I feel like I can finally write about Gary, and what his loss means to me, so here goes.
I wish I could say that I had known Gary my whole life but that’s just not how it was. My parents, both born and raised in Texarkana, moved away to the Little Rock area before I was ever born. I didn’t have the privilege of growing up around my paternal grandparents, or any of my aunts, uncles, or even any of the many cousins I didn’t even know about. I didn’t even know another Higginbotham relative existed outside of my immediate family unit, until 2011.
I met Gary for the first time on the 23rd day of May, 2011 when a desire to know more about my family became a mission of sorts. Cousin Nedra Turney took me to meet Gary and Bessie. We had an instant connection and Gary filled a gap in my heart that I didn’t even know existed. After that first meeting, we spent hours, and if you know Gary at all, you know I truly mean hours, chatting on the phone. These chats almost always pertained to his love of his family. I learned about my grandparents from him. I learned about his parents, his children and his grandchildren. He had a passion for his family, unlike any I have ever seen before.
His love for Bessie, was evident and strong. I admired his devotion to her. He told me one time, “Every morning Bessie and I get up and have coffee together and sit and talk. Sometimes we talk for a long time, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes I just enjoy her presence before we even start our day. She’s my everything and there isn’t one thing I will ever want to do or will do if Bessie isn’t included.” He was devoted to her and loved her immensely, and it showed.
The day of Gary’s funeral Bessie, who just happens to be the strongest woman I have ever known, told me, “When I first met Gary, I didn’t know how to love. I was bitter. I thought all men were mean and I didn’t even know how to hug my own children because that isn’t how I was raised. Gary taught me to love. His endless hugs, and kind words, and his constant loving affection towards me, taught me how to love. ”
What a true testament to the character of Gary. He also taught me what love was and what was missing from my life, just by how he treated Bessie. I see the same in my father towards my mother. Gary and Bessie were married 46 years, and my parents have been married for 50 years, just this past September. What strong, wonderful Higginbotham men.
I learned many things from Gary. I would come for visits and we would drive all over town and he would point out all the places that were dear to his heart, and they were always centered around his family, past or present. I heard the stories of his childhood, his youth, and his adulthood. We laughed and always had a good time when we were together.
I know how much he loved his children and grandchildren. I already knew his youngest son Milton, but he wanted me to meet his son’s Gary Jr., and Mike so bad. He would call me up and say, “When are you going to Crossett with me? Mike is coming in town can you come? Don’t wait until my funeral to meet my boys!” Sadly, that is just what happened. Gary’s health seemed to decline and he never really felt like he could get far from home. I’m sure Gary knows that even though I met them at his funeral, we will stay in touch and never lose track of the family again, because that was important to him.
In the short time that I knew Gary, he taught me what true love means. He opened his heart and his home to me and treated me like a daughter. I will never forget the wonderful times I spent with him and they will fill my heart forever more. He was like a father to me, and I will always love him dearly. He was my buddy, through and through and I will always be grateful for the time I was given with him.
The best way to honor Gary is to love your family. Show them what love is, and let nothing get in the way. If you love someone, don’t waste time. Show them. Treat them like Gary treated Bessie. Life can go in an instant. Do you want to leave people wondering how much you loved them? I can guarantee you one thing; no one around Gary could ever doubt that he didn’t love him or her. He showed them, and he told them.
What I wouldn’t give for one his teddy bear hugs right now!
Rest in peace, Gary. I miss you.