Posted on 07.31.2020

The Best There’s Ever Been Part 4 - Soapbox, Jr.

I’ve been dreading writing this soapbox because it’s the culmination of an awful, emotional, beautiful, powerful, touching, tearful and exhausting week which has left me with a need for comfort food that I need to move on from, and quickly.

As I mentioned, in the previous soapbox, Thursday was a public viewing at the funeral home, so mom and I did not attend.

I do have one powerful moment to share from Thursday. I picked up dear friends at the airport that night, and we needed to stop to get supplies and then we ordered food from Olive Garden in Mt. Juliet.

We pulled up in one of the carryout spots, and a young lady came up to the truck and asked if I had an order, and then it dawned on me that I was driving dad’s pickup instead of my car, and I put down the wrong vehicle when I placed the order from the Olive Garden app on my phone.

I apologized and told her that I was in my father’s truck, and I instinctively put down my car instead and that the order was under “Daniels.” 

A few minutes later, she handed me our food and said, “We didn’t charge your card, and we are so sorry for your loss.”

I lost it. It was the unexpected kindness of strangers to a grieving family that did it. We were all in tears, including the sweet young lady who brought us our order.

Friday.

The funeral was at 11 at World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro. It was a beautiful celebration of dad’s life with heartfelt performances, special words from members of the CDB Family, a perfect eulogy by Pastor Allen Jackson, who, dad, mom and I not only call pastor, but we are also blessed to call a dear friend.

And there was an unexpected twist later on which I think dad would have gotten a chuckle out of.

We arrived at the church which was thankfully in a rural enough county to not be under heavy restrictions due to COVID-19, but we sat in one of the small meeting rooms at the church and saw friends and extended CDB family that we hadn’t seen in years.

We had friends come from across the country and despite the need for social distancing, there were still a lot of hugs, and a lot of tears.

It was particularly hard seeing Randy and Mary Travis. Dad and Randy had a lot in common. They were both from North Carolina, both were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on the same day in 2016, and up until July 6th, both had been stroke survivors.

Dad bounced back pretty quickly after his stroke in 2010. Randy’s was more severe, and he’s had a much longer road to recovery. But the night of the Hall of Fame Medallion Ceremony, despite having difficulty speaking – Mary had to give his acceptance speech for him - Randy and Mary brought a room filled with music industry professionals to tears with a faint, but distinctly Randy Travis rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

About eight months later when dad performed at CMA Music Fest 2017, dad escorted Randy to center stage where he was greeted with rousing cheers and applause.

So, knowing what Randy has been though, and that dad just passed away from a stroke, it really got me choked up as I greeted Randy and Mary.

I spoke to several artists who would be performing later, and thanked them for being there to honor my dad.

We took our seats, and Carolyn Corlew, wife of dad’s manager, David, and longtime backup singer for the CDB sang a beautiful rendition of the 23rd Psalm before an honor guard placed a US flag and the Tennessee state flag on each side of dad’s casket as Benghazi survivor, Mark “Oz” Geist - overcome with emotion - struggled through The Pledge of Allegiance before turning things over to emcee Storme Warren.

Then, David Rutherford, a retired Navy SEAL spoke about dad’s love for the military, and Trace Adkins sang “Arlington.”

I’m not going to go through every performance or speech, the livestream is available on YouTube or the CDB Facebook page, and I couldn’t do it justice if I tried, but I will highlight moments that stuck out to me.

Longtime CDB Family member, Roger Campbell, told stories from the road, then Vince Gill sang the beautiful “Go Rest High on That Mountain” which almost always brought a tear to my eye, and now will definitely bring many more.

Travis Tritt performed “Amazing Grace,” before Pastor Allen gave a beautiful message about dad’s life and the people he touched with his music, and his love for Jesus.

Then Gretchen Wilson sang “I’ll Fly Away,” and had an “unexpected” guest performer. A gentleman who was dressed in a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and a very long bushy beard got up to dance a jig in front of the church stage with his very confused dog keeping close beside him.

This would have no doubt produced a smile and a considerable chuckle from my dad.

All I could think of was a line from “The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” in which dad told the story of an old man who lived in the swamp named Lucius Clay whom the renegade dancer bore more than a passing resemblance to… “There’s some things in this world you just can’t explain.”

Dad’s manager, David Corlew, spoke about their 47-year-long friendship and working relationship before we wrapped things up to make the 25-minute journey to the cemetery.

What I witnessed as we drove in the procession was akin to what I witnessed earlier in the week, when dad’s body was transported to the funeral home, but on a much grander scale.

Tennessee Highway Patrol and local law enforcement led countless cars, and traffic was stopped all along the route. I know people were inconvenienced, but I still saw many folks out of their cars with their hands over their hearts in honor of dad’s passing.

As moved as he would have been, he wouldn’t have wanted such a big deal to have been made. 

That’s just the humble kind of guy he was.

While driving, way off in the distance in front of us was what had to be nearly ¾ of a mile of motorcycles leading the procession, it must have been close to 100, but I don’t know for sure.

We got to the cemetery, and it was extremely hot. After Pastor Allen said a few more words, the vault was sealed, and mom and I were invited to each take a rose from the pall and lay them on top. Then other friends were invited to do the same. Band members, road crew, longtime friends, all took roses and laid them on the vault. 

One of those friends was Mark “Oz” Geist, who stood at the vault and lifted up his hand and mimed like he was firmly pressing something into the lid of the vault. I knew exactly what he was doing.

Mark is a retired Marine, but he mimed an action based on the tradition of Navy SEALs when a fallen team member is buried, the surviving members take their Trident pins and jam them into the wood of the casket.

He was giving dad a symbolic gesture, military respect, the same respect he would have given a fallen brother. After I dried the latest set of tears from my eyes, I told Mark that I saw what he did, and I understood what it meant, and thanked him.

Friends were invited to put a shovel of dirt on the vault after it was lowered, and I’m pretty sure most of the people there – aside from my mom – put a shovelful, or two. There wasn’t that much left for those maintaining the grounds to do when we were finished. CDB folks get the job done.

We later dispersed and headed home. None of us had eaten since breakfast, and we stopped at a local restaurant in Mt. Juliet to get some food to go. When we pulled in, I noticed about ten motorcycles in the parking lot. I saw where they were sitting and after I ordered, I went over to them and said, “I think you guys were escorting us today, and I wanted to say thank you.” I told them who I was, and everyone got up to tell me how much dad meant to them, and we took some pictures. The chaplain of the group prayed for me, and many of them laid hands on me during the prayer.

There has been so much love for this man that mom and I loved so much. It’s truly overwhelming sometimes.

It was a horrible week, but the hardest part started after that, with mom and I trying to adjust to life without our rock being there. Trying to get back to “normal,” as if there is such a thing now.

As I’ve said before, thank you for all the prayers, they are crucial for us.

I’ve got a few more ideas for soapboxes, so y’all might be stuck with me for a while.

What do you think?

Pray for our troops, our police, our country and the peace of Jerusalem.

God Bless America

— Charlie Daniels, Jr.

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