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Memories Never Fade
“Mama couldn’t see him,
but he was standing there
And I knew in my heart,
he was the answer to my prayers”
Nobody seems to remember Lairy Brookshire, yet he is one person I shall never forget. He was my guardian angel, my grandfather; not through blood, but through love.
I only knew him for two years, but he was and will always be there. He lit the way when my family was at the dark end of the road, he led us through one of the most hard and painful years of our lives.
August 2003. I was only eight and I don’t remember much about the move from Texas to California. According to my mom, within that first month of living in California, someone sent her to a friend to get her truck fixed. That is where she met Lairy, who was friends with the mechanic. At first, Mom thought Lairy was just a scary, crazy old man, like a lot of people believed him to be. I don’t remember meeting him or how he became a part of my life. He was just a part of it, there was no reason why or how. He was meant to be there.
As we got to know him, my mom’s opinion of him changed. She, as well as my brothers and I, got closer to him. We formed a connection, unexpected and strange. We were just a small family, no more important, forgettable, yet Lairy took us under his wing.
Lairy Brookshire was born on September 29, 1946. He had a happy childhood and worked at U.C Davis for several years before working for a gas company. He was working for the gas company in 1989 when he got in the car accident that changed his life. His truck went off the road and hit a tree. Lairy had severe swelling to the brain and wasn’t expected to live long.
After the accident, Lairy was different for awhile. He couldn’t do a lot of the things he could do before. He couldn’t be left alone and he needed help doing normal everyday activities.
Of course, I didn’t know this until after his injury finally caught up with him. He was always there for us, never showing any pain or letting his pain stop him from helping us. If we needed something, we came before his own needs. He helped a lot of people.
Lairy was really into gold mining and he knew everything about the Sierra Mountains. When a man’s underground mine collapsed and a man was trapped within, Lairy risked his life to try to save the man. The man ended up dying, but Lairy tried his best.
In 2004-05, my father left for Iraq. While he was gone, Lairy grew even closer to my family. He watched over us, taking on the role of a male figure in our lives while our father was away. If we hadn’t called or came over to see him within a few days, he would show up at our house………no matter what time it was.
Lairy complained about his legs hurting and needing potassium occasionally, but he never really complained about his head hurting. I might have been too young to tell, but I don’t think he ever really let his pain show, though now I know it must have been hard to deal with.
I don’t have many clear memories of Lairy, at least not ones I could describe in exact detail, but he is a presence that is imprinted on my heart and many other hearts. I remember small glimpses of Lairy, like the time we visited his house and he was giving us a tour of his workshop. He had a collection of petrified bugs and a couple petrified hummingbirds. I was young and I thought Lairy had killed the hummingbirds, so Lairy and Mom had to reassure me several times that the birds had died fighting each other.
A funny memory that my mom recalls happened in late December, 2003. One night, out of the blue, Lairy showed up at our door and asked my dad to give him a ride to his house so he could grab a gas can because his truck had run out of gas on his way out of his claim. It was Christmas Eve, if my mom recalls correctly. My father gave Lairy a ride to the trail-head that led to his claim, it was as far as our vehicle could go. We figured we would hear from him again, soon.
Mom can’t remember if it was Christmas or soon after, Lairy’s stepfather, Jim, showed up, asking if we had seen Lairy or heard from him. We explained the day or so before and he had already known. He then headed towards La Porte, looking for Lairy.
We were later told that Lairy was found, wandering down the main road; freezing, snow-blind, and delirious. It took him a few weeks to recover.
Nothing can really be confirmed when it comes to the story Lairy told of what happened. Lairy claims that he hiked the mile or so to his truck and found his truck in disarray and that someone had set fire to it. He said the tires were molded puddles on the ground. He had to spend the night out there, then he managed to hike to La Porte. After having a drink at the hotel bar, he said he started heading back towards Strawberry Valley, but eventually he got lost and confused as to where he was. He wandered for awhile until he was found by his stepfather. Lairy spent some time in the hospital, but within a month or so, he was back to his normal self, exploring mines and telling others of California mining history.
Lairy had lived in this area of the Sierra Mountains for many years, yet he had ‘never really wanted to go to Forbestown Daze, a fair that is held in Forbestown every year in August. It was my family’s second time going and us kids really wanted him to go, so he went to Forbestown Daze, just for us.
Lairy was 53 when we met him, a disabled older man. Not many people with his status are willing to deal with a six year old, a ten year old, and an eleven year old for so long. He had no reason to take care of us. He didn’t owe us in any way, if anything we owed him for just being there.
My father left in September of 2004. He didn’t return home for good until October 2, 2005. I remember the 5th vaguely. My dad had my big brother, Gabe, and me sit down. He told us that Lairy had passed away the night before. It hurt more, because I never knew that he was sick in any way. In the naive way of the young, I expected him to be there forever.
Looking back now, I’m more at peace with Lairy’s death, now that I know what happened to him. In 1989, he was told he had a few months to live. He died in 2005, do the math. I believe he lived just to watch over three little kids who had never known the love of a grandfather. He was our guardian angel and still is.
To some people, Lairy may not seem memorable. He may just seem like a crazy, scary old man, but to me, he is memorable for the best reasons out there. He didn’t die in that car accident because his job wasn’t done here. As Randy Travis says, it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.
“Ain’t it kinda funny that at the dark end of the road,
Someone lights the way with just a single ray of hope……” - "Angels Among Us" by Randy Travis