We attended another funeral this past week. It seems to me it is an exercise that we have been doing with increasing regularity in recent years. I suspect it has a great deal to do with our age. I find the various services associated with funerals to be interesting. Anthropologists tell us that customs relating to funerals are as old as civilization itself. According to researchers, every culture and civilization has three things in common with the proper care of their dead. There are some types of funeral rites, rituals and ceremonies. They all have a sacred place for the dead, and there is a means to memorialize the deceased.
The eulogy for Elizabeth Gibbons Perryman was handled somewhat differently than at any funeral I had attended previously. In this case, friends did not come forward and offer their remembrances of her. A relative did not read emotionally the prepared remarks from the family. Instead, one of the two attending ministers read two well written tributes in a compassionate, but professional manner. The identity of the writers was not revealed, but one could tell they knew her well. One of them spoke eloquently of Elizabeth’s love for beauty. She was educated at Brown and Harvard Universities and was a lifelong supporter of the arts. However, her eye for beauty was not restricted to the disciplines of art and literature.
The funeral was held at New Hope Presbyterian Church in the Sloan Community in San Saba County. It was a setting I would have anticipated from the impressions I made of her from the far too few visits we had together over the several years we knew her. This was a woman who met with a friend every year to have a picnic in a rural cemetery because it was the resting place of an author they enjoyed. It was this unique celebration that led to our introduction to Elizabeth. Our daughter and her mother were invited to attend the celebration picnic at the Indian Creek Cemetery in honor of Katherine Ann Porter. Carrie wrote a feature about the event for that year’s Horizons edition of the Bulletin.
Elizabeth had been living outside of Texas for years but returned to her family’s (Gibbons) ranch near Richland Springs in 1991 and meticulously restored the old ranch house for her residence. I was told the house was purchased originally through the Sears and Roebuck catalog and was delivered to the ranch on a wagon. The old house had not been occupied for awhile before she moved in. When we visited them at the ranch it was obvious to us, although she was unable to go outside that she held a deep respect for the land and saw beauty in it no matter how rugged it could be. She also saw beauty in the people who were the products of it. One of them, Jack Perryman, was her second husband. To describe Jack as a cowboy would be accurate, but far from complete. He knows cattle and ranch management, how to remove mesquite from a pasture, conduct a controlled burn to enhance the grass and reduce the scourge of wild hogs. He also knows his way around the kitchen and prepares wonderful meals for guests. However, it was Jack’s adoring attention to Elizabeth as her health began to fail that separates him from the “got to get down the road” cowboy stereotype. Anyone who has ever cared for someone with a terminal illness knows the assignment can be daunting at times, lonely at others, but always emotional. It was the second marriage for both of them and it came at a mature time of their life. But it was clear that the love they had for each other was profound.
As I listened to the eulogies of Elizabeth read and saw Jack sitting in the front pew with his daughter, I thought of how refreshing and healthy I found their relationship. In a culture where the largest entertainment venue, television, has seen the increase in the number of scenes involving sex nearly double since 1998, and tends to equate love with sex, Elizabeth and Jack were uplifting.
Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.