Part VIII: Going Home
This is the last in my series centered around the story of Lee Farrier of Norfork, Arkansas. These days, Lee stays pretty close to home. "Home" is with his wife, Erma Farrier. Lee can hardly believe he and Erma are in their late 80s, because he feels so young at heart.
This orphan boy has had an extraordinary life. From entering an orphanage at the tender age of four, to finding his way (through a man named Jack Bonner) to Norfork, Arkansas, where he was loved and adopted by Eunice and Lillie Farrier, Lee's memories are clear. He actually feels the entire town adopted him as their own. After high school, he joined the Navy, then married his high school sweetheart, Erma. Lee worked at various jobs all over the United States, but he eventually came back home to Baxter County to live, work, and eventually retire. As he puts it, he loved some mighty good people, owned a fishing dock, built houses with a best friend, worked as a tax assessor, and finally became a rancher. If that is not enough of a good life, he's still married to his childhood sweetheart.
If you missed previous parts of Lee’s story, please click the following links. (Don't worry. The story is all linked together. You won't have to keep coming back here to continue through the series!)
This week, when I visited with Lee, I called him "a storyteller." He may be the last to know he is one. He knew he could talk, but he’s amazed at being named a storyteller. That makes me smile.
Last summer, Lee’s son Terry worked with Lee's sister Peggy to organize a big reunion of Lee’s family-of-origin in St. Louis, Missouri. Terry’s goal was to get his parents, Lee and Erma, to the reunion. Peggy’s goal was to host the reunion for her extended family and add a birthday celebration for Diane, another sister. “Family is important,” Peggy says. “As we age, I want us to stay connected. I don’t want people drifting away. I don’t want to lose anybody.”
So, here’s what happened. Erma could not attend the reunion, because she did not feel well enough to travel. Once everyone felt safe about Erma staying behind, Terry picked up Lee in Norfork, and they drove to St. Louis, to the gathering of the Gibson family. They took Lee’s brother Jerry’s car, because it was the most comfortable. (Jerry Gibson, in case you don’t remember from Part I, was Lee’s baby brother, the one who’d escaped going to the orphanage because he’d been adopted as an infant by Henry Gibson’s cousin.)
Can you believe it? Lee had come full circle, coming home to the Gibson family gathering, and they rode in Lee’s youngest brother’s car to return to his family of beginnings, completing a family circle. Some of us live to an age when we can do this; some of us do not.
Lee and Terry stayed with Peggy for four days. Twenty to thirty people had the opportunity to come and go and visit. Everyone was welcomed. This allowed time for Lee to enjoy sisters born of his biological father and his second wife, cousins, sons-in-law of sisters, nieces, nephews, etc., time to tell stories of his growing-up years, of his courtship with Erma, of his Farrier family, of his love for Norfork, of friendships.
According to hostess Peggy, people tended to gather in the den. It was not really orchestrated, but wherever Lee was located was where people circled up and moved chairs. Everyone knew that was where the storytelling was. Lee, of course, was the primary storyteller.
By now, Lee had lost his sister Billie Jean and brothers Bud and Jerry. His parents in Norfork had passed on (Eunice Farrier in 1977 and Lillie Farrier in1985). Peggy and her home in St. Louis had become "home" to him, too. He knew that she and the other sisters were “for” him, that he belonged. They were the Gibson girls. He, too, had started out in this world as a Gibson. Now, he was returning to the Gibsons.
Lee says, “I felt like this reunion was really for me. It felt good to be invited and to be wanted by my family. I am one lucky man to have had two families, two great families. Not everybody can say that, but I can.”
What strikes me most about Lee Farrier is his level of gratitude for family, friends, and events that have occurred in his life. That gratitude, that loyalty, comes through in his storytelling.
Can you imagine it? Lee sits down in a chair, and others move in around him because they know they’ll be welcomed and they’ll hear an interesting story. Sometimes they’ve heard it before, but there’s love in the telling, so they're ready to hear it again.
Not only do Lee’s stories come in narrative form, but he has ways of making his stories memorable. He speaks in his usual voice, making the story visual and personal, and that's what makes the story easy for listeners to relate to. Lee often shares vulnerability and a positive or negative surprise in his stories. This adds to the interest of those listening. His stories are true and come from his memory and heart.
After the reunion was over and Lee had been home with Erma for two days, he called me, knowing I would be interested in the story he was living out. “It had to be the Holy Spirit urging all of us to get together. And I had a little time with Vickie, my sister who is 61 years old. She greeted me at the door by saying, ‘Surprise! I’m your baby sister!’ One surprise after another.”
Peggy told me the reunion was a success in every way. She wants the family to stay close, not get too busy, not drift apart, and reunion was one way to serve that purpose.
I think anticipation is where Lee’s joy comes from. In fact, the concept of "going home" for many is the idea of moving toward joy, whether it be the place where we live, people we love, or the the simple peace that comes from feeling gratitude for all our blessings. If you have a chance to read or listen to Lee’s stories, look for his joy. It’ll be right there in front of you.
P.S. This is the end of this series of blog posts inspired by Lee Farrier, but it's not the end of his story. I'm sure all of my readers will join me in wishing him well as he continues his adventures of life, love, and family. Along with the photo below of Lee as a child, I hope you'll enjoy some of the photos his family shared with me.
Left to right: Young Lee; sister Billie Jean; brothers Jerry, Bud, and Lee—all grown up!
Billie Jean with her sisters and mother Maude. Left to right: Billie Jean, Debbie, Maude, Jennie, Diane, Sandra, Peggy, Vickie, and Ruby.
Left to right: Peggy, Lee, Debbie, Jennie, Diane, and Maude.
Left to right: Lee, Peggy, Ruby, Diane, Debbie, Bud, and Jerry; Jerry, Lee, and Peggy.
Left to right: Jerry and Lee; Pierce, a new generation.