Memorial Day -- a day for remembering our servicemen, a day of reflection, a day of peace.
It was Memorial Day two years ago, the last day of May, when -- on my way out of town from Shreveport, headed back home to Fort Worth -- I stopped in at Forest Park West Cemetery. I can tell you for sure that it was the first time in 42 years I had been there.
Henry Lee "Trey" Prather is buried there. So are his parents.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. It was peaceful. The visit there was something I felt I needed to do -- I'd put it off far too long.
It was painful. It was a pain I had avoided all those years. But it was also cathartic.
We -- my family -- were facing difficult days. Four days earlier, as I was walking the short distance from our apartment to Colonial Country Club just a bridge across the Trinity River to follow Shreveport resident David Toms in an early morning round on the first day of the Crowne Plaza Invitational, I received a phone call -- my mother, age 88, had fallen at her front doorstep and broken her left hip.
The timing of the phone calls, first from my mother's best friend, Lou Gwin, to Bea, and then from Bea to me was fortuitous. Five minutes later, and I would have been inside the Colonial gates, with my phone turned off. Bea would have had to come find me at the tournament, and she didn't have a ticket.
Emergency trip to Shreveport. Surgery -- a risk at her age -- for my mother. Eventually, she was sent to a rehab facility. We didn't know it then, but less than a month later, she would be gone. She tried to recover; her spirit was willing; her tiny body wasn't up to it.
Bea stayed with her the entire time, either at the hospital, then at the rehab place, only spending some time at Oma's house. I had to return to work in Fort Worth, but came back each Monday-Tuesday when I had days off.
On the original trip back home, I stopped at Forest Park West.
The cemetery is located at 70th Street and Meriwether Road. The Shreveport airport grounds are within sight; access to Interstate-20 is a short drive away; going the other way, so is Oak Terrace Junior High, where I first met Trey Prather, where I first saw him play quarterback, and basketball, and throw the discus in track and field.
In an e-mail a few months earlier, Ralph Kraft -- Trey's center in our senior year at Woodlawn High -- had given me directions to the location of the Prathers' graves at Forest Park West. (Ralph is now an attorney in Lafayette and, for years, had encouraged me to write about Trey.)
Directions-challenged that I am, I couldn't find the location. Wandered the cemetery for 30 minutes without luck. It was a very warm day, and I was getting warm. There were few visitors to the cemetery that day; somewhat surprising considering it was Memorial Day.
Finally, I came across an older couple walking in the same vicinity. The man asked if he could help me find someone.
When I told him the name, Prather, he thought for a moment, then said, "I remember that name. Wasn't the boy a star quarterback here a long time ago?" Yes, I replied, yes he was. And I told them of the Woodlawn/LSU connection and Trey's death in Vietnam. The man nodded; he remembered.
The man also suggested I go to the cemetery office for help finding the location. (Now why didn't I think of that?)
Fortunately, there were people in the office. A young lady asked for the name and looked up the location in a couple of minutes.
The graves sit just off a road. If you're standing in front of them, Trey's grave is in the middle, a small American flag in front of the grave. Mr. Prather (Lee) is to the left; Mrs. Prather (Marilyn) to the right.
It was quiet, except for birds chirping and squirrels darting here and there. As I stood there, memories flooded my mind. I thought about that cold January day in 1968 when I had last been there; the most painful day for so many of us Woodlawn kids; trying to make sense of a young man's death; of a needless, stupid war; the loss of promise of a talented, smart, personable, good-looking, down-to-earth guy with whom I had shared so many games; of the parents who cherished Trey and his sister Pou.
It struck me that Mrs. Prather was only 45 when she passed away, just two years after Trey; that Mr. Prather had died in 1985, just one year after the day I had seen him -- after so many years -- at the annual Woodlawn memorial service for fallen servicemen, the day I couldn't find the words to say to him.
I'm glad I went out there that day. Because a family friend (the wonderful Ann Vanderwal) died a year later and was buried nearby, I had occasion to visit again. And I'll go back again ... maybe even on Memorial Day.
Today we think of Trey Prather, and all the people -- male and female -- who gave their lives while serving in the U.S. military. They didn't die tragically, but I also think of my father-in-law, Howard Clinton Shaw, who was in the U.S. Army, and of my dad, who was in the Dutch Army.
It's a day for remembering, a day of reflection, a day of peace.