For 17 years I have written newspaper columns. During that time I have written tributes to many people. Today, I write about my younger brother, Bluford Marion Dyer (11/26/1933-12/01/2006). I will guard against a maudlin, over-sentimental tribute, even though we were very close in relationship and in focus. He was a brother to be proud of, an humble, unassuming, "salt of the earth" farmer who knew hard work and troubles, triumphs and achievements, joys and sorrows. He embodied the words of Shakespeare: "His life was gentle, and the elements\So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up\And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'" (from Julius Caesar, V, 5).
My younger brother Bluford turned 73 on November 26, 2006. He was very sick that day. I longed to go visit him in the hospital, but circumstances prevented the trip. I thought about my first memory of him. I was three and one-half years his senior. I had been taken to my Grandfather Collins's home to stay until after the baby was born. My Aunt Ethel took me walking along that wagon road that led across the mountain at Choestoe from Grandpa's house to our house. I remember well having to keep up with Aunt Ethel and how cold the day was. I was well bundled up against the cold. When we got to my house, I got my first look at my little brother Bluford. He had a head full of dark hair and his cherubic face peeped out at me from the receiving blanket in which he was wrapped. It was "love at first sight" on my part, and from that day onward I cherished him. I was told to "be careful and treat him gently." I tried to do just that. We played for hours together as we were little children.
In 1939 when he was in first grade and I in fourth grade at Choestoe School, then a two-teacher country school, a snow blew in from the north and soon was piling up deeply. Why the two teachers did not dismiss school right away, I don't know. Since all students walked to school anyway, maybe an accumulation was not a threat because there were no buses that might get stuck in the snow. Suddenly, our father, J. Marion Dyer, was at the schoolhouse door. He was a Trustee of the school, so he had a responsibility in the management and safety of students and teachers. He told the teachers they should let the children go as the blizzard was getting worse. He had not heard this on any weather report; he just had a sixth sense about the weather. He had brought a shovel in case he needed it to clear the way on the mile to our house. Daddy put Bluford on his shoulder and told me to follow in the pathway he made. That cold winter day has been a poignant memory for me since, and a demonstration of how Dad loved us and had our welfare uppermost in his mind.
Fast forward six years to February, 1945. Our mother died on Valentine's Day. I was fourteen and Bluford was eleven. Our older brother Eugene lay in an Army Hospital somewhere in Italy. He had been severely wounded in World War II where he served as a bombardier in the famed Flying Fortress with the Liberation Group of the 15th Army Air Force. Our older sister Louise was already married to Ray Dyer and they had two young children, Sylvan and Faye at that time (in August, Shirley was born). Ray who was in service was soon deployed to serve in the Pacific War Theater. It was a dark time in history and in the Dyer home at Choestoe. As we sat on that cold February day and heard the eulogy for our mother, a depiction of Proverbs 31:10-31, I knew that I entered adulthood at age fourteen, and that Bluford grew up from his little boy stage of eleven. I still continued my care for him, somewhat like sister/mother. That fall marked the time when our father taught Bluford, age 11, to attend the boiler and make sorghum syrup. Bluford was to follow that tradition of his father and grandfathers before him until he made his last crop of cane into syrup in the fall of 2004-fifty-nine years of premium-quality sorghum syrup making.
Fortunately, Eugene returned from service, and although beset by wounds received, he overcame them and became a businessman. Ethelene went to Truett McConnell College, graduated, and married in 1949 to Rev. Grover Jones whom she had met there. Ray returned from World War II and he and Louise and family moved to Cornelia, GA.
Bluford's father married his second wife, Winnie Mae Manley Shelton, on March 8, 1950. To them were born twin daughters, Brenda and Linda, son Troy, and daughters Gail and Janice. Loyd Shelton was Winnie's son by her first marriage. The family was growing, and Bluford adapted, working on the farm and continuing his education.
Bluford graduated from Union County High School with the Class of 1951, the last class to graduate before the twelfth grade was added. In the fall of 1951 he entered Truett McConnell College, Cleveland. To earn his tuition and board, the college assigned him the work responsibility of managing the college farm. His upbringing and hard work during his teenage years had prepared him well for the job. He was responsible for the others on farm work scholarship and for taking care of the animals and hay, vegetable and corn crops. The produce from that farm was used in part to provide for the college cafeteria.
At Truett McConnell, he met his future bride, Annie Jo Shook of Young Harris. They were married June 2, 1956. They soon were set up in their own house and Bluford continued his love for the land and farming. His step-mother Winnie Mae died 11/16/1956. Bluford and Annie Jo began caring for Gail, who was a two years three months old at the time of her mother's death. They reared her as their own daughter. Their daughter, Jounida, was born April 10, 1958. Through the years, more were added to the family. Wayne Hedden married Gail and Keith Porter married Jounida, and grandchildren Luke and Leslie Hedden and Blaze and Sky Porter. Bluford loved his family and get-togethers at special occasions. He served for many years as a trustee of the Dyer- Souther Heritage Association.
Bob Gibby who gave the eulogy at Bluford's memorial service on December 3 based his remarks on three characteristics Bluford possessed in abundance: (1) An unwavering work ethic; (2) Unselfish community service; and (3) Love and support of family.
Bluford received an award for his thirty three continuous years of service on the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service Board. He was known for his firm stand on issues affecting farmers and served ably on ASCS, representing Union, Towns and Fannin Counties. He was likewise active in community and church. His life was a reflection of his beliefs.
A long-time friend of the family, Mr. Kent Christopher, attended the funeral and interment at Choestoe Church in a wheel chair, bent and feeble. I spoke to Mr. Christopher following the service and told him I was glad he could come to Bluford's memorial. With tears in his eyes he said, "Bluford was my friend and helper in all things." And with those words and those tears, Kent summarized the life of one who gave unselfishly of his time, energy, means and person to help others.
The following free-verse poem was my tribute to him, read by Bluford's nephew and my son, the Rev. Keith Jones, officiating minister, at the memorial service. The poem is my attempt to summarize the life of a brother who was dearer than life itself to me. Many asked me for a copy of the poem. Here it is, with love:
One with the Land
(In tribute to my brother, Bluford Marion Dyer, November 26, 1933 - December 1, 2006 - Farmer Extraordinary)
The land was his livelihood, On hills and bottoms, row on row, Crops stretched upward, growing, Yielding to his knowing touch. He, one with the land, each season held For him some special work--- Winter and dormancy saw plans For spring plowing, planting, hope For summer's verdant growth And yield from early crops, The garden's bounty preserved to last A year for table abundantly laid. Fall was the sweetest time: The golden leaves on trees Matched the gold of sorghum syrup Cooking succulently in the copper pan. Crops were gathered before the cold Brought blasts of winter to the land--- All safely stored, the animals sheltered---
Days to rest, to read, a slower rhythm. His affinity with the land Came by inheritance and choice, Following the plow, growing food For family and others, his appointment, his calling. As earth meets sky at horizon's rim, So his soul touched land, and it yielded for him."He that tills the land shall be satisfied with bread."* His honest toil helped many to be fed. (*Proverbs 12:11a) -Ethelene Dyer Jones, December 2, 2006
c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 7, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.