By Henry Mamulu
I participated in the home going of Uncle ‘Bobbin’ McClain. I was on the pulpit with his sisters, brothers, nephews and nieces and children. Even Willie Mae King asked me, “what were you doing up there with my family?”
Do you recall the death and burial of McKinley A. Deshield in 1978? His death in 1978 seemed to herald the end of the True Whig Party and announced the finale of a Golden Age in our history that started with William V. S. Tubman and ended with William R. Tolbert.
I remember Mr. DeShield’s funeral as the last decent burial we had before the beginning of pandemonium and the era of mass graves in our Liberia. He was escorted from his Front Street home with full military representation and all the honors that should have been afforded those who were put in the mass graves.
Is Uncle Bobbin’s death and burial, shrouded with all of the pomp and pageantry of funerals past, the one that is welcoming into Monrovia the Boatman who will carry off the Baby Boomers? Is this an epoch or epiphany?
At the funeral I saw Ophelia “Fefe” Weeks, a convent girl, who played kickball and was as tough as nails. I saw Moses Jr. Johnny Weefur, a CWA boy. What a basketball player Johnny was; and the Johnny Funky Broad Way was his contribution to our societal development of the 1960s and early 70s. There also was Earl Burrows. His people made excellent coffee that was exported and acclaimed worldwide. There was also Sister Mary Laurene still teasing me.
At the funeral of Uncle Bobbin I saw the Monrovia that I knew and longed for fading away, not graciously, but like Hezekiah, wanting to stay just a bit longer. Perhaps to share with a new generation nurtured on ‘Me, Myself and I.’ At the funeral I was a pig in hog Heaven at least for one day. Thank you God!
The President of the Republic of Liberia, H.E. Mrs. Ellen J. Sirleaf arrived long before the church was full or “foot.” She sat down and looked frail under the burdens she carried. She looked around to see some old friends or perhaps kind faces, but this was Monrovia Madam President, a city numbed or stunned and in its own mess. At that age, existing old friends are few and far between. Acquaintances become friends when your real friends are gone. She looked as though she had hit a brick wall of lonliness.
Then she spoke, ‘A Letter to Bobbin.’
Mrs. Sirleaf spoke of their childhood on Crown Hill and how they all played and ate together. This was where she met Commerce Minister Beyslow and such. And then she went into the War Years. She talked about how Uncle Bobbin was there with her in Senegal, Sierra Leone, and places such as Burkina
Faso. In the midst of all this war, she said it was Bobbin who was always trying to bring peace.
Then I attempted to unravel their friendship and her massive grief.
Have you ever had a yard boyfriend or girlfriend? Uncle Bobbin was in love with the young Ellen but she was loving to someone else. Someone Bobbin knew. We will call him Fast Peter. Whenever Fast Peter played Ellen she would go to Bobbin and tell him and Bobbin would hold her hand and comfort her. At their parties as Fast Peter danced with Susannah Lewis and Minty Draper, Bobbin danced with Ellen. He loved him some Ellen but she wanted a Best Friend; and so to be around his real Jue, he became that – a friend who could take a bullet for a friend.
Our President spoke about how she and Bobbin decided to come home “And Put Liberia First.” I am not going into politics here so spare me. Her voice broke and she trembled a little as she spoke from her heart. Our President had come to the podium singing, “Oh when I come to the end of my journey…,” a line from the Hymn, “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done.”
By then the President of the Republic of Liberia had been reduced from “President of Liberia” to “Ellen Johnson from Crown Hill.” She staggered off the stage drunken with grief that her best friend had finally left her and appeared to be falling as she braced herself against the casket of her Best Friend. NO ONE RAN TO HELP DAWO. It was not the President that was falling at that time. It was Ellen from Crown Hill. The President has many friends. Where were Ellen’s friends? They all were stunned and numb. Dawo wore pumps and tried to get off of the altar, but she was tired of it all.
As Dawo stepped down she stumbled, but no one ran to our Old Ma. She balanced on Uncle Bobbin’s casket. ‘Hey yah!’ Once again Bobbin, even in death, had caught his Jue. It was the foreign envoy from Ivory Coast who put his arms around The President of Liberia and rubbed her back. All we did was sat stunned in our stupor.
Mrs. Sirleaf had become the ghost of William R. Tolbert in his last days of 1980. She was ‘Alone Again, Naturally.’ Bobbin had rendered his last act of protection to his Jue by offering his casket as a bracing point. In her own words, “he is irreplaceable.” Amen.