The following Tuesday afternoon, a raised stage, tastefully decorated, along with a pulpit and piano, were in place along the south baseline. The casket was just beyond the foul line. Nothing seemed right, including the order of service bulletins instead of game programs clutched in helpless hands.
And then…a woman’s voice began singing, full and deep, very slowly and clearly, and it cut the silence and made it even more silent, if that’s possible. Shayla Blake, a young bride then, was singing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” a hymn Jerome Vascocu had suggested when Connie had looked at him two nights before and asked, “What are we going to do?”
Vascocu had played ball on weekends with Eagles when the two were boys and Vascocu would come to Doyline with his parents from their Minden hometown to visit his grandparents. They’d played against each other in high school. Vascocu ran track at Tech while Eagles played basketball, and he and Nancy had double-dated who knows how many times with Tommy Joe and Connie. As young married couples one night at a now-long-gone Mexican restaurant off West California in Ruston, they’d actually been approached by a waiter who said, head hanging, “I’m sorry, but the manager says that we can no longer offer you free chips.”
“Night after night,” Vascocu said, “we wore them out. So they cut us off. Can’t blame ’em…”
Friends, fun and young and healthy and happy. But now…
Vascocu had been asked 48 hours earlier to prepare the service and offer the eulogy, something he wasn’t sure he could do. Dr. Bob Mcgee, pastor at Temple Baptist at the time, with confidence and encouragement told Vascocu that he could do it and that he should do it.
Vascocu contacted the talented young musician Blake, married to Mack Blake, a former player for Eagles at Cedar Creek. There is a picture framed today at the Blake’s home of Eagles and a young Mack Blake holding up the state championship trophy during an on-court celebration.
“Coach Eagles would pass by Mack’s house when he was in junior high and see him in the yard and yell out the window of his car, ‘You’re gonna be on my team one day!,’” Shayla said. “He was so encouraging to him. He’s one of those people who made such an impact in Mack’s life. Coach Eagles taught the college class in the Sunday school Mack attended; Mack was always so impressed that even after an out-of-town game on Saturday night, Coach Eagles would always be in Sunday school, never even late…”
“He comes as close to walking the walk that he talks as anyone I’ve ever known,” Haddox said. “If he tells you something, he’s either going to do it or he already has it done. A man’s man.”
And now it’s the last game, and Shayla is singing, and then Mack harmonizes, it’s slow and rich, and then Shayla begins to play, very bare, the piano…
“Holy, Holy, Holy,
“Lord God Almighty,
“Early in the morning
“Our song will rise to Thee…”
“I get chills now,” Vascocu said, “just talking about it.”
If you were there that day, suddenly a welcome prisoner of the moment, you probably will too. Even though you didn’t and couldn’t understand why you were there and, more profoundly, why Tommy Joe was not.
“It’s just such a reverent song,” Vascocu said. “It’s my favorite hymn; it goes back to my childhood. It calls us into God’s presence. We needed that then. I know I needed that.”
“Holy, Holy, Holy,
“Though the darkness hide Thee…”