Woodie’s friends did him proud

Published 1:45 am Saturday, October 16, 2010

This week, I heard the gospel song “Who Will Sing for Me?” for the first time.

It was at a memorial service of sorts for the folk artist Woodie Long, held on the one-year anniversary of his death. Woodie’s wife, Dot, and close family members had on the day before set a marker for Woodie in the cemetery at Salem Baptist Church, in between two of his late brothers.

On Tuesday, family and friends gathered there before lunch time. Dot brought an arrangement of wild flowers, a photograph of her late husband and a bowl of bird seeds.

Woodie’s wish had been to be cremated. But he didn’t want his ashes interred, and he didn’t want them scattered. They were placed in the base of the marker, along with things that made him happy: a yellow crayon to represent his art; a marble to represent his love of toys; an empty package of turnip seeds for his love of gardening (he’d planted the seeds, she said); notes from loved ones.

Across the street, chickens clucked. A rooster crowed. Goats bleated.

Dot shared that she was holding Woodie’s hand on the day he died.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ ” she recalled. “He said, ‘my wife.’

“And then, he reached past my hand, and it was like he was taking someone else’s hand,” she recalled. “It was a great comfort to me.”

She asked Woodie’s nephew to read a letter he’d sent to his uncle two years ago, a letter that was still on Woodie’s desk when he died. In it, Curt described the special gift Woodie had – the light that surrounded him.

“Oh yea,” the letter concluded, “A wise man once told me, ‘get a job.’ ”

It was a pet peeve of Woodie’s, they said. Everyone should have a job.

A few told funny stories of Woodie’s pranks and escapades.

Walter Moore recalled visiting the Longs at the beach “after Woodie got rich and famous.”

For an outing, he said, Woodie took the group to the dollar store in Freeport and invited, “Buy anything you want.”

The son of a sharecropper who grew up to gain fame as an artist was plenty generous, but not the least bit pretentious.

Another friend who’d brought a guitar provided accompaniment for “Amazing Grace.” Then Dot suggested a favorite of Woodie’s, “Who Will Sing for Me?” Judith Moore knew some of the words:

As the crowd started to disperse for lunch – Woodie would’ve been the first to have said, “Enough, let’s go eat,” they said – a beautiful orange butterfly lighted on Dot’s wildflowers. I couldn’t help but think of rebirth, and I wondered if the appearance of this ancient symbol of the soul was not by accident.

“When I reach my journey’s end, who will sing for me?” the lyricist asks.

Woodie needn’t have worried. His friends did him proud.