Funeral for a friend and family
Atop a bucolic hillside, surrounded and accented by soft Blue Ridge mountain peaks, a tiny white washed country church in Woodville was flush with mourners last week celebrating the life of one of their own, a very special life.
The Shiloh Baptist Church pews were packed, the asphalt parking lot and neighboring grassy knolls filled to the brim with vehicles. A very deeply rooted Rappahannock community of folks whose family names are etched on hillsides, names inscribed on 300-year-old family tombstones with hundreds of years of shared history, came together to celebrate Freddie Jackson’s life; to acknowledge his giving, loving nature and yes his mischievous side as well.
Freddie was the youngest of 14 siblings. He spent the better part of his life working as a farm laborer for the Fletcher Family of Sperryville, and he was a cherished part of the Thornton Hill family. He was 82 years old when the good Lord called him home.
Freddie was a man of simple means and needs. He had a third grade education, lived on a shoestring, played his beloved autoharp and frequently sang to the 40 or so stray cats that he cared for over the years. He said they sang with him, and they probably did. Freddie had no children, the furry little ones perhaps filled in the gap and gave him great pleasure. He was always seen smiling and singing, clasping his autoharp firmly in his grip.
Fiery preachers took to the pulpit while the Shiloh Baptist Church choir, nestled in the choir loft, sang soulful hymns, and piano and guitar solos filled the House of God with glorious song.
There was nary a dry eye to be found. The pews were filled with farmers and laborers, prominent citizens, men and women from all walks of life; surely a tribute to a great man, a man of wealth and fame: local fame that is, and wealth not defined by money, rather defined by a rich life well lived.
His devoted niece Dollie (Penny), his long time caregiver, could be seen throughout the service wiping away many a tear. Beside her sat her husband Lewis and both were surrounded by a host of Freddie’s nephews, nieces, cousins and beloved friends.
Bill Fletcher rose to the side of the pulpit and curious to some carefully held a hat in his hand close by his side. He was visibly shaken as he talked of Freddie’s life. It was an emotional tribute given to a man Bill has known since childhood.
“Freddie meant a great deal to me” Bill told the congregation. “He was an integral part of my life, and that of my family, especially Lilla and Jamie.”
Peels of laughter broke out in the pews as Bill recounted, in his trademark fashion of speaking, Freddie’s well known antics. He admitted he never knew Freddie’s actual birthday till his passing.
“You see” recounted Bill, “Freddie would tell folks it was his birthday three or four times a year. That way he’d get gifts. Everyone knew of course that he was full of baloney, but with good humor and an appreciation for Freddie’s mischievous nature we all went along with it.”
The stories continued to pour out. Bill told of his dad, Jim Bill Fletcher, standing one day on the porch of his law office at Thornton Hill Farm — three secretaries nearby busily managing his intense workload — when a visibly agitated Jim Bill took his 19 year old son aside: “I’m so unhappy, so frustrated, so much work, and here I sit with $100 thousand dollars in the bank and have over 1,000 acres to my name and I am not happy,” he told Bill.
At which point Freddie strolled casually by, oblivious to the conversation, whistling and singing a happy tune. Jim Bill looked at Bill and said, “And here’s Freddie who doesn’t have a pot to piss in, nor a window to throw it out of, smiling and singing, and he is happy.”
Then he asked his son, “And who is smarter?”
Once, as the story goes, while driving his truck to Front Royal, Freddie was descending Chester Gap with several tons of junk in the bed and the steering wheel came off in his hands. Without any fanfare nor panic he simply picked up a pair of vice grips from the truck floor boards and gerry-rigged his way to his destination. He was resourceful and filled with country common sense.
On more humorous notes, he once was pulled over in his banged up truck for a suspected DUI, and without hesitation boldly told the trooper he was Jim Bill Fletcher.
One anecdote that brought tears of laughter was of Freddie’s experience cooking a raccoon with one of his buddies and somehow 50 pounds of hot water spilled and scalded him. He was brought to the hospital and apparently as they were cutting off his shirt they peeled off a layer of skin from his chest, at which point he screamed: “Lord God a mighty, they’re skinning me,” and he promptly ran out.
His generosity was celebrated as well, Bill sharing that Freddie saved and collected aluminum cans to be sold in Culpeper, giving the proceeds to folks less fortunate than him.
Finally, Bill took the hat he clasped so carefully in his hand and laid it to rest atop the coffin.
“This was my dad’s hat” he said, his voice breaking with emotion. “Freddie meant the world to him, and I want it to go home with Freddie.”
Malinda Brakeman, Bill’s fiance, stepped up to the pulpit and read a heartfelt letter on behalf of Lilla Fletcher, Bill’s daughter who lives in Colorado. It reads in part:
“The hardest part of life is to live in it. It is why when you can find someone who lights up a room, or just makes you feel like you’ve come home, you have to cherish it.
“Freddie was that for me, he was everything I loved about Rappahannock. From the forty cats he had to the beautiful music he made. Everything he did, he did for love. He fed the strays, the animals who were left outside, he sang for the love he could give others, and most of all he raised so many of us. For Freddie never had children of his own but he put his heart into raising so many of us. I know I will always acquaint him with teaching me kindness . . .
“He was so completely down to earth and authentic you almost didn’t believe he could be real.”