo, TX

79159. The family will receive friends from noon until the service time Thursday at the funeral home.

Sign the online guest book at www.griggsschoolergordon.com.

Amarillo Globe-News, May 23, 2012


More Hathcock notes or Sandra Dodd's home page