He was from a different time, place

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 11, 2011

To say that Sam Crook was not of this world is an understatement.

By that, I mean that he fit into a different time and place; a simpler one.

Born and reared in Atmore, he was my husband’s across-the-street neighbor and classmate. They were lifelong friends.

When Sam was diagnosed with bone cancer late last year, he went along with conventional treatments for a brief while. Then came the day when he said to Tommy and Luther Upton, who were visiting him in the hospital, “I’m busting out of here today boys. Are you with me?”

They were. After he moved home, they, like many others of Sam’s interesting collection of friends, spent hours sitting with him, telling and retelling the old stories. As in many other things in his life, Sam preferred the old ways. That is, for him, death was preferable to the side effects of treatment.

He had a lot of good days between February and June, surrounded by family, friends and caregivers on the spot of land he had christened the Ponderosa in Bermuda, Ala.

For decades, Sam has had what he called a pallbearers list. If he got mad with you, you were off the list. If you redeemed yourself or he forgave you, you might be restored to honorary pallbearer status and later to pallbearer. For Sam, it seemed, there was no higher honor than trusting a man to carry you to your final resting place.

As I write this, I am preparing to attend his 6 p.m. funeral on The Ponderosa.

I am told that Sam is dressed for his final journey perhaps like a gentleman would have been dressed 100 years ago or more. Those who made the final pallbearers list will carry the mahogany coffin from his home to the cemetery he established on his property years ago. Near his grave are the graves of two other creatures important to him: Red Eagle, his horse; and Monroe, his late dog.

Sam used to say – and I’m not sure he was joking – that he intended to be buried with Red Eagle’s reins in his hands. That way, he figured, if he didn’t make it in to heaven on his own, Red Eagle was strong enough to pull him the rest of the way. Horses, he was certain, are needed in heaven to pull the chariots.

The Confederate re-enactors band is to be a part of the service, too. And before you dismiss Sam Crook as a racist, you should know that he spent years at the champion of a black man named Johnny D. McMillan, who was convicted of a Monroeville murder and was sentenced to death. Sam believed in his innocence. Others did, too, and eventually Johnny D. got a new trial and was set free.

Pete Early wrote a book about it. The late Ed Bradley, formerly of 60 Minutes, interviewed Sam about it at the Ponderosa, where the Confederate flag flies. They talked about that on TV.

No, Sam wasn’t of this world. But this one was certainly more interesting with him in it.

R.I.P., Sam. We’ll miss you.