When I was a teenager, my brother Mike and I would sometimes stay with my cousins who lived on the other side of the Mississippi, 30 miles outside of Baton Rouge, in an old farm house. The countryside fascinated me, with its twisting roads, massive overhanging oaks, and duckweed-covered streams. My cousins, of course, were the greater attraction. At one time or another, I think I was in love with all three of the girls. Don was a guy cousin I could hug, cry and laugh with. But I was closest to Conrad.
Conrad and I were both firstborns. We both confronted a parent struggling with alcohol and, at times, madness. We both shared the struggle to escape what life had dealt us. Conrad shared his joy of hunting and fishing with me. When it came to girls, I was inexperienced — a situation Conrad thought intolerable, and an area where he believed I was in need of his tutoring. I will only say, diplomatically, he showed me things.
One trip in particular stands out. I was hiking with Conrad through the marshy, gray woods. I knew the river I held in such awe was not far distant, but I couldn’t see it through the dense growth. We wended our way through wetlands and past small ponds. Then suddenly–how well I recall the exact moment–we turned a corner, pushed past some trees, and there before my feet rolled the vast river. The opposite bank stood hazy in the far distance, a slight shroud of evaporation blurring the vista. I stood there, transfixed. The vast flow of the river I so loved and feared surged away before me. And what did I hear as I stood alongside Conrad? I will never forget.
I heard absolutely nothing.
Brooks babble joyfully. Rivers, like the mighty Mississippi, are all quietness and grandeur. I can enjoy a babbling brook, but the other speaks to me of what most enriches life. Nothing has ever made that as real to me as when, on summer day almost a half century ago, my cousin stood quietly beside me on the river bank.
In my mind I can stand again on the banks of the place, only now alone. Conrad has passed on. I feel very acutely the loss.
Someday, I will again drive east beyond Opelousas toward Baton Rouge on Highway 190. As I approach the River, I will await the first glimpse of the great bridge. I can almost feel, the excitement the sighting will bring. I will also listen, as intently as I can. And I know that, once again, I will hear absolutely nothing. Which is as it should be. The deepest things are quietest of all.
Thanks for helping me discover that, Conrad. I will never forget. May the waters roll ever on.
Dr. Mark Long is the Director of Middle East Studies and an Associate Professor in the Honors College at Baylor University. Mark is also an accomplished train jumper.