Ralph lived in Vaiden, but his office was in Carrollton where my daily trek led me on foot from the paper office to the Post Office and courthouse and back. He and I would have coffee each morning and catch up on the news of the day — more likely the gossip of the day. Over the years we became close friends, and we shared a lot of laughs in that historic old building.
Ralph was an avid gardener and an early riser. Most mornings during the growing season when I would awaken and head out the front door to fetch the newspaper a large bag of freshly picked tomatoes and green beans and squash and a wide variety of other goodies would be waiting on the front porch for me. We ate good during those years.
Ralph retired in 1995, I believe, but continued his giving ways until we moved from there in the summer of 1996. Though no longer in a face to face manner, we kept in contact over the years. He once told my wife, Danny, that he didn’t know whether he thought of this boy as his brother or son. It was an honor to have been either one.
Danny and daughter, Rachel-Johanna, and I popped in on him a couple of times when we were traveling up that way, and he would occasionally drop by my office in Flowood when he was down here.
Ralph was one of those southern gentlemen who still communicated with his friends by letter — in longhand I might add. Year before last, after the three of us surprised him on Christmas Eve, he dropped one of those letters in the mail to me. That letter, and my daughter’s response that “it warmed her heart,” inspired me to write a column about our friendship. Ironically I found out last week, too, that I’ll be accepting an award next month for a collection of my writings that include that very one. I had made big plans to share that award with my friend.
My last letter from Ralph is dated February 11, 2014, 11:45 a.m. In it he informs me of an inch of ice on the ground and that I had missed his 72nd birthday among other things. He concluded that there wasn’t much news around town and wrote “Tim, I miss you a lot. Tell that beautiful daughter and lovely wife I said hello. One day I will see you again.”
Ralph died early Thursday morning at his home. I was fortunate to get to visit with him — to see him once again — last weekend at the hospital in Jackson. He was in good spirits, I thought, and we had a nice visit and some of those large laughs from days gone by. I took him a ripe tomato, and he said he didn’t have much appetite, but he was going to eat it with some salt, and this time it warmed “my” heart to see his smile.
“I love you brother,” were the last words my friend spoke to me when I left his hospital room Sunday. I told him to keep the faith and I would see him again real soon. And, although now it is not going to be as I had hoped or planned, Ralph Self, know one thing for certain, I love you too, my brother, and one day I will see you again.