Today’s generation considers that culture as far removed from them as darkness is from light.
In some regards they may be right, but a day spent with a mix of four generations of the Hughes family in the mountains of North Georgia presents a glimpse into a time, a place, and a people whose heritage lingers still.
Rituals and habits are never more evident than in the celebrations connected to death, especially in a large family.
The MOTH is one of 10 children, six boys and four girls. Of those 10, five remain.
A daughter died in childhood from burns, and in 1951, a young son who had survived D-Day and the only son to follow in their father’s footsteps to make copper mining his chosen profession, died in a tragic mine accident.
The oldest son and daughter died of natural causes.
Every son was in military service.
The recent death of their brother Earl brought the family together, and the air was filled with memories.
He had suffered a stroke three years ago, and was in declining health for much of that time. At the time of his stroke, he was away from home, traveling as he had done for many years as an evangelist.
His age did not slow him down, nor did the age of his car make any difference. They say his 1994 GEO Metro has 657,000 miles on it.
The funeral home’s website carried tributes that document many of the tales of Brother Earl, as his fans called him.
He endeared himself to church audiences, first as a pastor, and then on the road throughout the Southeast and beyond, and many of those people showed up to give comfort to his family and to reminisce with friends about this man who, as they say, was a legend in his time.
Had he lived just a few more days, he would have been 85 years old, but his words and deeds know no end.
Every person who came had an Earl story, and often it was the same story. How generous he was, how simply he lived, how he managed never to be critical, how he loved to eat, and how he loved to preach and sing.
There were a few of his contemporaries who remembered his early preaching days when he preached on street corners and in parking lots, and how his little daughter would go with him and sing as he accompanied her on his guitar.
Everyone who knew him could relate a version of the “wheel” story. The wheel was an exercise device made of a small wheel, about six inches in diameter which rotated on an axle with handles on either side.
It took a special kind of strength to use this.
You would grip the handles, kneel down, and put all your upper body weight on the handles, with your lower body weight on your toes.
Then, if you were Superman, you would extend your body all the way out without letting your midsection touch the floor. It sounds and looks simple, and I have watched both Earl and the MOTH do this with ease.
Earl delighted in showing off his skill and stamina to groups or individuals who were confident that they could accomplish this easy feat, but who had to bow out after trying.
Earl’s wheel held a place of prominence at the visitation.
One comment caught my eye because it focused on a trait that is common among the Hughes brothers. Any profound statement might be accompanied by a healthy taste of humor… and vice versa. So it’s best to listen, carefully.
The siblings’ stories differed somewhat from the stories of fellow-church-goers, a fact which would be true in any family.
Our daughters remember all too well how his visits flavored their days. He would line them up, three toddlers, on the couch, and tie their shoe strings together to each other, sending them into frustrating tears.
Their father and Earl were never happy until every little kid was in the midst of a tantrum. Their laughter rang out louder than the cries of the kids!
We can’t begin to capture Earl’s personality in this short space, but suffice it to say that he blessed the thousands who heard him in immeasurable ways.
He left quite a legacy, one that matches the area’s vibrant, proud, and treasured heritage.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.