Virgil Morrison Jr. was a 68-year-old man when I met him.
Everyone called him “Junior,” but there was nothing junior about him. He was 6-foot-5 and weighed 300 pounds.
He smiled an endearing, toothless smile. His feet were size 16, his shoes looked like boats.
He was balding, with clumps of white hair on the sides and back of his head. The sun reflected off of his bald spot and created an aureole around his face that made him look like a saint. He wore blue denim Liberty-brand overalls.
If I close my eyes, I can still picture him wearing those overalls, rocking in the Hinkle rocker on his front porch, waving at me from his old farmhouse. Saint Junior in overalls.
You might think he’d have spoken with a deep, booming voice because he was a giant of a man, but you’d have another thing coming.
The first time we spoke, I lost my hand in his in a friendly handshake. I looked up at him and said, “Hello, my name is Trevor.”
He looked down at me and said, “Well, hello there. I’m Junior,” in a voice so high pitched and crackly it sounded as if he’d taken in a deep breath of helium from a balloon.
That voice both startled and astonished me.
He never learned to read or add and subtract or tell time. He couldn’t carry on a conversation about history or current events or the future.
He didn’t go to school. There were no special education classes in his younger days in the countryside.
He simply stayed with his Momma and Daddy and helped them on the farm. He lived each minute in the moment.
If you asked, “Junior, how old are you?” he would answer, “Lord have mercy, I cain’t remember!” The truth is, he didn’t know.
If he needed to sign his name, he would ask, “Can you he’p me?” He didn’t know how.
He did know about life though. He knew more about life than many highly educated people I know. He knew more about life than me.
The movie “Forrest Gump” was based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom. Tom Hanks played the part of Forrest and won an Academy Award for his efforts.
In the film, people call Forrest stupid all the time. He responds, “Momma always told me stupid is as stupid does.” And what does Forrest do? He goes out each day with eyes full of wonder and a heart full of love.
There’s nothing stupid about that. This kind of childlikeness brings redemption to the troubled people, troubled places and troubled times around Forrest.
Junior brought that kind of redemption too.
Here are some things I want you to know about him.
He loved watches. He couldn’t tell time but he loved them. He had a drawer full of them. He asked for one on each special occasion of his life.
My favorite memory about his watches comes from a Sunday morning at a small church. I asked the congregation to bow in prayer.
I waited for several seconds before I began the prayer to allow stillness and quiet to descend on the place and on the people. At the most still and quiet moment, a “Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!” broke out.
I thought a rooster had come into the church! I opened my left eye and saw Junior pushing buttons on his watch. I saw people around him pushing buttons on his watch.
The “Cock-a-doodle-doos” kept coming until someone gently led Junior and his digital rooster out of the side door of the sanctuary. We all burst out laughing.
It was one of the greatest prayers of all time.
He held my hand when we crossed the street, and the memories of those tender moments still cause a small tear to appear in the corner of my eye and roll down my cheek onto the ground I walk on.
When we walked into the grocery store, people always asked, “Junior, how are you?”
He’d respond, “I’m fine. How you a’doin’?”
I’d say, “Junior, everyone knows you. Who was that?”
He’d answer, “Lord have mercy, I don’t know. But they’re my friend!” People always smiled when they saw Junior.
When I walked into the senior citizens’ center and he saw me, he would walk over, wrap me into his big arms and lead me to the closest person to us. “I want you to meet my friend,” he’d say.
He was one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
If I spoke to a group and allowed time for questions and answers, he always yelled out, “You know, you couldn’t do this without me!”
He was right.
Saint Junior, full of humility, wonder and love, I learned to listen to your life even though there was an absence of many words between us. Perhaps that’s the greatest thing I’ve ever learned – to listen to people’s lives, to listen to life itself.
You taught me. Thank you.
You walked a humble, wonderful, loving path. I hope to walk it too.
A fourth grade public school teacher and member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.