My cousin Rickie was born a hunter. He was only two years old when he made his first solo hunt. Sometime during the morning, he left home wearing only his diaper and was accompanied by his dad’s two hunting dogs. Shortly after he left, he was missed.
His mother, my Aunt Frankie, thinking that he had to be somewhere nearby, called for him. When he didn’t answer, she looked around the yard and then in the tool shed. Not finding him, she walked into the edge of the nearby field. Again she called, “Rickie!” In a panic, she rushed to get her husband, my Uncle Rayvon, from a nearby field.
Within an hour, all our family members and neighbors had formed a search party and started walking through the fields and checking a nearby drainage ditch. Morning gave way to afternoon. A local crop duster took to the air, flying again and again over the fields hoping he would spot him. By late afternoon, the searchers regrouped and started methodically working their way back through the rows of soybeans and cotton that surrounded the house.
Near sunset, one of the searches came running back to house calling for my uncle. “Rayvon, we’ve found him, but we can’t get to him.” They couldn’t get to him because the two dogs would not allow any stranger to touch their boy. Within minutes, Rickie, carried by his dad, and the dogs were home. It wasn’t the last time Rickie would be lost.
Rickie was a hunter all his life. He became an expert marksman, equally deadly with gun or bow. He didn’t hunt to kill game. He hunted to kill only the game he would eat. He once intrigued me with an hour-long account of having stalked one particular turkey until the season opened. “On opening day of the season, I crawled on my belly for what seemed like forever until I got the perfect shot,” he told me. Smiling, he added, “We ate that turkey.”
In early adulthood, Rickie mounted his Harley and road off the farm and joined a motorcycle gang, The Pharaoh’s, who were in those years notorious in Missouri and Arkansas. Drugs and alcohol became regular parts of his life. While he did eventually come home to resume farming, he never parted company from The Pharaohs. At least one of the Pharaohs was killed for breaking the gang’s rules. Some of the others were arrested and imprisoned. Lost as Rickie was in that world, he somehow avoided being arrested and convicted of any major crimes. He never left the gang, though as the members aged their activities became less notorious.
Rickie died September 19 from either an overdose or from bad drugs. It doesn’t matter. The lifestyle he adopted claimed his life at the age of 57.
Fifty to sixty of the Pharaohs came to his funeral, mingling with a couple of hundred “normal” mourners. A couple of the Pharaohs participated in the service along with a life-long friend who had become a minster. The Pharaoh’s covered his casket with their flag; they pulled his casket to the cemetery on a homemade wagon hitched to a Harley; and after the service ended, they filled his grave. They took care of their own.
My cousin Rickie lost his way; but in his “lostness,” he was embraced by a band of brothers who were there for him. The Pharaohs’ lifestyle has little to commend it. Their commitment to each other has much to commend it.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, KJV). From the Pharaohs’ care of my cousin, we who bear the name “Christian” should take a lesson.