The Loyd family patriarchs are of a stoic silent breed. Part of the Greatest Generation that served their family, and would have served their country but were exempted because of the responsibility to care for their mother and sisters, as their father was deceased. Early in their lives they learned the value of hard work. Like very difficult manual labor, including picking and chopping cotton, laboring on factory floors, cultivating soil, harvesting crops and raising livestock. The Loyd men are among some of the hardest working people I have ever known. Laboring in the harsh conditions of sweltering Delta summers and often at odds with the uncooperative and difficult Delta soil, they managed to provide for their families. Three men make up the Loyd masculine trifecta, my Dad James Roy Loyd, my uncles Melvin and Delbert. Their sisters Virginia and Mildred served as a civilizing check on the abundance of testosterone, but all of them make us proud of our heritage.
On what was America’s deadliest day of the summer from the Coronavirus Pandemic with 1500 deaths, sadly, my Dad’s brother was one of them. My Uncle Delbert ‘June’ Loyd was like his brothers stout and hardworking choosing to plant and harvest, unlike my Dad who chose to raise and corral cattle. But both had an appreciation for what the Arkansas Delta could give back to you if you were willing to invest with the currency of work and perseverance.
It was a common enough occurrence for me to remember. Getting off the school bus to discover my Dad’s cows in my Uncle’s soybeans enjoying a trollop and afternoon meal. “Better call June!” was what I heard on more than one occasion, especially when I couldn’t manage to get the cows back to their levee grazing where they belonged. My Dad who was busy at the factory impressed on me that it was my responsibility to get the cows corralled before they did too much damage. I wasn’t very good at this, and neither was my mom, thus the “Better call June” imperative. June would drive over and help, but not without an observation or two about what he thought about Dad’s insistence on raising cows.
“Hey there boy!’ was how June always greeted me. This was consistent throughout my life. Whether as a child hiding in his fields, as an older child spending the night with my cousins Jason, Melinda and Dana at Uncle June’s house, or as an adult stopping by to say “hi” to him in the nursing home. I do recall on one occasion spending the night with my cousin, and as boys are prone to do, wanting to stay up all night long. After too much noise, Uncle June put a quick end to our ambitions in no uncertain terms, “Y’all get to sleep now!” We did.
When my Dad gets in a reflective mood he likes to tell stories. The stories always include interactions with his brothers. Fishing, hunting, working, or the few times they attempted to make a go at school. The stories generally include avoiding school at all cost, even hiding in the field to wait the day out, so that they were gone during the school hours giving the right impressions to the adults in their lives, even though they weren’t actually in the class room. One interesting story my Dad shared was a detailed rouse where they convinced some other boys to smoke “Cow Shit.” My Dad laughs sharing this story of the rare and tasty “Delta Tobacco.” My Dad also recounts urban adventures in Chicago with his brothers, although I’m not sure who all was included in these moments. Riding the L train to various jobs, getting lost among the skyscrapers, and dancing with city girls who just loved their rural Arkansas twang. Reflecting on these stories and my own memories of my family growing up warms me with nostalgia.
I have brothers and a sister and love them dearly, even though we are separated by age and geography. But my experience is a very different one than that of my Dad and Uncle June with their brothers and sisters. I envy them some because of this. They share a memory and experience that can only be shared with me via words and emotions in bits and pieces that sometimes have little relation or cohesion to one another as I hear them. Primarily because I wasn’t there. Families are like this. The further we are removed in time and space from the origin, the more distant the relationships can feel. But they exist. And they remain nevertheless. And even though it impossible to go home again, we can never completely disown to whom we belong, nor should we. It shapes us and goes a long way in defining the parameters of our lives.
I don’t know if there are cows or crops in Heaven. I like to think that they are there in abundance, and that on this celestial landscape someone will suggest calling Uncle June should one become intrusive on the other. And certainly I anticipate a classic Loyd family reunion in Heaven.
My Uncle June will be missed. Already so many have posted wonderful memories and tributes to the man he was and the legacy he leaves behind. The remaining Loyd family patriarchs and matriarchs continue in the winter of their lives. In some respects it is grey and cold in comparison to the vibrancy that once was. But past summers are forever present in our minds, and for my Uncle June, spring now eternally abounds.