On Independence Day Joe was lowered into the earth at Hawkins Cemetery. There was a two-mile-long procession of cars from the gym to the burial ground and then a long walk down a dirt road under the worst of a July midday sun. People can remember a little black girl running after Norma Hunt and asking her about the pretty bracelet she had on.
Joe, like Uncle Frankie Joe, hated that cemetery, and far as anybody knew, he'd never been back there since his father's burial in '77. Hawkins Cemetery isn't like the white people's graveyard down in Haughton proper, which is all green and manicured. It's up in Belleview and really no more than a clearing back in the woods, where the sandy earth is still piled up from graves dug years ago. It's so far out of the way that there isn't much use putting flowers on the graves; they get stolen and given to girl friends.
Joe is amid ancient company there. Only three down from him is a great-great uncle, Moses Kennon, born in 1848, 15 years before emancipation. On a lot of the stones it says GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN or OVER IN THE GLORYLAND or just plain ASLEEP. Rest awhile, Honey.
"The sky was the limit for him," Coach Williams said the other day. "We never got to see what Joe D would be."
After Joe signed his contract with the Chiefs, Joe Ferguson, the Buffalo quarterback, who was raised in Shreveport and knew Joe D., showed Joe how to write checks. How would Joe D. know about things like that? The first big purchase he made then was a car. He was very careful about it because he didn't want to be ostentatious and spend too much of his money on one item when there was so much the family needed.
Finally, Joe came to Coach Williams and told him he'd thought about it and had settled on a Cougar. What did Coach think of that? Well, Coach Williams thought that was a fine choice, and so straightaway he picked up the phone and called Harry Friedman, the Lincoln-Mercury dealer in Natchitoches. Friedman told Coach Williams he was delighted that Joe had selected a Cougar and he would make sure to give Joe the best possible deal because everyone loved Joe D. and he had meant a great deal to Northwestern and Natchitoches.
Truth to tell, Joe did splurge a little. He sprung for just about every option available on the '81 Cougar. When he brought the car home, he told Carolyn that he would never get rid of it, no matter how good he became or how much he made or where he lived, because it was the first fine thing he had ever been able to buy in his life. He was going to keep it and tend to it and give it to his girls many years from now, when they were old enough to drive.
Since Joe didn't live to see that faraway day, Carolyn says she will honor his intention. The baby blue Cougar is parked outside the house now, in the driveway. It has two stickers on the back, one for the NFL Players Association, the other for the Chiefs.
Crystal is playing on the front lawn by the car. JoJo is napping. Tamika is still at school. Carolyn comes out and calls for Crystal to come in, and she does, because the grown-ups inside are through talking about her daddy, a man who died a hero one hot summer's day and, before that, had never put a spot on a human heart.
Happy birthday, Joe D.