One day of life and death

Published 11:23 am Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 19 is forever circled on my permanent calendar.

It was on that day in 2013 when I fell in love all over again upon watching my grandson – Brody Ray Harrell – draw the very first breath of life into his tiny body.

If you are a grandparent (or a parent for that matter), you fully understand the significance of the day when your family grows.

From Nov. 19, 2013 forward, my life changed…and for the better. I have proudly watched Brody grow from an infant into a much-ahead-of-his-age three-year-old.

He’s a perfect mix of his mother (my daughter, Danielle) and his father (my son-in-law Brandon). Brody has Danielle’s looks as well as her and Brandon’s outgoing personality. Brody also reminds me of Brandon in the way he is constantly busy…always looking for another mountain to climb; another problem to solve.

This past Saturday we celebrated year number three of Brody’s young life. There was a big party down on Colerain Beach….where the unseasonably warm weather (at least until about 5 p.m.) afforded the party-go’ers – to include the youngsters – to get outside and enjoy the day.

Perhaps the most significant part of the event came on the sandy beach where the kids were given balloons to launch. I watched Brody close his eyes before letting his colorful orb sail skyward. He later said he “made a wish” prior to removing his tiny hands from the string and arching his little head towards the bright, blue sky to watch the balloon as it sailed out of sight.

Meanwhile, over two thousand miles away in northwestern Montana, a handful of people also gathered in love. They also cast their eyes towards the heavens, not to witness a balloon in flight, but rather in an effort to say goodbye to a loved one.

On Saturday, Nov. 19, Colbert Page Howell, Sr. drew his final breath, ending a brave fight against pancreatic cancer. He was 75-years-old.

Colbert was born and raised in my community of Pinetops in Northampton County. His father, Euclid, owned and operated a tiny country store about a mile and a half from my home.

By the time I came of age in the mid to late 50’s, Colbert was in his late teen’s and had moved away. He graduated from NC State (a fellow Wolfpacker) in 1964….three years before my freshman year in high school.

Little did I know at that time that our life paths would cross 10 years later.

In 1974, after working here at this newspaper as a member of the production team, I took a gamble and moved to Raleigh in an effort to broaden my career in photography. As fate would have it, Colbert was a mega-successful professional photographer in Raleigh at that time. I landed a job at his studio on Glenwood Avenue.

What a great teacher he was….both in photography skills and life lessons. The things he shared have stuck with me ‘til this very day.

I only saw Colbert once after leaving his studio in 1975. Decades later, we reunited on Facebook where I learned he was living outside of Missoula, Montana, located in the northwestern part of that rugged state. There, he and his wife, Barbara, owned and managed Flying H Stables.

It didn’t surprise me to learn that Colbert had performed an abrupt about-face in life…trading in his camera equipment for a saddle and a cowboy hat. Colbert always had a knack of finding that “greener grass” in life.

But what I could see the clearest on his Facebook posts was that he was happy and content with his western lifestyle. And he made for a dang good-looking cowpoke.

Happy Birthday, Brody….and Happy Trails to my friend Colbert.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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