By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, my dear friend Jerry Barksdale left us for fairer shores, and one week later, under COVID guidelines, he was laid to rest with military honors. What do I say about this man who was born on the kitchen table, who I would refer to publically at the Vets’ Museum Coffee Call as our “resident rascal,” or with just as much affection, “our local Garrison Keillor?” Many have already beaten me to it. As I have heard several times this week: “He was one in a million.” One man, having heard of the Barksdale’s passing, cried and swore and said it so well when he yelled, “Jerry Barksdale was supposed to live forever!” Based on the last conversation I had with him a few months back, I believe he now is truly at peace, though I really don’t like the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye.
If it weren’t for Jerry Barksdale, I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk in the kitchen of Keep Athens Limestone Beautiful on a publication day working valiantly on pulling the paper together for the 200th+ time. You see, Jerry was contacted by Wayne and Deborah Huff, the founders of Athens Now in March of 2010 and asked if he would be interested in writing for them. He replied, with what turned out to be a life-altering serendipitous statement, “I can’t, but I know someone who could, and her name is Ali Turner.” That was ten years ago, and the rest, as they say, is history.
We met years ago as published authors endeavoring to peddle our recently-bound literary creations, and then spent a lot of time around the small round table at the Vets’ Museum breakroom in deep conversations designed to dent the universe. I have a gaggle of lawyers in my family, and thought about becoming one myself. It always meant a lot coming from him that he thought I would have made a “____ fine one.” I realize full well that others might not have seen that as a compliment, but I did. One thing Jer taught me about law was about the constitutional requirement given to the state to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I had never really seen that until he taught me, and I think he would have made a great law professor. Once, when yet another kid had shot up a school, I was on my way out of the museum and he was coming in. Without even a reference point, I looked at Jer and said, “If I had been assigned to defend this kid, the first two things I would do would be to find out what meds he was on and what his abuse issues are.” He knew exactly what I was referring to, and grinned as he said, “Me too,” and went in the museum.
Jer was the consummate storyteller, and I was blessed to have his stories appear in our paper. He made me laugh until I was snorting. He was also a tender heart, and the last time we really talked much, back in the winter, he was in a place of great pain in his life. He just wanted to unload, so we went upstairs to the attic of the museum where there are a ton of books and two rockers. We sat, rocked like we were on the proverbial front porch, and he poured out his angst. I listened for a long time, and then I invoked Prov 27:6, which says, “Faithful are the wounds from a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Here is what I said: “Jer, you have loved hard, loved poorly, and loved well. You have written several books. You have defended the guilty and innocent. You have faced down the Klan, gotten through mid-life crisis, and have even written hilariously about riding your lawn mower as a retiree. You have skied the Swiss Alps, run marathons, dealt with mental illness in others, been a dad, been a step-dad; you have done it all. Now I know that even though you don’t love church, you do love God, and it’s time to wrestle with the Angel until you walk with a halt. I don’t know what is going to happen with the things that are hurting you, but I do know that if you choose, this could be your finest hour. It’s time to get to it, son.” He laughed through his tears and told me I would make a great therapist. Now, I don’t know about that, but I do know that it was my honor and joy to be his friend. RIP, dear Jer.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner