Six Degrees of High Pockets


Every kid needs a wonderful grandparent, and mine was named John. My Mama called him Daddy, lots of people called him Mr. Craft, and when his friends were trying to raise him on a C.B. radio, they called him High Pockets. For me, he was Papaw.

He was a tall man, probably 6’3” with no shoes on, which explains the C.B. handle. On the way back from World War II, he stopped in St. Louis, met a beautiful big city girl in a U.S.O. club, and a few weeks later got on a train home with her, headed for a rural little spot in South Mississippi. He married her when they got there, and eventually he settled his wife and their four young children in a lush river bottom, a couple hundred yards from the shady banks of the Bouie River and about 60 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico.

My Mama, his first born, was in her early twenties and working at the Sea Bee base in Biloxi when she met my Daddy. When they found out their first baby (me) would arrive in the spring of 1971, they bought a house across the highway from Papaw’s.

The previous owners had a son in elementary school and a recently adopted baby girl named Bonnie when they discovered a third baby was coming. So, they sold their house to my parents and built one with four bedrooms about a mile away. My parents brought me home from the hospital to their new house, and I lived there until college. 

Two doors south of my house was a little girl named Lori, two doors north was another named Anita, and my nursery had been Bonnie’s nursery long before any of us even conceived of “knowing people.” Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know all of three of these girls, and the older I get, the more I recognize the scarcity and great treasure of enduring friendships.

Lori’s family were Catholics who attended a hundred-year-old church downtown. Anita and Bonnie went to the Baptist church at the big four-way stop in our little community, known as Rawls Springs. And I was raised in a small United Methodist church called Grandview that was tucked away on a hill right on the boundary between the Springs and Hattiesburg’s Country Club.

As long as I went to Grandview with my family, I could also visit the churches of my friends, so I did. Lori’s family introduced me to Catholicism at an early age, and the living presence of Holiness I felt the first time I entered the sanctuary in that old parish church downtown has always stayed with me. When I was 40 and divorcing, I converted.

Pretty quickly after Lori talked Mama into letting me go with her to the mall unsupervised, she introduced me to Roy, my earliest life-long guy friend and to this day the person on this planet who understood me most. That same year, Roy introduced me to his best friend, who ended up being my first kiss and eventually my husband. Roy was godfather at our son’s Christening, and many years later, by the time our son celebrated his Confirmation as a Catholic, Anita had also converted. She became his godmother.

A few years into his 20s, my son started attending one of those modern churches with bands and a light show, where the preachers wear blue jeans and parishioners watch the service from satellite locations all around the region, and he wanted me to go. I’d been mostly attending a traditional Catholic Mass, so what’s referred to as the “megachurch model” was a new one on me, but we’ve always enjoyed church together and shared expansive musical interests. I knew my long-time friend Glenda also went to church there, so we went.

I’d met Glenda right around the time I’d turned 20. I was on my first date with a fella named Bubba, who took me to a house where some of his friends were hanging out. That house belonged to Glenda, and it turns out my date wasn’t the point of that night at all because thirty years later, Glenda and I have raised our boys together, but I haven’t the slightest idea what ever happened to Bubba.

I mentioned to Glenda that we’d been going to some services at her church, so when small groups started organizing again, she asked me to go with her to an assembly of ladies there that she’d decided to join. The study book was called Courageous Creatives, and when I heard those words, I knew I was supposed to go.

I’ve been published as a professional, and a few articles I wrote on topics of interest to Southerners were published by a short-lived upstart magazine where my law school chum served as an editor, but the only dream from childhood I’d never had the courage to reach for was working as a creative writer. So Glenda bought me a study book, and we went to the next gathering.

A beautiful, bubbly blonde with the warmest spirit had volunteered to lead the group. She had the chairs arranged in a circle, and once we were settled in, she welcomed everyone and suggested we go around the room, each one saying her name and a little something about herself. She would start.

“My name is Paige Russum,” she said, but I didn’t hear how she described herself because I was thinking about her name. Hearing it felt like another little confirmation that this group of ladies was right where I was supposed to be.

Russum was an unusual name, one I hadn’t heard in decades. And there I sat, hearing it again for the first time in years, in a church I never would have visited on my own. Every Sunday of the 16 years I had with my Papaw, I sat in a pew next to him at that little hilltop Methodist church. The Russums were always in a pew there, too.

It wasn’t unusual at all to know someone who also knew High Pockets, though, because my Papaw knew eeeeverybody. He was a legendary rabbit hunter with a gift for gab and an inexhaustible interest in people. Even though he’ll be gone 35 years in June, people still light up and start telling their stories about him the moment they realize I’m his granddaughter.

Wherever High Pockets was, there was a revolving cast of characters in camouflage. People were always coming in and out of his house, men and boys turned up before daylight there to hunt, and neighbors were always riding over to turn some beagles out, just so we could listen to them run. I look back now and see an enormous circle of friends, with High Pockets at the center, but I don’t remember recognizing all that activity as friendship then.

I do remember noticing that he treated every man and beast with kindness and warmth. He really enjoyed visiting with all kinds of people, but none more than a young veterinarian named Butch Russum. The Russums were part of the story of High Pockets long before I was here to know anything about it, and although Butch’s father, Bob Russum, was more his age, and a man I could tell that Papaw loved, there was something special about Butch.

Whenever we had a chance, Papaw wanted to stop in at Butch’s clinic for a visit. I don’t recall thinking that we went out of the way to go by there, but when I look back now, it was the most obvious difference because mostly it went the other way: people were always going out of their way for a chance to visit with High Pockets.

I think what stuck with me about going to see Butch was a sense of how Papaw looked forward to those visits, how it seemed to me that the stop he most wanted to make was at Butch’s. I never heard him use the words, but somehow it was obvious to me that Butch was his best friend.

It took a few weeks for me to settle into the Courageous Creatives group enough to catch Paige after a meeting and ask if she was related to Butch, and her answer surprised me. Not only was she married to Butch’s son, but she recognized my Papaw’s name from family stories.

Thirty years after Papaw made his way across to Glory, Butch still carried that friendship with him, kept it alive in his heart, and kept the stories alive in his family. That friendship had meant as much to Butch as it meant to Papaw.

Paige has become very special to me in the years since we met. The circle she arranged us in on that first night became our capital “C” Circle, a safe place for a group of women to share their victories and heartbreaks long after that study ended, to laugh and cry together, to pray over and support each other, and to love each other. It was a beautiful new chapter of friendship for me that in many ways was set in motion before I ever drew my first breath.

Three years later, and despite the challenges of staying connected during the pandemic, our Circle still meets every week online. Glenda is our host.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and she and I were planning to attend a sunrise service together at a Methodist church attended by some gals from the Circle, but I had a physically demanding day on Saturday, so I called that evening to say, “If I’m too used up to look presentable for the sunrise service, how about we just go to your church for the 9:30?”

As it turned out, I didn’t even make it by 9:30, but Glenda waited for me in the parking lot instead of going on in. One big upside of the house lights being down while the church band plays for the first ten to fifteen minutes of worship is that being late for church isn’t the big deal it used to be.

And being late wasn’t even a mistake that day. It was one of those mornings where, to quote a poem that hung in the house where I grew up, “…the universe unfolds precisely as it should.”

Holding the door when we entered the church was one of my gals from the Circle, and serving as an usher just inside the next door was another, who’d been sitting directly across from me at that first gathering where I heard Paige say the last name of High Pockets’ best friend.

Because we came in late on Easter morning, there weren’t any seats along the center aisle, midway to the front, where we usually liked to sit. To my left were three empty chairs on the end of an aisle near the back, and since three chairs meant a little space between me and a stranger who had likely arrived on time, I stepped into the row. Glenda sat next to me in the aisle seat.

It was pretty dark, but not long after I sat down, I noticed in my peripheral vision that the guy across the empty seat from me was looking my way, so I looked over at him. And after a moment it registered.

Butch Russum.

I hugged him so hard, then hugged his wife, and when I looked down toward the other end of the row, the folks filling the other seats were Paige, her husband, and Butch’s daughter. I was overcome.

When we stood for the next song, I leaned over and said, “My Papaw would love seeing us in church together on Easter.” After I turned back to face the stage, a few tears of sheer joy and awe slowly leaked out of me, and the most profound feelings of Grace and Providence washed over me.

I’d mostly lost touch with the Russums once Papaw was gone, but I often thought about his friendship with Butch over the years. It was so obviously something special that witnessing it had left a mark, even though I was only six or seven years old at the time.

Then there I was on Easter morning, fifty years old, in a pew absolutely filled with Russums. I think it touched Butch, too, because when he leaned back over after a moment to reply, he said simply, “I miss him.”

Man, me too.

Recently I’ve been living in and renovating that little house in the river bottom where High Pockets raised his family and his beagles and his garden.

No place in this galaxy feels more like home or closer to who I am than that little patch of land where he taught me to pick berries and veggies, to pray over them before we ate, to laugh with and love the neighbors, to steady a rifle and reload ammunition, to vaccinate beagles, and to talk on the C.B. radio. By the time I was ten, he’d taught me to drive around the yard in a big Ford three-on-the-tree that was so old a key wasn’t even used to start the ignition.

Just up the river from us, in the beautiful log home where Butch’s parents lived, Paige and Bo are now raising their new baby. Butch and his wife are right next door.

We’d never all been together, but somehow in a Bible Belt town full of churches, on one of the two most heavily attended days in the ecclesiastical year, in the packed house of a megachurch’s satellite location, and at a service bearing almost no resemblance to the little church on a hill where our families gathered on Sundays so long ago, I found myself sitting in a pew with Butch. And there was an empty seat between us, for High Pockets.

As touched as I was in the moment, it wasn’t until I had some time to reflect that I could clearly see the weeks leading up to Easter.

Papaw has been gone a long time, so that isn’t an open wound that still aches or needs salve, but my Mama was killed in an accident eleven years ago this July, and some days it’s still fresh. I’ve hardly had any relationship with my only sibling since. I woke up to the news that Roy was dead on Mama’s birthday a month after we buried her. My marriage ended in the same season.

Time heals over a lot of wounds, but in a particularly difficult stretch, even years later, old scars become more noticeable, make their way closer to the surface.

Lent is by far my favorite holiday season, but this year it was tougher than usual. I found myself having to actively immerse my thoughts in Gratitude and consciously focus on what I have and what’s working. Sometimes I had to count my blessings out loud even, just to be present in the fountain of Grace that opens up to pour out all over me during this season every year.

Anita has been living far away. It’s Bonnie’s first Easter without either of her parents. Lori did move home with her new baby in time for my Mama to attend the first few birthday parties, but that baby is a teenager now, and we’re still years short of the time we’d have expected to say goodbye to a woman in Mama’s bloodline.

In the early hours of Holy Week, a new quake rattled the protective walls around me. A girl named Kayci, who rode our neighborhood school bus growing up, has become a boulder of strength for me over the years, and never more than in the aftermath of the moment I discovered, with Kayci standing next to me, that I’d heard my darling little Mama’s voice for the last time. So on the Monday morning after Palm Sunday, when Kayci discovered her co-worker deceased, it rocked the foundations of Kayci’s strength and composure, and seeing her shaken for the first time shook me.

And this year, a meaningful relationship with an honorable man just ended. We parted amicably, but not without sadness, so navigating Easter was already complicated by a breakup with the first love interest who ever claimed a role of spiritual leadership in his relationship with me.

Easter was exponentially harder on the heels of my first calendar year as a mother who’s had no contact with her son.

Mercifully, I did fully believe before I found myself in that pew on Easter that, despite the difficult blows I’ve been dealt, the life I have really is a good one, a rich one, filled with love and wonder, and a life worthy of the effort it might take to be Grateful.

But the story I’d been telling myself about Lent this year was one of lurking absences, of the fleeting natures of happiness and life. The main plot revolved around what was missing and painful, for me and the people I love. Worldly circumstances threatened to rob me of the restorative experience I usually have during the Easter season.

Driving home from church on Sunday, alone with my thoughts, I started to see my mistake. Lent wasn’t empty at all. I wasn’t alone. Absence was NOT the Lenten headline.

I just had to get to the end of the story before I could see past my own narrative. The real story, the true account of my Lenten experience in 2022, is one of friendship.

Anita had finally managed an extended visit home and stayed a good long stretch with me. We spent her last weekend in town, the weekend before Easter, in the woods with Kayci.

Lori and I found a little space to catch up enough to say we loved each other and make plans to get together after the holiday.

Bonnie and I had started taking long walks again on a local trail where we like to stretch our legs, surrounded by the wonder of nature. She and Glenda had both been on the Circle’s virtual meeting with me every week during Lent.

And when I spoke to Kayci on the morning of Good Friday, the fog of tragedy around her had finally begun to lift.

Four of the seven days during Holy Week this year I spent with various ladies from that beautiful Circle of women that Paige originally organized, and on Easter Sunday, three generations of Russums held a place in their pew for me.

After church, Butch told me he’d randomly run into one of my Mama’s brothers earlier in the week and then also, equally unexpectedly, had separately run into her sister. He hadn’t even been planning to attend the megachurch service that morning but changed his mind at the last minute.

Paige told me later that she’d wanted to sit up near the front when they arrived because she also liked a central seat, close to the front. It wasn’t until she saw us sit down that she realized why agreeing to sit near the back, instead, was exactly the decision she was supposed to make.

I guess there are folks in the world who’d say that all amounts to a meaningless wad of coincidence, mere cases of happenstance that, at best, are just unrelated incidents, loosely cobbled together in some futile quest for meaning or connection.

But those people aren’t my people, and their world is not my world.

As far as I can tell, coincidence is a human invention, aimed at discounting the little moments of Grace that are peppered all over this life to remind us that we actually do belong to something bigger, something enduring, something extraordinary.

So as long as I have breath and enough good sense to know better, I’ll keep resisting those stories that say something’s missing, that I can’t find happiness in dark places, and that there isn’t something beautiful waiting for me just inside the next door that opens.

I’ll answer every fear and sorrow with the blessings I can see, the little evidences of love all around me. I’ll treasure each and every one of the countless human connections that continue to spring up like wells of fresh water all over my life, especially in the deserts of this journey where I need them most.

So say what you will about coincidence. I’m convinced that the timeless bonds we call friendship all belong to something bigger than the sums of their parts.

Finding Butch again revealed two important truths to me about the nature of those bonds.

Real friendships are abiding. They continue long past the bounds of this world.

And because every friendship that’s flourished in my days on this Earth has, at its core, the kind of bond I first observed in the relationship between Papaw and Butch, all the roots of friendship, for me anyway, are anchored well within six degrees of High Pockets.


About the Author

Ginger Weston

Ginger is a Native of the Gulf South, a Christian and a Proud American.

She's a semi-retired lawyer / broker / salesman / editor / small business owner 

who spends most of her extra time stretched out in the shade, 

wandering around in the great outdoors, 

and experimenting with micro-homesteading and permaculture gardening 

in the little river bottom where she makes her Home.

Ginger believes in capitalizing purely according to a word's importance 

and practicing Loving Kindness in everyday life 💚





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