Mr. Right’s Folks

          My great-uncle, Abbott Milton McWhorter, died on Friday, July 9, 1965. He was buried two days later on Sunday in Bethel, NC. Because it was the summer and school was not in session, I traveled to Bethel with my father and attended the funeral. It was the custom of the day for a member of the family to stay behind while the grave was closed. Because Dad and I were by ourselves, we remained behind to perform the honors.

          Dad was taking me around the cemetery showing me the graves of all my McWhorter, Nelson, and Whichard ancestors. Just about the time we got to James Righteous Nelson’s grave, an ancient-looking, wizened, old black man who had been helping close Uncle Abbott’s grave walked up to get a drink of water from the faucet beside the Nelson plot. His face was deeply wrinkled and weathered by a lifetime of working outdoors. His hands were so calloused and tough that they probably could have wore out gloves from the inside. After washing out his handkerchief and wiping the sweat from his face and neck, he looked at my father and inquired, “Are you some of Mr. Right’s folks?” Dad brusquely shook his head and said no. The black man explained that because Dad had been at Abbott McWhorter’s funeral and had walked over to look at Nelson’s grave, he thought Dad might be related to Mr. Right.

          Then Dad realized that “Mr. Right” must have been the name by which James Righteous Nelson was known in Bethel. Dad quickly corrected himself and told the black man that he was the great-grandson of Mr. Right and the grandson of Zach Davis McWhorter. A broad grin broke across the black man’s face, instantly revealing that the creases in his face had been caused by a lifetime of smiling and laughing. He wiped the sweat from his face again and sat down on a bench. He then told a story about how when he was a very young boy, the very first grave that he had helped his father dig was that of James Righteous Nelson in March of 1884.

          He smiled again and said, “I buried your great-granddaddy, great-grandmother, granddaddy, grandmother, three of your uncles, and if you aren’t careful, I’ll bury you too!” He then laughed and laughed, but I don’t think Dad thought it was funny. Footnote