The death of one of my heroes –

Please pray for the respose of the soul of James “Al” Bowman, my former brother-in-law. He’d been a nursing home for a while – Alzhimer’s – but the obituary said he died at our local hospital. It’s too late to call the family for other details, but the Pilot says the funeral will be on Saturday.

Al was born nearly 80 years ago, when his mother was in her early teens, up in the mountains of Surry County (near Mt Airy), delivered by a granny midwife who served that entire region. A bad car wreck when he was a young boy kept him out of school for a couple of years, and then he became a very young school drop-out, going to work to help support the family. When the local community college began to offer GED classes, Al was among the first to sign up; he was featured in a local newspaper article about the program, and for the rest of his life he was proud of that diploma.

He worked a variety of jobs from boyhood, finally becoming an electrician and working a number of years until he retired from Burlington Industries, and I often heard the others of the family tell how Al would bring home a paycheck, hand it to his mother, and say, “Here, Mama – take this, be sure  Mike and Rusty have shoes or whatever they need for school.” Without Al’s help against their father’s deficiencies (Mr. Bowman drank, gambled, and alternately abused and neglected his family), there is no telling what would have happened to the family.  He was particularly concerned for the wellbeing of the younger boys, who were born when he was near 20 (he was 21, in fact, when Rusty, the 8th of the family, was born).  It was Al who bought the house the family was living in when Mrs. Bowman died, and he continued living there until Alzhimer’s made it necessary for him to go to a nursing home, several months ago.

When I was dating Rusty, Al took quite a shine to me. “Better be good to Laura. Better marry that girl,” he used to tell Rusty. “Laura’s a good woman, a damn good woman – good woman’s hard to find!” He never quit saying it. When he had his cancer surgery in 2001, I came home from Louisiana for a couple of weeks at his request to stay at his house and help him out. He was awfully good to me: kind, wholly unsophisticated but gallant in that unschooled but great-hearted way of his (my cousins reading this, who knew him, will immediately know what I mean) – he tried so hard to help Rusty to be a better man.

He wasn’t a particularly religious man, although he possessed that country Baptist faith that is common here in the Bible Belt, and particularly among the mountain folks he came from. It was a simple, even simplistic faith, but Al was a simple man.

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