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Wednesday, 31 May 2006 00:00

Personal heart therapy with Homer Harris

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I have found that not being able to hear in a crowded room is a constant frustration. Usually, when people talk to me in an earnest fashion, I take the path of least resistance and pretend to understand. That is what happened last week in the lobby of the physical therapy building at Harris Regional Hospital.

I kept waiting for Homer Harris to show up, and several people did tell me something I didn’t understand. Then, on Friday, I read Homer Harris’ obituary. He had quietly passed from the world without my even knowing about it. Had anyone told me? Yes, I believe they did and I had nodded and smiled without the slightest understanding of what I have been told. So, gentle, courteous Homer Harris quietly departed, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye...or thank him.

For the past year, Homer and I have attended physical therapy sessions at Harris Regional Hospital. Since we both came early for our 11 a.m. class, we usually had a few minutes to talk. I have a vivid memory of Homer’s first conversation with me:

“Gary, I was in your daddy’s store the day he was killed.” Well, that certainly got my attention! Over the years, I have heard a dozen variations of what happened on the day my father died. However, since the subject was rarely discussed in my presence, I had only a vague idea about how it happened. Now, suddenly, I was sitting next to an eyewitness. I asked him who else was there. With what I came to respect as Homer’s “perfect recollection,” he said, “There were eight people,” and then he proceeded to name each one and tell me who they married and where they lived. Most of them had died long ago.

In the months following that first conversation, I began to wait for Homer’s arrival at our “heart therapy” class. He would always enter quietly and take a seat in the lobby, fold his lank frame into his seat, and smile at me. I always had a question. I asked what the store was like inside.

“Well, it had this L-shaped counter on the left and a ‘dope box’ by the door. The cash register was on the right.” He, then, gave a detailed account of the contents of the candy rack and listed the brand names of the cigarettes that “Happy’s Esso” sold.

One morning, I told Homer that I was about two years old when my father was killed. Homer said, “No, you were eighteen months old. You and your mother were in a little apartment above what used to be the Welch and Cable store across the road from your daddy’s station. She used to bring you over to the store. I worked for your daddy, you know.” I didn’t.

Another morning, I asked, “Is it true that the man who shot my father shot him in the top of the head? “No, no,” he said. “He shot him behind his left ear. I know because I caught your daddy when he fell.” Gradually, through the winter, Homer told me a version of my father’s death that differed considerably from the one I had heard from others and he described in graphic details, down to the smoke that lingered in the air from the single pistol shot.

“I always heard that the man who shot my father ran across the road and waded up Scott’s Creek,” I said one morning.

“No, Gary, I’m sorry. That is incorrect. He went to the old Shepherd house across the highway and hid in the attic. When they took your daddy to the hospital, he ran up to Maple Springs and hid in the woods up towards that high ridge that was called the Pinnacle.”

One morning, I asked Homer why he remembered everything with such clarity. “Well, all I can tell you is, it was the worst tragedy I ever witnessed in my life. I thought a great deal of your daddy and over the years, I have often thought that I needed to tell you about that day. It looks like I finally got the chance. I’m 90 years old, boy! I don’t think there is many left alive that was there that day. Just me.” Then, Homer Harris smiled at me. “Your daddy was a gifted musician, you know. My, oh my, he could play.”

I had other questions, of course. I would review them in my head and think, “I’ll have to ask Homer about that!” Now, it is too late, but I am certainly content with all of the amazing details that Homer gave me. I deeply regret not attending the services for him, and I sincerely hope that this article may serve as a small tribute to the man who made a tragic part of my own past come alive with such vividness and color.

I certainly appreciate the irony of the fact that I learned all of this in “heart therapy.” Yes, it certainly was that in more ways than one.

(Gary Carden is a writer and storyteller who lives in Sylva. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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