A year later, I can tell you where I was and what I was doing when the call came.
I was sifting through the little jewelry box drawer looking for my other green rhinestone earring, perturbed I wasn’t having a better hair day, but thinking it didn’t really matter all that much. I didn’t want to be late for church on the Sunday before Christmas, when the music was especially beautiful, the sermon especially meaningful and life was especially merry and filled with hope.
And the phone rang.
Who calls on a Sunday morning? I couldn’t imagine.
But if I had guessed, the last person on earth to come to mind would be my cousin, Mark Cooksey. In the just more than six decades we’ve known each other, I think that had to be the first phone call we had ever exchanged.
“What are you doing, Candy?” Mark asked in his recognizably deep trademark San Saba twang. I told him I was getting ready for church, and listened while he took a deep breath.
“I have some bad news,” he said, his voice breaking. “Corey Lee died this morning.”
“No!” I thought. Multiply that no 1,000 times, then a million more. It just couldn’t be. It couldn’t be on so many levels for so many reasons. It’s hard still to grasp, but among the reasons was the timing. Tragic any time, but two days before Christmas?
Then the whole list of “it can’t be” reasons began to tumble through my mind. Thirty years before, at Thanksgiving, Bart Ray, Corey’s 16-year-old brother, had been killed. No parents should have to bury one son, much less two. No son should have to watch his parents’ unstoppable grief over such a tragic loss. No just-turned 9-year-old boy should have to be told on the day before Christmas Eve his daddy was dead.
The obituary that ran in the Brownwood Bulletin Christmas day would verify Corey, 39, was a 14-year veteran with the Irving Police Department; the husband of Jo Annette Ellis Cooksey; the father of Grayson; son of Billy Mac and Wanda Warlick Cooksey.
Without Facebook, my generation of cousins and siblings would have remembered Corey best as the blonde-headed tornado-like kid interested in going faster, climbing higher and being tougher at anything and everything that required those efforts.
As a man, Corey’s always 100 percent went first and foremost to Jo Annette and Grayson, but closely paralleled his joy and dedication for being a policeman. All he had left was devoted to Rat Fink artistry, smoking great brisket, motorcycle riding and car mechanics.
We got to know Corey a lot better, and appreciate him a little more, through his Facebook posts. He wasn’t about keeping his politics, passions and heroes a secret. He wasn’t above using his smack-down good humor for keeping his friends in their place. If we would have liked him to tone it down a little, we couldn’t help but be entertained.
Still, the seriousness Corey’s posts in the fall about having West Nile Virus alluded us. Bad stuff, he insisted with expletives. But we counted on him to be invincible. I don’t think any of us gave real consideration to the notion he wouldn’t get better. He got much worse, was in the hospital, out and in again. Still, we thought, he was going to be OK.
As news of Corey’s death spread, the Facebook friends made heart-wrenching memorial posts, many followed by happy memories of Corey’s unique mischievous antics. Corey Cooksey was larger than life, my sister posted.
Three days after Christmas, we gathered at Oak View Cemetery in Mullin and waited for the procession to bring Corey’s body home from Irving where the city ceremoniously honored “one of Irving’s finest.” It was freezing, bitter cold, and we stood there in the cemetery where four generations of Cookseys lay. Bundled up and shivering, we still could not believe we were there for that. It was dusk before the hearse and caravan arrived.
I don’t think any of us could fathom what going forward from that day was going to be. A hole was left in our lives’ landscape.
Life goes on. We haven’t forgotten Corey Lee Cooksey. We’re wise crusaders against mosquitoes, and I think each of us have a more dedicated appreciation of each other and life. A certain wisdom comes to those charged with remembering. Recently, members of the IPD posted a picture of a group of officers, motorcycle riders, backs to the camera, after the department’s first Memorial Iron Butt Ride.
Written on each T-shirt back was a fitting tribute. “Keep calm and Corey On.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, living now in San Angelo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .