In Grey and Yellow
Cookeville, TN, 1961
“Dad, do you remember anything that Emma said about where Bud was buried?” Having settled in a Cookeville motel for a few days, Don Ferrier and his father, Coon Ferrier, searched for the grave of Bud Ferrier, Don’s grandfather.
The story goes that when Coon was born in 1881, after many hours of labor, he emerged with two blackened eyes. He had fine facial features—high cheekbones and a pointed nose. In fact, he looked just like what you would expect a human form of a raccoon would look like. Since the midwife was busy with his mother, Emma, his maternal grandmother and a Negro
servant named Mattie cared for the baby, and after being scrutinized by the white woman and black maid, the two women simply looked at each other and laughed.
“Coon,” Mattie giggled. “He looks just like a baby Coon.”
Now, eighty-years-later, Coon Ferrier sought his father’s grave.
“Son, he’s buried in kind of a pauper’s cemetery for Confederate soldiers,” the old man said. “Ma said to look for a field of grey and yellow.” Coon Ferrier combed his full, snowy white hair and turned to leave the hotel room with Don. The two men climbed into Don’s new, white Chevrolet Impala and headed for the back roads outside Cookeville.
Settling in for the drive, Coon lit his fifth cigarette of the day. The tobacco smoke and Coon’s Old Spice aftershave lotion dominated the confined area of the car. Since Coon did not like air conditioning, he rolled down the window to let the warm air in. A tall, thin man, about the same height as Don, Coon dressed meticulously in an old fashioned, buttoned down, plaid shirt and trousers that loosely draped his twenty-four-inch waistline. All his sons said he was too thin, but Coon had a healthy appetite and never remained still for any length of time. At his advanced age, he still farmed his leased land in East Texas and kept his own house, with dogs,
cats, chickens, and some cattle. At the age of twenty-five, he had raced in the last of the land rushes, claimed some acreage in Oklahoma, sold it to his mother, and used the money to move to Texas. The Lone Star State was Coon’s permanent home.
Being an immigrant from the Old South, Coon had married an immigrant, German- speaking woman from the Old World in 1908, counted five children as his own, and established his family in East Texas. Shunning wealthy in-laws based in Dallas, Coon and his family struggled in Texas to make a living. Skeptical about a political conflict that sucked resources
from their subsistent farm, Coon and his German wife objected to World War One that promised to kill everyone in Europe. Twenty-two years later, the widower Coon Ferrier watched all his five sons march off to Europe for another go-round. Only four returned.
In contrast, Coon’s son—U.S. Border Patrolman Don Ferrier—loved to wear khaki trousers, Western yoked shirts with string ties, heavily embossed, leather belts, and black Wellington boots. Don’s generation enjoyed the benefits of post-war America. His generation expected economic stability and political peace as being their birthright, won fairly in the last World War.
Two charter buses passed them. Young white and black people noted the occupants of the car from their higher vantage point in the bus. At one point, Don thought the buses might stop and ask them to register to vote.
Turning back to his father, Don spoke. “Well, Dad, a cemetery of yellow and grey is mighty appropriate for a Confederate graveyard, but where do we begin?” the cowboy asked the frontiersman to point the way.
“Keep trying the back roads, son,” Coon suggested.
Coon and Don drove the back roads of Tennessee for three days under the hot July sun.
More chartered buses, some of which carried banners reading, “Freedom Riders,” passed them. They passed vegetable stands of yellow tomatoes, yellow watermelons, and yellow squash. The whole countryside reflected yellow. No grey colors materialized from anywhere.
The fourth day, Coon pointed out a dirt road leading off a farm-to-market road. They drove up a small rise that eventually flattened onto a plateau. Don stopped the car and he and Coon got out for a while to take a rest. Coon walked stiffly to a cluster of oak trees to find some
shade. There, he stood under one, lit another cigarette, and looked out across the field. Don shuffled around the car, kicked the tires, and checked the oil gauge—making sure that the auto was holding up just fine during this sweltering day.
After a few minutes, the old man strolled into the clearing away from the trees. As the sun began to close its’ eye on the world for the day, the silvery grey leaves and pale, yellow flowers glistened as Coon Ferrier took note that he was standing in a field of lamb’s ears.
Coon said quietly, “Here it is.”
Don looked away from the car and saw his father talking to plants. Concerned that the old man had suffered too much sun, Don quickly joined his father who’d found a group of grey marble stones. Father and son examined what they realized were four tombstones, but the
etchings were faint enough that most would never even notice they were there.
Here lies Jed Ashley, killed in a Gunfight, November 13, 1881. Shot by Joe Younger.
Nehemiah Strong, killed in a Gunfight, November 13, 1881. Shot by Joe Younger and Bud Ferrier.
Joe Younger, outlaw, hanged by the law for a Gunfight, November 14, 1881.
Bud Ferrier, outlaw, hanged by the law for a Gunfight, November 14, 1881.
“Guess we found him,” Coon whispered. “He was an outlaw, killed by the laws.”
“Yeah,” Don said. “A pretty good one, too, it looks like.”
Coon and Don walked back to the shade of the oak trees and looked out over the glorious
field once again.
“You know, Ma used lamb’s ears in her medicines,” Coon began. “Seems to me it stopped the blood from flowing out of any size wound. You just take a leaf and apply it directly. Guess they buried them outlaws here to stop the blood from flowing. Makes sense; after all, seems to me this restlessness is in the blood—sometimes it causes trouble; sometimes it leads to joy. When folks want to stop that restlessness, they just plant you in Lamb’s ears.”
He lit another cigarette and looked at the younger Ferrier. “You know, son, they say the Yankees fought that war to free the colored peoples. Now that might be particularly true, but it was called ‘the war of the rebellion’ up north. That seems so peculiar to me. Men were restless and wandered west, like me and Ma. The ‘rebellion’ those Yankees are so fond of beating out of
us tried to make us civilized.” He laughed. “So, we just up and went west a bit to avoid the laws. Now’ days there’s no place to go but up in space to get away from the laws. One thing about space, son…there’s no lamb’s ears out there.”