A TRUE STORY
By Paula (Kennon) Reed
It was a generation ago that my older brother perished. His name was Roger, although most everyone knew him as Rusty. He was given this nickname at birth when my parents first set eyes upon his reddish mane.
As an infant, up to his grade-school years, my brother endured a great deal of distress. He began having seizures shortly after birth that continued for several weeks. He was admitted to a hospital for testing, but the diagnosis was vague. Due to the seizures, his right eye became permanently crossed. At the age of two, Rusty was prescribed glasses, as well as alternately wearing an eye-patch over his good eye. He underwent corrective eye surgery at the age of six.
I believe these health issues help shape Rusty into the meek and gentle soul we knew him as.
My brother was compassionate when it came to me—his younger sister and only sibling. We were born just twenty months apart; from toddler to teenager he was a constant companion and fellow playmate.
For many years, he was my unsympathetic-protector from ghosts and goblins (I would weep and plead nightly to take up residence in his top bunk-bed).
And as brother and sister sometimes tend to be, every so often, Rusty was my greatest adversary. This was usually when I invaded his bedroom too many nights in a row, for fear of said ghosts and goblins.
My brother and I had many wonderful shared experiences growing up together in our idyllic household.
In unison, in the spring of nineteen seventy-three, we gave our hearts to Jesus. Shortly thereafter, we were baptized in the Castor River after Sunday church services.
We often participated in each other’s extracurricular activities. When allowed, Rusty tagged along with Brownie and Girl-Scout outings. Likewise, I cheered him on with his efforts and accomplishments in the Boy Scouts.
Rusty and I loved to go exploring. Village Creek (a tributary of the Little St. Francois River), just about a mile from our home, held many exciting adventures; we would follow the creek banks, combing rocks for arrow heads and other treasures. Our souvenirs usually consisted of lizards, turtles or snake skins—much to our mother’s mortification.
We were proud partners of a decaying, one-room shack, which was considered our club-house. It was secreted away in the woods, within the ten-acre plot of paradise our family owned. Our club-house invariably provide entertainment to many of our friends and neighboring children.
One didn’t need to spend a lot of time with Rusty to know he was gifted. Early scholastic-testing confirmed him to possess an exceptional intellect, although he was very modest.
Along with intelligence came talent. Rusty was a budding musician. Almost every day, he would spend hours strumming his guitar (much to my dismay, as we shared the upstairs floor of our home), singing and writing tunes.
Rusty endeavored to learn every instrument he came in contact with.
When he wasn’t engaged in some sort of musical pursuit, he was tinkering with automobiles, or working in my dad’s auto-part store.
He loved to overhaul engines and give customers mechanical advice.
Rusty and my father opened a music store within the auto-part business (they named this division after me—PJ’s Music). This was a way my father could fuel Rusty’s passion for music. This venture exposed my brother to additional instruments, and also made available patrons for whom he could provide music lessons.
The thing I remember most about Rusty, second to his passion for music, was his love for Christ.
My brother’s sudden and permanent death still stings deeply; however, I am tremendously grateful to God that he was part of our family, if only for just a short while.
Rusty’s passing set into motion a chain reaction which forever changed our family. The events below gave us a glimpse into the Lord’s perfect love, strength and wisdom.
Many people close to our family know part of this story, but it did not come to full fruition until the year of nineteen, ninety-eight.
It fills my spirit with awe and wonder when I remember how God worked and moved in our lives. I can hardly put into words these feelings, so I will tell you of the events which took place.
Mom, Rusty and I were members of an interdenominational, countryside church called Mountain View Mission. It was located approximately five miles from our small sleepy city of Fredericktown, Missouri. We attended services there every Sunday, as well as Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
Mountain View aided in nurturing and cultivating our hearts, showing us God’s perfect love and mercy. I have countless cherished memories of the people that frequented the sanctuary.
During every service, one would hear thunderous shouts of hallelujah and amen from parishioners. The oak altar, bathed in countless redemptive tears, was routinely visited. And to hear or speak of prophetic-dreams was not out of the ordinary.
Rusty and I belonged to the youth choir. In addition to the choir, Rusty played his guitar alongside other regular church musicians who sat on the front row bench.
I believe it was a Thursday evening (four days before the wreck) that our youth minister and his wife, Buck and Janice, made an impromptu visit to our home. Buck told my mother that the God had given him a heavy burden to speak with Rusty regarding his relationship with the Lord. Mom invited them in and called my brother from his upstairs room.
When Rusty descended the stairs, Buck requested they all go to the family room to have a private discussion. They prayed and my brother rededicated his life to Christ in their meeting.
Tuesday morning, the following week, was like any other fall day. As I remember, it was damp and chilly. The deciduous trees had morphed into a palette of beautiful autumnal colors. The date was October tenth, nineteen, seventy-eight. Our mother had prepared our favorite breakfast, French toast.
While we readied ourselves for school, she made certain, as always, we had everything necessary for the day ahead. To me, she was the best mother in the world.
As my brother and I hurried out the door on our way to our first-hour classes, the air was redolent of rain.
We piled into Rusty’s pride and joy, a semi-restored, 1966 Fastback Mustang (he almost always let me ride to school with him).
This particular morning, when my brother turned the key to the ignition, the car only coughed and stuttered.
He tried fruitlessly to start the engine again and again. He then abandoned the Mustang’s black interior to diagnose the engine. I joined him.
“It’s not going to start. Let’s walk across the highway to ride the bus,” I implored.
“I’ll get it going.” He muttered, engrossed with his current predicament.
Yet no matter what he tried, the engine would not turn over. Minutes were passing.
In the corner of my eye, I saw movement. A half-mile up the road, our yellow bus was approaching.
“Here comes the bus, I am going to ride it. I don’t want to get in trouble with mom. She will be mad if she has to take us to school.” I declared. With that said, I rushed to the other side of the road, hoping he would give up and join me.
As the bus drew nearer, I watched my brother as he continued to fiddle with his engine. The shriek of the stop sign angling out from the bus pulled my attention to the approaching vehicle. It was slowing down for pickup.
I then heard the Mustang start. I turned to watch, as Rusty closed the hood and prepared for his drive.
Now I was agitated! I was already committed to riding the bus to school; it would be stopping any minute. I would have much rather ridden with my brother.
I watched irritably, as his Fastback sped down the country highway.
As it was rounding the curve, out-of-sight, approximately a quarter of a mile away, I heard the tires skid and then the ominous crash.
Just then, the bus pulled to a stop and the door opened. I wanted to run to the crash site, but decided the bus would be faster. Fretfully, believing the worst, I stepped on board.
Anxiously, I choose the front seat behind the driver. One of my best friends soon joined me. I quickly explained to my friend what I had heard, while carefully watching the progress of the bus move toward the curve.
I had a terrible feeling of dread.
As our bus approached the bend in the road, I saw the Mustang overturned.
Horrified and sickened, I jumped from the bench and told the driver I needed to get off. She of course recognized my brother’s car. The driver refused to let me off, but I continued down the steps toward the door, determined to help Rusty (I know now, the conflict this caused the bus driver. She is such a sweet, tender-hearted woman. She wanted to shield and protect me, yet she knew I had to go to my brother).
Just then a man bolted from the home across the street, to Rusty’s vehicle. The bus driver then conceded to let me go. My girlfriend followed.
My mind was racing in a surreal state.
I ran to the car looking for signs of my brother. The interior had collapsed under the weight of the car. He did not look to be inside, and I prayed he was not. I hurried around the overturned Mustang and spotted his boots—his precious boots, protruding from underneath the car.
I sprinted to him as fast as I could, yelling his name. I gripped his leg, there was no movement whatsoever—he was lifeless. No matter how much I called to him there was no answer.
The stranger, who had ran from across the street, soothingly let me know he had called an ambulance.
Moments later, a friend of the family pulled over on her way to work. I asked her to get my parents.
The wait for the ambulance and my parents seemed to be an eternity. My brother needed help! The only thing to do was pace and cry. My friend consoled me.
When my parents arrived, there was absolute shock and dread on their faces as they assessed the situation. They were overcome with grief. Their world was collapsing in front of their eyes.
The emergency crew had arrived at the same time and was in the process of rescuing Rusty from underneath the automobile. The responders soon pronounced him dead.
As they placed Rusty on the stretcher, my father shielded both my mother and I from seeing the injuries the weight of the Mustang had inflicted upon his body.
My mother was in such a state of anguish, she was taken to the hospital.
Afterward, the cause of the wreck was determined to be hydroplaning. Rusty had lost control and hit the embankment. He had been thrown under the car as it flipped. His death, most likely, was instantaneous.
It brought us some comfort to believe he did not suffer, although our hearts were broken.
Every day, my mother had to force herself out of bed. No sleep came to her in the darkness.
My father spent hours in Rusty’s bedroom, in the shadows crying silently. I now know, he blamed himself for the accident.
Dreams and hope for their much-loved son had been stolen from them. This reality was too much to bear.
I also was so lost. Life would never be the same.
The days which followed the wreck brought an influx of family, friends and mountains of food to our home.
Many people from the church and community poured out their love and support to us during the memorial service and funeral.
The eulogy, which was so skillfully delivered by our minister Gene Proffer, was from Isaiah 55:8-13. These verses still bring my family comfort today.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.”
At the gravesite, as the attendants began shoveling earth onto Rusty’s casket, I came to the full realization I would never, in this life, hear my brother’s voice or see him again.
Now, I so longed to hear him play the guitar and sing in his beautiful voice.
He was forever gone from this earth.
The days which followed the funeral were filled with mechanical motion and countless tears.
The following Sunday, our pastor Gene, seemed to preach a sermon just for the comfort of our family.
That day, my father gave his broken spirit and heart to the Lord at our little country church. He had never before felt the need to heed God’s calling, but now, every fiber of his being needed redemption, love and comfort. Only God, through Christ Jesus, could give my dad all these things. My father’s salvation had been my mother’s prayer since they had married.
After the church service, the minister’s wife, Thelma, a woman we dearly loved and cherished, told my mother that God had given her a vision in a dream. She had seen in this revelation, that my mom would soon have a baby boy, and he would someday preach the gospel.
This of course, gave my mother great pause. She had difficulty conceiving, and had undergone fertility-therapy to become pregnant with my brother and myself. She then endeavored unsuccessfully to have a third child. My Mother was still hardly able to grasp the fact she had lost her beloved son, and now this revelatory dream that she would have a third child in her mid-life, was beyond her belief.
Nonetheless, with the next month of unbearable sorrow, also came awe-inspiring symptoms of pregnancy for my mother. It was on Thanksgiving Day, that she somehow knew life grew within her. Soon this was confirmed by her physician.
Our anguish was still present, but the anticipation of new life filled our imagination and brought us new hope.
On August seventeenth, nineteen seventy-nine, my mother gave birth to a healthy baby boy. He weighed nine pounds, and was twenty-one inches long, which seemed impressive considering my mother’s petite stature of a little more than five foot.
My parents named him Joshua Scott Kennon.
I was overcome with joy the moment I saw my infant brother in the nursery. I knew this to be a wondrous miracle God had blessed us with.
I boasted to everyone who came to see him. He was such a beautiful child.
What a spectacular gift from God he was and is!
Joshua has developed into a fine young man. He is a musical prodigy, just like his older brother Rusty. Joshua plays piano, guitar and sings for the Lord.
God called my brother to the ministry at the tender age of nineteen, in the year of nineteen, ninety-eight. Joshua answered yes, and has been faithful for fourteen years, articulating God’s love and grace. He pastors at the First Free Will Baptist Church in Park Hills (Emerson Street), Missouri.
He is married and has two beautiful boys of his own.
I write this account of our lives, with tears in my eyes. The primary motive in sharing this story is to give thanks and praise to my Lord, for His divine providence, and His miraculous gift to my family. I am also eternally grateful for my father’s salvation and the happy and peaceful years that he lived until he passed-away at the age of sixty-six.
I am so awed, humbled and unworthy of His wondrous love and works in our lives.
Secondly, I want to express how important it is to cherish and appreciate the gift of life the Lord loans to us, while we dwell here on earth. We are all gifts from God to each other. No matter how short or long our lives, we ought to treasure and give gratitude for what time we are given with our fellow human beings. Most importantly, we need to be forever grateful to our heavenly Father for Jesus, our Savior, and the eternal blissful existence beyond this life, that is offered to us.
Lastly, I write this in memory of my brother, Roger Marcus “Rusty” Kennon, Jr, my confidant and friend for the first fifteen years of life. He was such a magnificent blessing from God while he lived.
Written October 2013