Friday, November 27, 2009

Tribute to a Friend

A Requiem for Thomas Wren Carnes 1937-2009

By Dr. Henry Outlaw

From the Poet Mary Oliver we hear these words.

Think of me when you see the evening star.
Think of me when you see the Wren
the flowing root of the creek beneath him
Dark, Silver and cold

Remember me I am the one who told you
he sings for happiness.
I am the one who told you
that the grass is alive and listening.

The great playwright, Tennessee Williams, once said, A Home is where you hang your childhood. So it is today that I remember my childhood friend Thomas Wren Carnes. But not just him, the entire Carnes family: their parents Tom and Linnie and the children Jimmy, Mary Ann, Nancy, Linda and Jeanette. And their Grandmother, too, Mrs. Dora Carnes whom I referred to as Aunt Dora and her cooks Lee and Willie Lee that cooked some of the best turnips, turnip greens, peas and cornbread in the county. Aunt Dora loved to eat squirrels and she taught us how to eat the head of a squirrel. Try that sometime, it is very tasty. It is one of those southern delicacies that has gotten lost in antiquity. You see, the Carnes family was my family too. It was in part where I hung my childhood. I always had a bed to sleep in and a place at the table. And, I must add, a place in the storm house! The tornado that hit Baldwyn, Mississippi in March of 1942 left its mark of fear on us all. With flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, Linnie would jerk us out of bed and send us running to the storm house for safety. Looking back on it now, I'm not sure how safe they were because most were occupied with black widow spiders, mice, and a barn snake or two.

Thomas Wren and I were outdoorsman/hunters. We had the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive the best game of all, the best of all breathing and forever the best of all listening. We lived in the woods and fields and streams hunting mostly squirrels, rabbits, coons, possums, and quail. We even ran a trap line for muskrats and mink in Camel Town Creek and Okeleela bottom. The second week of October always found us hunting squirrels in Tombigbee River Bottom: the Big Woods, bigger and older than any recorded document. And Barnett's Hills with fine stands of hickory nut and scaley bark trees, a perfect place for bushy tails. Thomas Wren always had a keen eye for squirrels. As I recall, he never failed to get the limit. He even killed a flying squirrel once. Now that takes some skill.

You know, teenagers do strange things. One evening, Linnie let us use the family car, ostensibly, to go to town, the picture show perhaps. For some odd reason we took off toward Pratts, down through a muddy bottom road. No gravel in those days. It had been raining cats and dogs. Somewhere along that road, not too far from Little Nicks house, we got out of the ruts and slid off the road down a steep bank. Now! What to do? We were stuck! Both of us trucked it, through the mud and rain, back to Little Nicks house and got his fathers John Deere tractor and he pulled us out. After that my memory fades. Many years later I asked Thomas Wren about this incident. I said, Where were we going? He said we were going to see some girls. Now, I don't ever remember having a girlfriend from Pratts. Guntown, yes, but not Pratts. Alas, great mysteries abound.

Jeanette, I even remember your phone number: 4398. I don't remember what I had for lunch yesterday but I can still remember that phone number.

Frederick Buechner, in his book Listening To Your Life, wrote a mini essay entitled REMEMBER. In it he said, And when you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you. It means that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and and speak to me in your heart. For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost.

If you forget me, one of the ways I remember who I am will be gone. If you forget me, part of who I am will be gone.

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom, the good thief said from the cross. There are perhaps no more human words in all of Scripture, no prayer we can pray so well. If you remember me I will never die.

I will always remember those days when autumn comes and the leaves go red as sunset and when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over the high Indian grass and a waterfall of color flows over River Woods. When that day comes I will pick up the phone, dial 4398 and when I hear his voice I will say, Hey, Time To Go HUNTING!

Some others of you probably had the same interaction with Tommy. Hope you enjoyed this as much as I - Carl Houston


  1. Thomas Wren and I went North together alone with quite a few more,,He and I went to work for Western Electric in West Chicage,,My first time to really leave home and be on my own,,I stayed 9 months,,left to go back to college and he stayed up there..
    I kept saying and telling him the next time I was in Memphis I would look him up,,this I never did and I will take this regret to my grave now. I will miss you dear friend..

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  3. Ditto on the "well done". Couldn't have been written any better for a friend.

  4. The steep bank and tractor incident reminds me of an adventure Shirley Smith and I had when we were in 9th grade. We had been waitresses at the Jr-Sr Banquet. Shirley was driving the family car and we took another girl home way out west of town. Turning the car around, we backed into a ditch. The girl got her Dad's tractor and pulled us out. I don't know if we told anyone about that. Betty, did you know about that?