“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts…”
– from Act II Scene VII of “As You Like It”, by William Shakespeare.
So it was on August 6, 2010 that I was briefly cast as a player in a moment of tragedy that was a part of the life of John Bodie:
August 6, 2010
At about 9:45 a.m. today, 25 miles north of Vicksburg, Mississippi, John Bodie drove his small pickup truck south on Mississippi Highway 61. At 76 years old John is an older gentleman who bears a passing resemblance to the actor Ed Asner. John is a lifelong sportsman and one of his joys is fishing. On this day he is pulling a trailer and his small green flat-bottomed fishing boat. The highway closely follows the course of the Mississippi River.
It is a warm day, hot and humid by “Northerner” standards, but only warm as measured by the locals. Highway 61 is a typical Mississippi secondary highway, two undivided lanes of concrete and asphalt with only a narrow unpaved shoulder of gravel and debris. The speed limit is 65 miles per hour. It is common for passenger cars, trucks and farm semis to push the limit.
John navigates a long bend in the road, and his attention is drawn to a line of identically clad bicyclists. His pulse quickens as he maneuvers his truck and trailer into the oncoming lane to provide a margin of safety for the cyclists. He looks into his rear view mirror and is haunted by the face of the lead cyclist… it has been over 20 years. In the panic of a flashback John silently mouths, “Don’t let it happen to them”, repeating the words over and over. He begins to look for a place to safely pull off the road. He is compelled to act by a ghost from his past… a painful reminder.
As I lead our line of cyclists south on Mississippi Highway 61 an older pickup truck, fishing boat in tow, passes us on our left. This courteous driver has given us more room than most drivers, which was especially noteworthy on this well-traveled but narrow stretch of road. Here highway 61 denies us the refuge of even a small shoulder at the side of the road.
A few minutes later I see that the truck and trailer have come to a stop on a flat area of grass far to the right of the roadway. The driver, a heavily built older man, wears loose fitting faded jeans and a well-worn western style shirt. Upon his head sits a wide brimmed sweat stained hat. He stands on the driver’s side of the truck and flags us down. I am the first to come to rest next to him. Is he in trouble? Is his scowl a sign that he is angry with us? His face gives no further clues. His wide hand-tooled leather belt has multiple images of the Confederate “Stars and Bars”. I am apprehensive.
John addresses us: “I saw you all, and I just had to stop. You see around 1987 I was driving a semi loaded with grain. I had a new canvas tarpaulin covering my load. I saw a bicyclist who was dressed just like you all and as I passed him…”
Here John hesitates. He draws a deep breath and looks directly into my eyes. “Well, as I passed him the cover and frame over my load tore off and struck that boy in the head… unlike you all he wasn’t wearing a helmet, but I doubt that it would have done him any good. He was struck in the head and he died.” Another deep breath and John’s eyes intensify their focus on me. “Please, please, please be careful.”
The driver handed me a simple white business card, “John H. Bodie Trucking, Cary, Mississippi”. He took my hand and held it longer than is common for most handshakes. I said that I would be careful. My words were repeated by the other cyclists. There was relief in the way that John’s brow relaxed, and his hard eyes grew kinder. He got back into his truck and repeated to all of us, “Please be careful”… Another embrace of my hand through the open window of his truck, and we parted. John’s painful memory returned to his past and became a part of ours.
PS. Near the end of the encounter Christine pulled up in the C4C van. She lingered and visited further with John after we left. Chris assured him that we would ride safely, and she promised to write to him once we reached Key West. This seemed to give him some peace. Christine and the riders kept their promises to John who passed away on May 28, 2012.