Usually one feels a pang of sadness when someone dies. When my brother called the other day to tell me that Willie Edwards died, a feeling of happiness enveloped over me. Not because of any ill will towards Mr. Edwards, quite the contrary, but my mind transgressed through several decades, and suddenly I was a 16 year old in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
I know some people who seem to be debilitated about occurrences in their childhood. I reckon I am not immune to such feelings, but honestly don’t remember anything but a warm happiness and fun people. When I think of the Edwards family, all I can do is laugh and then laugh some more.
Mr. Edwards was a great big guy. He played football at Chapel Hill. Later he was a Captain in the Marine Corps in the Pacific theatre. One day at Carolina, he spotted Jean Marie Lester, hobbling to class on crutches with a cast on her foot. Willie approached her. “M’am, may I carry your books?” “Why yes, thank you,” she replied. Willie picked her up AND CARRIED HER TO CLASS. Apparently Andy Griffith was also sparkin for Miss Jean Marie, but Willie crushed Andy’s chances with his Northern Neck chivalry.
The Edwards boys were fun. Lester was a contemporary of my brother Brick’s, 8 years my elder. My father used to call our place, Belle Mount Farm, Boys Town. It was somewhat of a compound for mischievous young men in their premarital oat sowing years. One of the striking differences I discovered between living in the Northern Neck and the big city was in the NN, anybody was welcome in your house anytime and you in theirs. They didn’t need invitations.
I think I was like the pet labrador retriever to a bunch of older guys ( Lester, Brick, Turner Coggin, Jimmy Farmer, Andy Anderson) who would leave the city and head to Belle Mount on the weekends. Lester was particularly good to me. He’d always take me around with the older guys. We’d drop in on the Morrises, the Coggins, the Edwards, etc., all folks who had that “our place is your place ethos,” and all who were hospitable in the extreme.
In the living room of the Edwards’ house was a picture on the wall of Lester on a pony when he was 3. It was the funniest damn thing I have ever seen. Lester had a crew cut and he looked just like a mini Willie. I walked in that house a million times and would walk over to that picture and belly laugh like it was the first time I had ever seen the damn thing.
The Edwards old home place was at Nomini Grove and Lester’s grandmother would have a big Sunday dinner (kind of a late lunch). I was 16 and probably didn’t weigh more than 140 lbs, but I can remember eating 25 pieces of chicken at one sitting. It makes me think, who today could possibly have so much food on hand to feed a horde of people, not to mention those of us eating 7 or 8 whole chickens? The answer: really nice people, genuine people, people who practiced a type of hospitality that just doesn’t exist any more.
God, the Edwards family was so much fun! I can still hear Willie’s voice from the last time I saw him a few years ago: “ROBBAY BOY, hey ya doin.” Willie was part of the greatest generation. His obit could be 3 pages long with all of his accomplishments, but fittingly for him and others in his generation it is modest and unassuming.
Post Script: Here is a later obit…..https://storkefuneralhome.com/storke-funeral-home-obituaries/william-willie-henry-edwards-sr/633/?fbclid=IwAR2k-FV_Vklcm4phxW7F_3iYVZmMwRaoxAf6Dfgh9aHQnI9dscAJ68Y5xjU