Grandma Nancy & PawPaw Buck

My last surviving grandparent passed away last week – Grandma Nancy, my father’s mother. Yesterday, I delivered the eulogy at her funeral. As I reflected on her life and the life of my grandfather (her husband), I pulled out his eulogy (delivered in 2007). They were amazing people, and as I prepared my words for her, I decided that I would share them both here when the funeral was over.

I’ve been involved in a number of funerals over the years, a number of times as priest, a number of times as eulogist, and others as pall bearer or attendee. The only adults’ funerals I’ve ever spoken at were those of my paternal grandparents. I delivered the eulogy for my grandfather, PawPaw Buck, and his dearly beloved wife, Grandma Nancy. Her funeral was just yesterday, and the mourning is still palpable.

I decided to post this today for a simple reason:

The world should meet this woman, and this man – we’ve a lot to learn from them both.

I love them dearly. And I miss them.

(As you read, remember that these are written to be delivered, so they are punctuated and structured as such.)


Grandma Nancy

delivered Tuesday, 14 March 2017

We’re here today to celebrate, mourn, and remember someone that we all deeply love – Nancy Jane Landrum Jackson. She’s no longer with us in this world, and our acts of memorial this morning – her funeral and burial – this is but the beginning of our remembering her. Those of us who knew her – or felt like we knew her – so well…we’ll continue to remember her, to share our stories about her with each other, our family, our friends, our children, hopefully our grandchildren. We’ll continue to remember her for the rest of our lives.

Clyde, Jr., called me last Monday to let me know that hospice had given Grandma Nancy about 72 hours to live. He was headed to Georgia that night – but the family wanted to know if I would be willing to deliver this eulogy today, at her funeral. Of course, my answer was yes – I was honored to be asked, very much as I was nearly 10 years ago for PawPaw Buck.

Many things have changed over the course of the last 9.5 years; many things have remained the same. This morning, I’ll try to offer a few memories of my grandmother. After I read her obituary, I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ll be calling her Grandma Nancy (as I’ve done already a few times). I can really only talk about her as a grandson talks about his grandmother – that was our relationship, and that’s mostly what I’ll do in my words today.

Obituary (amended by me)
Nancy Jane Jackson, age 90, of Calhoun, GA, formerly of Saucier, MS, passed away Wednesday, March 8, 2017, in the Gordon Health Care Center in Calhoun, GA. Nancy was born August 7, 1926, in Smith County, MS, daughter of Daniel Herman Landrum and Rena Adcox Landrum. She was a homemaker and a member of the Baptist faith. Besides her parents, she was preceded in death by her husband, Clyde Willard Jackson. Survivors include 4 sons, Clyde Willard Jackson, Junior, Shelton Ray Jackson, Dennis Eugene Jackson, and Ronald Glyn Jackson; two daughters, Sandra Jackson and Barbara Jackson; nine grandchildren; and twenty-one great grandchildren. Four sisters, Margie Neel Carr, Hazel Cummings, Betty Jean Jones, and Pauline Anderson; one brother, Billy Frank Landrum, also survive.

As I was preparing for today, I realized that I never talked to Grandma Nancy much about growing up, about her childhood and youth. I was told that she used to talk about growing up, and how she’d take care of her siblings and other kids around while the parents were working in the cotton fields. She didn’t care whose kids they were, if they were black or white, she took care of them all. That one big thing I remember about Grandma Nancy – she accepted people for who they were. I don’t recall ever hearing her be judgmental – she was human, I’m sure she judged, like we all do – but who and what a person was didn’t seem to change her attitude toward them. She was a caregiver. How many of us sat around the long dining room table in Saucier, or on the front porch swing, or under the big tree in the front yard – we sat, and she cared for us.She cooked for us; she fetched for us; she talked to us; but most of all, in my mind, at least, she listened to us. She was there for us. As my brother said so well (to me, recently), “She was always there with us, in the moment – no matter what was going on, she was present; she invested her time in us.”

I learned a lot about Grandma Nancy’s life this past week, talking with people and listening to their stories. I was especially touched to hear a few things about her younger years, before she was “Grandma”…when she was simply Nancy, and wife, and mother, and daughter, and friend, and coworker. A few of my favorites:

  • Nancy and Clyde worked together, before he went into the army, at a cotton gin, carrying 100 lb bales of raw cotton together
  • One of her proudest moments personally was going to receive her GED (I’d never considered my grandmother’s level of education before hearing about that)
  • Several people told me how much she loved to bowl, and used to bowl on league teams. She even bowled, with plastic pins and ball, at her great-grandchild’s birthday party not too many years ago. And we always had plastic bowling equipment in the toy box at their house, as the grandchildren will remember well. It all made sense after those stories.

We all know that, exactly as it had been for PawPaw Buck, the day that plotted the course of life for Grandma Nancy was April 28, 1945, when they were married. A few years later they began a 21 year military career. I remember how she loved to say that she followed her military man all around the country, and even to the other side of the globe. Together they had an incredible life, so much a part of each other and who they were. Their union resulted in 6 children, and as we heard earlier, 9 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Grandma Nancy was proud of her children – she regularly caught me up on what was going on with my aunts and uncles, and my cousins. She loved her family – she loved to talk about us all, and brag about us all.

So I asked her children for a few memories of their mother to share this morning. I can’t nearly share them all, but a few.

All of them mentioned 2 memories specifically:

  • How much she loved to sing gospel songs, whether working around the house, driving, or just sitting and singing. One of her favorites, which we’ll hear shortly, was “Where the Soul of Man.”
  • She loved to gather her children and read to them. I heard a few different locations – under a big shade tree was the most remembered. I heard a few different books, but one that everyone remembered – Dr. Doolittle.

In the mix of stories were so many things about her:

  • Aphorisms and sayings (one of her favorites was instructing us not to refer to children as kids, because goats were kids, and we were raising children!)
  • How much she loved to go fishing
  • Shelling peas and beans with her on the front porch swing
  • Her food (especially peanut butter and jelly and butter sandwiches)
  • She loved good strawberry shakes
  • She loved wildlife and the outdoors

There are so many stories, and so many memories…but our time here is short, so I have to move on toward a conclusion.

Her final years are more difficult to discuss for a range of reasons. Her health, and especially her memory, began failing not long after PawPaw Buck passed away. It really began before, but they held each other up and together in a way that made it not as obvious to those of us around them. When she was staying with my parents, I would bring my kids by every few weeks to see her – it was a bittersweet moment. She wouldn’t remember them – “oh, great grands I’ve never met.” But then she’d hug on them, and beam with pride at these 5 great grandchildren of hers, and tell them stories…her memory was fading, but her love for her family was as strong as ever. My father said he realized something in that time as well, something that became really clear to me as well as I prepared for this morning – many of us tended to spend a lot of our time with PawPaw Buck, and we didn’t get to know Grandma Nancy in quite the same way. But she was always there, supporting and loving all of us. And now I wish I’d cherished that time more.

Eventually, Grandma Nancy was moved to Gordon Health Care Center in Calhoun, GA. Three of her children lived right there in town, and the other three traveled to see her and spend time with her. Others of us did as well. And now we’re here, saying our final goodbye.

So my final thought for us this morning:
Grandma Nancy was the matriarch of our family. Nancy and Clyde, they built one hell of a thing together, this wonderful woman and her military man…they built this family. Some of my favorite memories of growing up were times spent at the Jackson family reunion – all of us gathered together, laughing, playing, singing, talking. Spending time together, with the patriarch and matriarch of the family at the center of everything. This Jackson family is an amazing group of people for many reasons, primary among them, the foundation laid down by Nancy and Clyde. I hope we can do them proud and keep it together for many generations to come.


PawPaw Buck

Wednesday, 15 August 2007 (slightly edited from its original form for publication)

[I’m really glad that Jay offered to play and sing here this morning. One of my fondest memories of my grandfather is sitting out under the tree or on the porch, with Jay and Shelton playing guitar, and the banjo, and the mandolin, and PawPaw could just sit out there forever listening to them play. He really would have loved his brother doing this for him.]

Grandma Nancy asked me Monday if I would be willing to give some words, a eulogy, a remembrance, for PawPaw Buck at his funeral. I’m honored to be asked, and happy as his grandson to have this opportunity. And since most of my reflection will be personal…I was very touched that Grandma Nancy asked me to do this. And later in the week, several of PawPaw Buck’s siblings pulled me aside and said that just recently, he told them that he wanted me to do this, to give the eulogy at his funeral – it’s an honor. I hope that I can make it through and say something that PawPaw would be proud to hear.

We’re here this morning because someone that we all love is no longer with us. We’re here to mourn his absence, to miss him. But PawPaw Buck would just as much want this to be a joyful remembrance, a celebration of his life. He loved life, and that’s how he would want to be remembered – with love and joy. And he was well loved – we can look around this room and see his wife, and children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, neighbors. We’re all here today to remember a man who deeply touched all of our lives.

Clyde Willard Jackson, “Buck” to most of us, was born on the 7th of May in 1929, near Soso, Mississippi. He was the child of Robert and Bessie Jackson, the oldest boy of his mother’s 7 children, and one of 21 brothers and sisters. One of the memories from his childhood that he shared just recently was about one of his older brothers, Claude. He would tell how Claude taught him to hunt and fish, and really took him under his wing. And how they would hunt raccoon and possum in the middle of the night with a carbide lantern…and he still had several of the lanterns!

No one seems to know where he got the nickname “Buck” from, he even told several different stories about it…I heard a very funny story about his “Buck-dance” from the family reunions. But he often told the story that his brother bought a dog for $5. And their father was upset. Because $5 was a lot of money. But that dog turned out to be just the best, smartest dog. And the dog’s name was Buck. So he liked to say that he was named after the dog!

But on April 28, 1945, Clyde made the move that shaped the entire remainder of his life – he married the love of his life, Nancy Jane Landrum. He would laughingly say that he ran until she caught him…and it helped that he wanted to be caught! But the most important relationship of his life, a life so defined by the loving relationships he had with people, his most cherished relationship was with his wife.

In December of 1948, Clyde and Nancy entered the United States military. I say Clyde and Nancy because Clyde became a soldier in the Army, but it was a lifestyle that the whole family was to share for the next 21 years, 3 months, and 24 days. Early this week Grandma Nancy reminisced that she followed her military man all around the country, and even to the other side of the world – for two years with the family in Germany. Clyde served as a medic in the United States Army. He wasn’t drafted or forced into service, he was a volunteer soldier, he wanted to serve his country. He was proud to be an American, and he was honored to be able to offer his services in his country’s armed forces. When he retired from the military, he retired as a Medical Senior Sergeant. And over the course of his 21 years in the service, he received numerous awards and citations and commendations. This was his career. He had other jobs after he retired from the military, but this was the “job” he was proud of. He always flew an American flag in his yard, he always voiced support for his country and the military, and he was always ready to proudly declare his own service for his country. But he wasn’t a bragger. Other relatives told me that he served 2 tours of duty in Korea, and 2 tours of duty in Vietnam. He didn’t boast about those experiences. But he was proud to have been part of something that he held in such high esteem.

Over the course of their marriage, PawPaw Buck and Grandma Nancy had six wonderful children, that they’re both so proud of. He loved to sit and tell stories about what his children were doing, where they were, what they’d done when they were growing up. He was so proud of them all, what they’d done with their lives, what they’d become as adults.

I’ll share one of the stories that was told by his children over the last few days…everyone remembered it, but Shelton wrote it down for me. “Even though Daddy wasn’t always at home, we knew he was thinking about us. Like the time when he had to go to Germany during the crisis of 1961-62 and we stayed behind in Shady Grove at Bush Dairy. He sent Clyde and I some new fangled Garcia 308 UL reels and rods with 2 pound test line and some small Mepps spinners. I remember an adult bass fisherman laughing at our outfits. Later that same day that fellow paid us $2.00 and gave us his tackle box, with lures, for an 8 pound bass we landed after a prolonged fight. That was when $2.00 would fill our car up. We took to bringing a foot tub along, so that we could carry all our fish home for Mamma to cook.”

Shelton and Clyde told another story, one of Clyde’s favorites. When they were living in San Antonio, PawPaw Buck made a kite for the kids. A huge kite, about 6 feet tall! So PawPaw flew it, and Clyde Jr. flew it, and Shelton flew it. And then Sandra wanted to fly it. And she was just a little thing. So PawPaw handed over her the kite string…and away she went. It picked her right up off the ground, and PawPaw had to reach up and grab her so she wouldn’t fly away! The kite, however, did get away.

As we all know, PawPaw Buck was killed while riding his tractor at his home in Saucier on August 12, 2007. As several of his sons have reflected the last few days, he died doing what he loved to do. He loved to work around the house, to look after his animals, to ride the tractor, to work on cars. Whatever needed doing, he couldn’t wait to get out of the house and do it. And we all know that he was physically weakening over the last few years. He was tired, he was in some pain, he had to take a lot of medicine. He hated not being able to do the things he loved doing. The doctors told him not to ride the tractors, and it hurt him to do it. But he would do it anyway. He would go out there and just sit on them, tinker with them, and even get on and ride them some, just to be around the things he loved. He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him, and I don’t think he felt sorry for himself. He grieved that he wasn’t able to live the kind of life that he wanted to live, that he had lived for 78 years. And as terrible and tragic as his death is for all of us, we can give thanks that over the last few weeks, he had some time when he was feeling better, had some more energy, where he was more able to do more of the things he loved to do. And so many of us that loved him had opportunities to spend some time during these special last months with him – he was able to enjoy the Jackson and Landrum reunions, members of the family have been able to come and visit recently, and he’s been able to do some of the things he missed doing.

One of the ways he’ll be remembered was his interest in others. He certainly did the things that he wanted to do. But he was always watching out for us as well. We’ll remember him as a man who loved his family, who watched out for the people he knew, a man who loved his country, and lived an honest and upright life that any of us should be proud to follow after in his footsteps.

We could sit here and tell stories all day. Many of us that are here today have been doing just that – sitting around the house in Saucier sharing remembrances of PawPaw Buck. And I’m sure we’ll be doing it for the next several days, and for the rest of our lives. But we do have to draw this portion of the morning to a close.

Clyde was preceded in death by his parents, Robert and Bessie Jackson, and his sister, Ruth Hewes.

And he’s survived by his wife of 62 years, Nancy Landrum Jackson; his 6 children, Clyde Jr., Shelton, Sandra, Dennis, Barbara, and Ronald; 9 grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; his brothers, Robert, Ray, and Jay; his sisters, Juanita and Helen; along with numerous cousins and nieces and nephews and other relatives.

Any time that someone so close to us departs from this life, it gives us an opportunity not only to reflect on their lives, but to look also at our own. And the question I would like to pose, and I think the question his life makes us ask – are we pouring ourselves into life like he did? Are we taking full advantage of our time here on this earth? The memories we share of PawPaw Buck are because he attacked living with all he had. And now we remember the vigor and joy of his life, and we set out in his footsteps, so to speak, to make the most of the life that we have.

I’ve talked about PawPaw Buck, how I and others have remembered him, who he was, what he did. But I’ll end with the thing that he specifically said he most wanted people to hear at this time – how deeply he loved his wife, he drew his strength from her, he relied on her, he shared his life with her. He would also want us to know how much he loved and cherished his children, his brothers and sisters, and all of us who were privileged to call him a relative or a friend.

Bisexual Mississippi – Discovery, Life, Success

Clinton High School

It’s safe to say that I never imagined myself back at Clinton High talking to the Gay-Straight Alliance Club with my daugher someone out there listening in. I’m typically pretty confident speaking in public, but I’m actually a little nervous this morning.

So what I’d like to do is talk a little bit about myself, my life, dealing with sexuality and relationships, and then I think we’ll have plenty of time for Q&A after.

I had my first “boyfriend” in the 6th grade. I grew up in a very conservative Southern Baptist household – we went to church at least 3 times a week, my parents didn’t drink or smoke or cuss around the house, ever. We never talked about sex or dating. Any not hetero-normative and extremely Christian was alien to me and my experience.

Until B. I did the classic grade school “dating/girlfriend” thing like everyone else at the time – write the note, check the box, hold hands at recess, break up, do again. B and I had been nominally friends 2nd – 6th grade. We played on the same soccer team. He was smart, and I thought he was beautiful. So I slid him a note one day, not even processing a potential issue with same-sex relationships, and so had a grade school boyfriend for some number of weeks. [I also “dated” the only African American girl in my class back in 4th grade, again, giving no thought to that being a different type of relationship than people were used to seeing.]

So I didn’t really think that much about a boy dating a boy, even with the background I had. Not in grade school.

Junior high was the great, awkward hormone parade, complete with acne and constantly revolving relationships and experimenting with kissing and exploring boundaries, as people that age tend to do. I did my exploring, those years, with girls.

10th grade, for me, brought an intense focus on school and grades, thinking about college and career, and doing a lot of writing and finding myself. Trying to overcome or get a grasp on who I was, where I was going, what I wanted in life, what I wanted to be.

11th and 12th grade, I was back in the relationship mix.

My best friend at the time moved in with me (we’d been friends since 7th grade), and shortly after the dissolution of a quite serious (for high school) relationship with a girl I was very enamoured of, we had a long conversation about sexuality. Turns out, we were attracted to each other, and then began my first real relationship with another man, a loose relationship that lasted until we left for college. We both went out with other people, but as long as we were single, we were together.

As you can probably tell from my description of this relationship, other people didn’t know about it. During this time I also had a brief relationship with another male classmate, again, not that anyone else knew about. But I was dating girls at this time as well.

I actually didn’t think all that much about where I might fall in the sexuality spectrum. I graduated from Clinton in 1996, and something like you have today – an open and public national conversation about the LGBTQ community – that didn’t exist 20 years ago, not around here, at least. I had openly gay classmates; we had plenty of anti-everything bigotry. But it wasn’t a conversation I felt pressed to have with myself.

The first time I ever said the simple sentence “I am bisexual”…actually, I didn’t say it. I wrote it as part of the intro for a journal entry in my Freshman Honors Seminar in college. I discovered it during my 2+ year relationship with another man – I was equally attracted in every way to men and women. While I’d still told no one, it was an incredible relief just to say it to myself. To know – I am a bisexual man. It was also comforting to share my sexuality in a college essay and have no negative feedback that at all.

I had every intention of exploring my sexuality in college, while I pursued my literature degree and my writing. But life often works out in unexpected ways.

February of my freshman year I was married and soon to be a father. There are a ton of interesting and important things that happen over the course of the next 17 years (we were married 17 years and 17 days), but I’m not really here to tell a life story, more of a story of sexuality. You can ask whatever questions you like in a few minutes, but for now I’ll just say this — I am very strictly monogamous. I was married to my ex-wife for 17 years. We have 5 kids. [I was a priest for ~8 of those years, so that’s its own interesting side story…]

Fast forward now to a newly divorced man in his mid-30s. I’d known for years that I was bisexual, and decided again (as I had in college) to explore my own sexuality more fully. I was much more successful this time around.

My new friends (I’d lost many “friends” in the divorce, and so gradually acquired a new friend group) – they knew I was bisexual. I had relationships with men, and people knew. I had relationships with women, and people knew. And I was fine with all of it. My partners were fine with it. My friends were fine with it.

The men I dated knew that I’d been married and still dated women. The women I dated knew that I also dated men. It never caused an issue.

For the first time in my life, I was open about who I am – and I have continued to be open. And it has been wonderful.

There were a few interesting questions, mainly from women, most of whom had never been out with a man who also dated men. My favorite – “What if you decide you want to do man stuff…stuff I can’t do, like you do with the men you date?” All I could do was laugh, and just say “That’s not really how it works, dear.”

I was reading an article yesterday morning, an interview with David Hyde Pierce. He played one of my favorite all-time TV characters, Niles Crane in the series Frasier, and right now he’s in the mini-series When We Rise, about the gay rights activist Cleve Jones, and he is a gay man, married, with his partner/husband since 1983.

“The whole thing about sexuality and coming out is so much about, well, who you want to have sex with. Which always seemed to me like the least interesting conversation you could have.” (http://www.vulture.com/2017/03/david-hyde-pierce-frasier-when-we-rise-aids-crisis-coming-out.html)

That’s really what I found in my life — sexuality and human identity is so much more than “who do I want to have sex with today?”

Who do you love? Who makes you happy? Who invigorates you, pushes you forward, encourages you? Who makes you a better human being? Who do you want to be with?

Those are the real questions. We choose partners, short-term or long-term or lifelong, based on who we want to spend our time with, not just sex and physical attraction. And I would encourage you to remember that, moving forward with your life and figuring out where you fit in the world – look for people that you fit with, that complete you, and you’ll be much happier for it.

“Bisexual Mississippi – Discovery, Life, Success.” — March 7, 2017 — Presentation with Q&A for the Gay-Straight Alliance Club (GSA) at Clinton High School, Clinton, MS.